Global Education at Your Doorstep

The Foreign Educational Institutions Bill was cleared by Union cabinet on Monday, 15th March 2010. The bill gives permission to foreign universities to set up their campuses in India. It is expected to vastly enhance the profile of higher education in India. The HRD minister Kapil Sibal said “This bill would result in a larger revolution than the one caused in telecom sector. This is a great opportunity to enhance our choices, increase the competition and improve the quality of higher education.” As the BJP is also in favor of this bill it should not have any opposition in the Parliament. And once the bill is cleared universities like Georgia Tech, Imperial College, Duke College, and Schulich School of Business are expected to set up their campuses in India.

These foreign university campuses will operate as private institutes. There would be no reservation for the SC/ST /OBC students. The university will also be free to fix the fees and decide on the admission process. For registration, Rs 50 crore is to be deposited by the universities in the University Grants Commission which forms the registering body.  The universities will have to go through a series of steps in the registration process. Only if they clear all these levels, the registration body will advise the government to allow the university to set up their campus here.

We can surely expect the bill to create many positive changes in the status of higher education. Firstly it would provide us good quality education at an affordable cost. Not everyone can afford to go to Stanford or Cambridge to study. If that facility is available at our doorstep then what more can we ask for?

According to a study conducted by American academics Philip G Altbach, Laura E Rumbley and Ivan Pacheco, it was found that Indian professors are poorly paid. They conducted a survey and prepared a chart that indicated that professors were paid highest in Saudi Arabia($ 6,611/month) followed by Canada($6548/month) and United states($ 5816/month) with Indian professors being paid only $ 1547/month. Keeping this in mind the bill would surely increase the demand for top Indian professors and also bring a hike in their salary.

Georgia Tech University is said to have bought 250 acres of land in Hyderabad. A computer science professor of the university told a leading newspaper “We all got a formal note from the university asking us to move to the campus in India. We were also offered the same salary. Considering the low cost of living in India, this is no less than a fortune” This aspect also opens up the opportunity of students receiving high-standard, well experienced teaching staff from the universities abroad.

According to UNESCO’s Global Education Digest 2009, India sends the highest number of students about 1, 53,300 of them abroad for studies. With the foreign university bill this figure might be altered in the coming years as there will be a decline in the number of people going abroad for studies. This would also solve the issue of brain drain.

However there are certain things that need to be taken care of in order to maintain the transparency and authenticity of the university campuses in India. There should be a proper regulation committee to regulate the working of the university. The fees should also be regulated and it should be ensured that the institute provides good quality infrastructure and faculty. The universities should not be allowed to exploit the demands of students to make quick money. This matter should be considered seriously to prevent education from becoming a business.

With thousands of universities and colleges, quantity has never been an issue with higher education in India. It’s the quality that we are in need of. Will the bill ensure that only top-notch institutes set up their campuses here? If not then won’t it further dilute the quality of education in the country? It‘s usually the second-tier Institutes who arrive first. Well known institutes like Harvard, Stanford or Oxford usually aim for high-quality students and research collaborations. They are unlikely to open offshore campuses. We can learn from the experience Israel had when they opened their doors to foreign universities. As the regulation was weak there was a surge in the number of sub-standard institutes setting up their campuses in Israel. Through proper regulation we can avoid this situation.

Some of us even feel that studying in an Oxford or MIT campus in India will not be as prestigious as the campus overseas. Studying abroad is not only about academics, it’s about overall exposure and experience one gains by studying in a new country, mingling with people from different places and enjoying the spectacular environment there. All this cannot be provided by the campuses here. The universities here would not be considered reputed enough if they cannot match the superior infrastructure and the distinguished faculty provided abroad. Considering this will there be that many students willing to join these universities?

The foreign university bill appears to be receiving a mixed response from people. So all we can do right now is keep our fingers crossed and hope that the bill turns out to be a major breakthrough in our education system.

Swati R