Foreign Universities Bill: India Toddling Forward

School textbooks taught us, education is our birthright and should be made available to anybody and everybody irrespective of social status. But does this really happen?

According to education department, while, 96 % of the population enrolls in primary school, 40 % of them drop out before getting to the age of 10, while just over a third of our high school students get a graduate degree.

According to the 2009 survey, India’s literacy rate was 76.9% for men and 54.5% for women, though a sign of great disparity but there are more reasons to rue. In our country literacy is defined by a person’s ability to write and read with understanding in a particular language. So a class 2 drop out is on equal terms with a graduate, going by the credo; hence providing a vague statistical manifestation of literacy levels. The start itself was a delayed one and the progress is a replica of that; it was only in 1978, when the National Adult Educational Programme was launched, that it was realized- poverty and illiteracy are interlinked. The NAEP included special programmes for women, backward classes and hill tribes and aimed at attaining complete literacy within 5 years in the age group 15-35, though overly optimistic and was never achieved, still a start it was. There have been numerous efforts since then like, National literacy scheme (1988), Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (2001), Mid-day meal scheme (1995), etc. in making education accessible to all. But though some of the programmes have attained partial success, all were concerned about primary education. Nobody felt the need of catering higher education at affordable rates to poor kids; albeit the fact that only higher education determines your value in the employment market and the lack of it produces large scale unemployment.

Another acute issue deserving immediate attention is brain drain. According to reports, Indian students going abroad for higher studies cost India foreign exchange of $ 10 billion every year, while $2 billion a year is lost every year due to emigration of Indian computer engineers (esp. software) to United States. Whether it is in search of higher salaries or better education people still venture off-shores in sheaf, gussied up under the bric-a-brac of the world being a ‘global village’. Hindsight into the number of foreign students migrating to India reveals the real story, where barring a handful of poorer African countries and nations like Tibet, Nepal, Bangladesh, Ukraine, etc. very few people come to study here. When it is said that the new American educational policy is being framed keeping India in mind, only 4 of our institutes find mention in the top 200 universities of the world. The IITs rank 57th in the list of world’s top 200 universities, while the IIMs have been ranked 68th and JNU comes 183rd on the list published by the Times Higher Education Supplement. This is largely due to the non-uniformity of education served in our country; whilst not many students end up cracking the entrances of the ‘crème de la crème’ rest are either left as squatters in ‘hinterland-India’ or are lured by chichi bivouacs abroad. Although inability to knock though the entrance tests should not be mistaken for dearth of talent, as a student in India has to deal with several other hindrances like- nepotism, corruption and of course reservation system. Reservation itself is sub-divided into – religion based, gender based, caste based, management quota, state of domiciles, etc. which provides a raw deal to many deserving candidates. No one has forgotten the picture of a female medical student braving water canons in protest of reservation system and students putting themselves to fire have become a clichéd sight.

Though of recent, the country has seen a glimpse of the new dawn, if not Elysium: The uniform grading system; scrapping class ten exams; Right to Education Bill- ensuring free and compulsory education to all kids between 6-14 years of age and also making education a fundamental right; and of course much hyped the recent Foreign Educational Institution (Regulation of Entry and Operation) Bill, 2010. The foreign educational institution bill allows foreign universities to set up their own campuses in India and grant degrees on their own. It is a boon for all the students who aspired to study abroad but had to scrap their dreams due to financial problems. Moreover, the HRD minister Kapil Sibal, has made it clear that reservation system will not be applicable in these varsities, thus paving way for healthy merit based competition. But there are concerns amongst different parts of the society and they too have valid reasons. Although the bill says quota laws will not be applicable, trading of seats cannot be ruled out. In our county, where even primary school admissions are subject to donations and the premier institutes sell seats openly, such speculations should not be written off. The second problem pointed out by the prognosticators is the probability of top faculties of our illustrious institutions, like IIT’s and IIM’s exchanging loyalties in greed for better pay by the foreign cousins. The Indian varsities are bound to suffer amidst tough competition, but isn’t it the right time to gamble? After all, competitions always get the best out of bests. The prospect of Imperial College, Duke College, Schulich School of Business, Georgia tech, etc. coming to India seems lucrative from a student’s point of view and thus also prevents brain drain. But one area still seeking attention is the higher education for the poorer populace, and the need to distinguish poor from lower castes and minorities. A hill tribe or a scheduled caste person does not necessarily dwell in a poor household; and in contrary a higher caste person or religious majority is not always endowed with floral garlands and diamond jewels.

So, for the time being ‘foreign universities bill’ is a welcome step, but the steps should be scrutinized closely.

Debojit Dutta

[Image courtesy:$file/students-in-classroom.jpg]