Access to higher education has improved in recent times but areas like quality of education, dearth of motivated teachers and lack of focus on research remain a challenge, Union Minister M Venkaiah Naidu on Tuesday said.

"These areas need immediate addressing to be able to fully realise India's human resources potential with equity and inclusion," the minister said at the convocation of Galgotia University in Greater Noida.

Naidu, who is also the minister for I&B, said India has a glorious tradition of learning in ancient universities such as Nalanda, Taxila etc but with the advent of the British, the traditional practices of learning were discouraged and a process of "intellectual colonisation" was resorted to.

At the time of Independence, India had only around 20 universities and 500 affiliated colleges with a meagre enrolment of less than one lakh students, an I&B Ministry statement quoted him as saying.

"Now, India's higher education system is the third largest in the world, next to only the US and China. As per the latest reports available, India has around 760 universities, 38,498 colleges and 12,276 Stand Alone Institutions with a total enrolment of around 3.4 crore students," he said.

Naidu said that while access to higher education has improved, the spread and quality of education, funding, shortage of motivated teachers, and lack of focus on research and innovation remain to be a challenge and need "immediate addressing".

He said an education policy is being worked upon with intent to address these challenges and there by create a credible education system capable of ensuring opportunities for all.

The Ministry of Human Resources Development has taken a leap forward and taken a lot of transforming and path-breaking initiatives, the minister said, adding that several new institutions have been started during the last two and half years including six new IITs and seven new IIMs.