Foreign universities will benefit India

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With the HRD Ministry ready with the “Foreign Educational Institutions Bill” coupled with allocation of Rs. 85,000 crore in the 11th Five Year Plan, the dream of acquiring a degree from an overseas university of repute from United States or Great Britain or Australia will not remain a mirage anymore. This would mark a major shift in expansion, excellence and inclusion in the higher education sector. More than 30 US Universities attended the Indo-American Education Summit- 2009 held in November, inaugurated by Dr. Sam Pitroda, Chairman of National Knowledge Commission.

By Umashankar Joshi

With the HRD Ministry ready with the “Foreign Educational Institutions (Regulation of Entry and Operations, Maintenance of Quality and Prevention of Commercia-lization) Bill” coupled with allocation of Rs. 85,000 crore in the 11th Five Year Plan, the dream of acquiring a degree from an overseas university of repute from United States or Great Britain or Australia will not remain a mirage anymore. This would mark a major shift in expansion, excellence and inclusion in the higher education sector.

More than 30 US Universities attended the Indo-American Education Summit — 2009 held in November, inaugurated by Dr. Sam Pitroda, Chairman of National Knowledge Com-mission. In fact, among others, high-profile institutions like Oxford, Harvard and Stanford have evinced keen interest in setting up their campuses here.

The raison d’etre of the Bill envisages that it will save millions of dollars with Indian students studying in foreign universities while staying in India. For thousands of graduates and the steadily increasing number of undergraduates who annually incur around $ 50,000 in places like Stanford, this would be a wish come true. With more than half of the billion-plus population below 25 and foreign entrepreneurs prepared to come to India, education sector can potentially entice a large amount of foreign investment apart from throwing wider opportunities in higher education.

According to survey conducted by National Knowledge Commission, nearly 60 percent of India’s population is under 25. Of these, only 11 percent sign up for higher education. Over 2.64 lakh Indian students have gone abroad for studies and they spend approximately $5.5 billion (about Rs. 27,000 crore) every year. Of the total students making a beeline for Australia from the world, almost 80 percent are from India and of these about 60 percent hails from Punjab. Little doubt that repeated assaults on Indian students in Australia have started distressing education business estimated to the tune of about $ 6 billion per annum. The advent of foreign universities will essentially arrest the outpouring of foreign currency.

Experts believe that if foreign universities start settling here, it will offer a variety of courses with rich inputs, packed with new flavor. Further, it will bridge the chasm between the overseas demand and opportunities in higher education.

With the advent of foreign universities, an inter se competition among domestic institutes would usher in desired improvement in quality. Just as multinational companies have acted as conveyer belts for importing the state-of-the-art practices in management, foreign universities are also likely to bring with them a culture of rigor and excellence in research, academic standard with likely spin-off effects on their Indian counterparts. Little doubt, Indian students will benefit immensely by getting better education at moderate cost.

Presently, there are several foreign universities offering academic courses in partnership with local institutions.  A majority of these universities conduct their business through “twinning arrangements” or program-specific collaborations. Once the Bill is enacted, foreign universities will be free to offer independent degrees, without any tie-up.

Carnegie Mellon, for instance, has for the past eight years been offering a master’s program at Chennai-based  Sri Sivasubramaniya Nadar School of Advanced Software Engineering. Students fork over $53,000 for the entire 18-month program — 15 percent lower if the course-work was done in the US. Similarly, the London School of Economics offers three-year undergrad degree in economics, finance and management through the Indian School of Business and Finance (ISBF) in New Delhi, for a total fee of $20,000, or one-fifth the standard cost. The International School of Business in Hyderabad has a tie-up with the Kellogg School of Management of the US and the London School of Business to teach business administration.

Higher education decidedly set to be cheaper yet richer in quality with the entry of foreign universities; it will certainly attract streams of oversees students to one of the world’s vibrant economies. Just as the US did in the past 50 years, India has a similar opportunity to create a pool of well-educated, talented people who even if they choose not to work here, will carry a sturdy impression of India’s economic buoyancy and facilitate foreign investments in India.

While there are several advantages of foreign universities anchoring Indian shores, there are a few challenges too. For instance, emphasized Kapil Sibal in an interview that adherence to Indian laws, including on reservation, will be one of the basic pre-requisites for foreign players setting up their campuses here. Will they follow the diktat or seek special package is to be seen?

Equally interesting would it be to see whether foreign universities will bring in the same academic competence or like other products, will bring only B- grade faculty and research facilities to India. How will they amalgamate the requisite exposure to international culture and life style in their curricula would be another area of interest?

India is a huge unexplored market and numerous good and bad players would be competing to gatecrash and we, therefore, have to be vigilant to sift only the better ones to let in. We will also have to synchronize our primary and secondary sectors with the tertiary education system we wish to implant failing which our university entrants will find themselves bewildered at a crossroad.

The government ought to draw legal contours very carefully for foreign varsities settling in India so that the quality it promises to inject in the system empowers the posterity in its true sense.

(The writer is former Vice Chancellor of Gujarat University, Ahmedabad)
Courtesy: Daily Excelsior

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