Saturday, May 24, 2003
M A I N   F E A T U R E

Degrees of deception

Has anyone realised the damage being done to our human resources by allowing students to be cheated by unscrupulous foreign universities which have opened offshore campuses in India, asks D.S. Cheema.

RUDYARD KIPLING in his novel Kim said, "There is no sin so great as ignorance." Indeed, there is no sin greater than being ignorant or letting others live in ignorance. Education has been widely recognised as a tool to enlighten the ignorant. But if someone cheats the ignorant under the pretence of providing education, one must sit up and take notice of it.


Liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation (LPG) have caused the ‘death of distance’ and this fact is shaping the destiny of billions across the world. With the implementation of the General Agreement on Trade and Tariff (GATT), an additional 3.5 billion people have entered the free market economy. Globalisation refers to production and distribution of products and services of a homogeneous type and quality on a worldwide basis. General Agreement in Trade and Services (GATS) stipulates that trade in services, including education, must be available under certain conditions. The global movement of services requires competitive capacity-building in the concerned service sector. As was expected, globalisation has taken in its fold, along with other services, education as well.

Education can become global in three ways. These are by admitting foreign students, offering educational programmes in foreign campuses through tie-ups or collaborations and establishing educational campuses in foreign countries. Developed countries are using all the three routes, though we have yet to see a full-fledged campus of any foreign university in India. But the other two options are being exploited to the hilt.

Education is big business. Developed countries such as the USA, Australia, the UK, Canada and New Zealand have realised that India is fast becoming one of the largest student markets and are keen to exploit the market potential that India offers. Education in these countries involves a lot of money. The USA is one of the most sought after destinations for education. In spite of 9/11 and President Bush’s direction to tighten immigration policy and review student visas, most Indian students prefer the USA in comparison with other countries. India is only behind China in its contribution to international students to the USA.

According to the Open Doors 2001 Report published by the Institute of International Education-IIE (which has been conducting annual statistical survey of international students in the USA since 1949) China is the leading place of origin for international students (59,939) followed by India (54,664), Canada (25,279) etc. The USA gets more than 6 lakh international students, who contribute more than $ 11 billion to its domestic economy, making higher education its fifth-largest service sector export (notwithstanding the recent slowdown of numbers seeking student visas to the USA).

State-of-the-art infrastructure and teaching-learning systems, including the latest learning aids, make US universities very attractive. The other reason is the availability of opportunities for employment is far higher than in other countries. Also, the USA sets apart a large sum for scholarships which many students are able to avail of.

Indian students go abroad basically to get engineering or MBA degrees and they are required to get satisfactory scores in GRE, TOFEL, GMAT, IELTS etc., as the case may be. Australia, another favoured destination for Indian students, has a turnover of $ 3.5 billion (Australian) from international students’ contribution. Canada, the UK and New Zealand are also in the race.

Why this fad for foreign degrees? The Indian mindset that anything imported is better than whatever is available domestically, as also the perception that a foreign degree is a value addition to one’s career, are the reasons for the craze. In spite of bad experience of many who get cheated by unethical touts promising the moon to their clients, the number of students going abroad for studies is on the increase. It is also a fact that more than 50 per cent of the students who seek a student visa to study abroad, do not pursue studies after landing there and invent ways and means of staying on. One tends to think that the whole exercise is to reach a foreign shore because student visa is relatively easier to get.

International education in the present environment provides some distinct advantages. Unfortunately, the service providers, in most cases use good marketing techniques to attract the students but do not structure their programmes to ensure such advantages to Indian students. International education has the following characteristics:

  • It upgrades the Indian certification for further studies abroad.

  • Regularly updated curricula can be made available to the student.

  • Can give a global perspective.

  • Skills can be aligned with MNC requirements.

  • Transnational exchange of information becomes possible.

  • It is more practical.

  • It is learner-centric.

  • Provides the facility of online resources from all over the world.

  • Develops marketable skills.

  • A large number of options in multi-disciplinary integrated disciplines with high degree of employability in industry become available.

  • Curriculum is oriented to teaching conceptualisation and problem-solving skills.

The temptation to attract foreign students is so strong that even our government has taken a decision to take Indian higher education to the international market, though it remains to be seen what benefits will accrue from this half-hearted globalisation, as radical changes in policy are not possible due to our mindset. However, the Ministry of HRD is very concerned about Indian students spending more than $ 3 billion annually on education in other countries. Unfortunately, the decision of the Ministry has come too late as what was conceived by it in 2000 is already being practiced by most developed countries for the past many years.

Globalisation of Indian education is expected to get us three-fold advantages. It can become a major source of earning of foreign exchange, improve the quality of education being provided in India and help popularise Indian culture abroad.

We are not in a position to attract foreign students because of the following reasons:

  • Our syllabus is not international in nature and leaves much to be desired by a foreign student.

  • Infrastructure in a majority of our institutions is very poor and hence not likely to attract students from developed countries.

  • Our education policies are counter-productive, to say the least.

It is a reality that the USA earns billions of dollars from international students, but it is also true that more than one lakh students from the USA go to other countries for higher education. Not long ago, India could attract students not only from developing countries but also from developed countries. Unfortunately, the scene today is dismal, thanks to lopsided government policies. If we compare the cost of higher education in the USA and the UK, education in India is extremely inexpensive. What other reasons, except the lure of a foreign land and of using a student visa and then vanishing, could be there for such a large stream of students rushing abroad?

Foreign universities are able to exploit Indian students because of complicated visa rules, general ignorance of the students and their strong desire to somehow acquire a foreign degree. These universities hide many facts from students and reveal these only to very inquisitive or knowledgeable clients. Variations in the fee structures of universities also add to the confusion. Studying abroad is, no doubt, expensive. Living expenses, including accommodation, cost around Rs 5 lakh annually in the US and in the UK this amounts to Rs 7 lakh to Rs 10 lakh, depending on the university. Though educational loans are available, a student has to pay at least 25 per cent of the fee and other expenses.

It is important that students seeking admission to foreign universities understand their ranking system. However, different institutions give different weightage to different parameters and end up giving different ranking in different fields of study. For example, US News and World Report ranking uses parameters like peer assessment, retention of students (fresher returning to the college the following year), faculty resources, students selectivity, financial resources (ability to spend more per student). Accordingly, Harvard University is ranked second in geosciences and mathematics but fifth in economics/business and sixth in engineering and astrophysics. The ranking of National Public Universities and National Universities is also different. University of California (Berkley) is first among the National Public Universities but 20th in National Universities.

Which universities have campuses in India? Not the best, of course, the very best don’t have to go offshore, students come to them. No one has heard of Harvard or Cambridge or Oxford opening campuses in India.

However, one thing is certain, hardly any top ranking university of the USA, the UK, Australia or New Zealand has shown interest in India. Only those universities with very low rankings in their own country and those which are badly in need of foreign students have made inroads into developing countries like India. It is estimated that out of the 50 foreign universities competing to woo Indian students, none have a good standing in their own education system.

It is strange that though our government is aware that low-ranking universities are invading India with the sole aim of making quick money, it is dong nothing to stop this trend. Perhaps, UGC’s National Assessment and Accreditations Council will be able to restore the faith of Indian students in its own education system and to that extent help Indian students in evaluating Indian universities in relation to foreign universities.

Foreign colleges and universities are tying up with local NGOs as also with individuals who have money to ‘create’ the foreign education environment in India. Each one claims to be redefining the benchmarks of international quality education at a fraction of the cost of studying abroad. Most of them lay more emphasis on infrastructure, like laboratories, libraries and classrooms, but lack in the commitment of the faculty. It is obvious why they do so. Tangible assets can be seen by the students and their parents who have to dish out the fee but they have no means of assessing the quality of the faculty. They engage a couple of people from the country with which they have a tie-up to impress the student and the parents. It is well known that whenever a foreign faculty has tried to teach Indian students, there are problems in the teaching-learning process.

Dumping of substandard services in countries where the customer does not have the ability to evaluate the service is a case in point against the excesses of globalisation. The Indian government must contribute towards curbing such excesses. Has anyone realised the damage being done to our human resources by allowing students to be cheated by unscrupulous foreign universities? There is a need to regulate the foreign educational institutions to suit our needs. Let good universities come and provide what they claim and let our students know what they are up against. This is fair competition and this is what globalisation is all about. At present, it is heavily biased in favour of the foreign universities of foreign lands.