Need to reform our own university system : The Tribune India

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Need to reform our own university system

Offering a chance to foreign universities to establish their base in India is considered a fair move as it may even encourage Indian varsities to develop better courses. It will provide an opportunity to Indian students to remain in their home country and not go abroad for quality education. However, there are fears that the entry of foreign varsities would raise the cost of education.

Need to reform our own university system

Exodus: The number of Indian students opting for higher education abroad rose from 4.4 lakh in 2016 to 7.7 lakh in 2019. istock



Prem Chowdhry

Author and Former Academic, Delhi University

THE Central Government had announced its commitment to the entry of foreign universities in the National Education Policy document in July 2020. Now, the University Grants Commission (UGC) has also given its approval, although under India’s federal structure the UGC is not statutorily entitled to unilaterally initiate moves without consulting state governments.

The idea of allowing foreign universities to set up campuses in India dates back to the 1990s, when following liberalisation, the government had drafted the Foreign Educational Institutions Bill (1995), which had to be shelved. The UPA government made another attempt in 2006, as also in 2010, but failed to get the Bill passed in Parliament.

The idea has been revived and now foreign universities will be able to set up campuses in India. However, this issue has triggered a debate between those vociferously opposing it and others who are backing it. Just like every other decision, this one has its fair share of advantages and disadvantages, which may be kept in mind while implementing it.

There are a number of Indian students who opt for foreign degrees. This means an outflow of Indian money. If the government wants to cut down on this flow of money, allowing foreign universities in India may be a major step in this direction.

A recent report by a leading consulting firm estimated that Indian students’ overseas spending is set to grow from the current annual $28 billion to $80 billion annually by 2024. The number of Indian students opting for higher education abroad rose from 4.4 lakh in 2016 to 7.7 lakh in 2019; it is set to grow further to roughly 18 lakh by 2024, resulting in higher overseas expenditure on higher education.

The foreign universities will also provide opportunities to academics. There are many reputed lecturers and professors who choose to leave India to teach abroad because of the enormous difference in salaries. Once there, they may never return. This can be prevented by allowing foreign universities in India. Many talented students and faculty members opt to remain abroad, when they may well be needed in their own country. Indeed, more than 8 lakh Indians gave up their citizenship in the last seven years.

In such a scenario, offering a chance to foreign universities to establish their base in India is considered a fair move as it may even encourage Indian universities to develop better courses. Their entry in India will provide an opportunity to Indian students to remain in their home country and not go abroad for quality education. India can retain its brilliant minds for its own growth and development.

With the setting up of foreign institutes in India, the level of employment will rise drastically. To increase the standards of education in India and explore various opportunities, this move is considered in the country’s best interest. It will also help improve Indian economy.

The entry of foreign universities will also introduce an element of competition in the higher education sector, motivating Indian universities to raise their own standards. India can emerge as a global hub of higher education, attracting students from different parts of the world. Foreign universities will provide further impetus to the government’s ‘Study in India’ programme that seeks to attract foreign students. This will not only lead to monetary benefits in the form of foreign exchange, but will also boost India’s soft power. On the whole, allowing foreign universities in India is considered and projected to benefit the Indian educational system.

However, the entry of foreign enterprises in the Indian education sector also comes with some concerns and risks. A section of educational practitioners has expressed reservations about allowing international universities to operate in India as it would raise the cost of education, making it out of reach for a large chunk of the population. There is also a fear of poaching the best talent from local universities. Foreign universities flush with money would not hesitate to pay to get the best professors from Indian universities. While it may enable professors to earn better salaries, it would also lead to an exodus of quality faculty from the existing institutions. This may, thus, ensure a relatively higher quality of education in foreign universities, but simultaneously lower the bar in Indian public institutions.

At present, Indian public universities offer much cheaper education as compared to private ones. For instance, the tuition fee for the entire Bachelor of Arts programme in Delhi University is nearly Rs 11,000, as per the university website. In contrast, Ashoka University, a private institution, has an annual tuition fee of nearly Rs 9 lakh, according to the university website. Foreign universities, being private in nature, are thus likely to charge even higher fees. This raises doubts over the efficacy of foreign universities in increasing access to higher education as the high fee would act as a deterrent to students belonging to weaker socio-economic backgrounds. This change would be advantageous to just the upper and middle classes.

In addition, the foreign universities are also likely to be exempted from providing reservations to weaker sections of society. The existing gap between the privileged and the marginalised would thus widen, posing challenges for politico-social stability. The entry of foreign universities in the present scenario would lead to significant distortions in the higher education sector and is bound to have negative societal effects.

The need of the hour is to reform our own university system with the help of substantial public investment and structural reforms which can improve the quality of Indian universities. Once Indian universities have developed sufficiently, then foreign universities could be allowed in the country.

The idea of allowing foreign universities in India is thus an idea whose time has not yet come.


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