Foreign Universities in India – A Critical Perspective

A university is envisioned as a space to shape the minds of the youth and equip them to become active citizens of society and leaders of tomorrow. India has nearly 864 universities which are the third-highest in the world. However, the Indian University system faces several shortcomings. The NITI Aayog in its ‘Strategy for New India’ notes that factors such as outdated syllabus, inadequate funding and an absence of quality assurance mechanisms act as constraints.

In order to revamp the entire education system, the draft New Education Policy (NEP) – 2019 was formulated. For improving the level of higher education one of the suggestions made by the NEP is allowing foreign universities to set up campuses in India. The model has been followed in many countries, for instance, New York University has its campuses in Abu Dhabi and Shanghai. In addition, it has academic centers in cities like Berlin, Buenos Aires, and Madrid. The idea has been doing the rounds in India since the United Progressive Alliance government led by the Congress party first proposed to allow foreign universities to enter India in 2007. The proposed policy demands a nuanced discussion regarding its benefits and potential shortcomings.

By Diliff – Own work, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1286286

Need for Foreign Universities in India

Proponents of the move argue that there are significant benefits associated with the entry of foreign universities in India. One of the factors which necessitate the entry of foreign universities is the massive student population. The number of students in India is an estimated 315 million (Office of the Registrar General and Census Commissioner of India 2011). Despite the presence of one the highest number of universities the gross enrolment ratio of India is 25.2% which is lower than Russia 78% and China 30% (NITI Aayog 2018). Nearly 47% of graduates from higher education institutes are employable (United Nations Development Programme 2018) The quality of education provided by the current system is inadequate. Foreign universities are therefore expected to help increase the access to quality education and help transform India’s population into a human resource.

The better quality of education provided by foreign universities can be seen from the Quacquerelli Symonds (QS) World University Rankings which are dominated by universities from the United States of America (USA) and Europe. While China has three universities among the top 50, none of the Indian universities have made it to the top 100 list.

According to data from the Ministry of External Affairs in August 2017 an estimated 5.53 lakh Indian students are studying abroad (Kancharla & Dubbudu, 2017). The nation is denied some of its brightest minds as the students often opt to continue working abroad which contributes to brain drain. According to a report by the National Science Foundation, published in The Hindu in 2016, migration of Indian scientists and engineers to the USA increased by 85% in the last ten years between 2003 and 2013 ( Koshy J 2016)

According to a report in The Hindu published in 2010, The Associated Chambers of Commerce & Industry of India (ASSOCHAM) estimates that nearly 3/4th of Indian students leaving the country for higher education can stay in India if foreign universities set shop in the country (The Hindu 2010. Also, foreign universities have better resources available at their disposal – financial and human. In order to maintain their high standards, they constantly carry out quality research. Foreign universities will, therefore, stimulate research and development in the country providing opportunities to talented professors and researchers to work in a better research culture. Entry of foreign universities would thus help limit brain drain by providing Indian students the opportunities to study and research along with some of the best minds in India.

The sizeable student population studying abroad acts as a drain on the foreign exchange reserves due to payment of fees and other expenses. ASSOCHAM estimates that foreign university campuses in India will save an outflow of $7.5 billion dollars (The Hindu 2010). The entry of foreign universities would thus curb the foreign exchange outflow and allow India to use its reserves of foreign capital effectively

An additional impact of the entry of foreign universities would lead to an element of competition in the higher education sector. Foreign universities will vie with existing universities to attract quality researchers, professors, and students. In order to compete effectively with the foreign universities for industry projects, talented students and faculty the Indian universities will be motivated to raise their own standards. Such a healthy competition can help improve the overall quality of education in universities. The Indian government has embarked on initiatives such as Study in India which aim to attract foreign students to study in India. The entry of foreign universities would thus increase the number of quality educational institutions in the country. India can emerge as a global hub for higher education attracting students from different parts of the world. This not only has monetary benefits in the form of foreign exchange, but it also boosts India’s soft power.

Case Against the entry of Foreign Universities

The Indian government has adopted the path of neo-liberalism in the higher education sector in recent times. Examples of neo-liberal policies include moving towards market-linked fees and performance-based grants. The entry of foreign universities would be in line with neo-liberal policies which would intensify the marketization and commodification of higher education in the country.

Foreign universities with their deep pockets would not hesitate to pay a premium in order to get the best professors from Indian universities. While it may enable professors to earn and command better salaries it would also lead to an exodus of quality faculty from existing institutes. This would thus ensure a relatively higher quality of education in foreign universities while simultaneously lowering the quality of existing public institutes. The situation would closely resemble the present state of university education which is characterized by “islands of excellence” amongst a “sea of mediocrity.” 

At present, Indian public universities are cheaper as compared to private alternatives. For instance, the tuition fees for the entire Bachelor of Arts program in Delhi University is nearly Rs. 11,000 as per the university website. In contrast, Ashoka University which is a private university has an annual tuition fee of nearly Rs7,40,000 lakhs as per the university website. Foreign universities being private in nature are thus likely to charge higher fees. This raises doubts over the efficacy of foreign universities in increasing access to higher education as the high fees would act as a deterrent for students belonging to weaker socio-economic backgrounds.

Furthermore, the entry of foreign educational institutions would further accentuate the socio-economic inequalities present in the country. Students with better financial resources can afford to study in such institutions, develop a better quality of skills and thus demand greater salaries in the market. Students who are relatively disadvantaged will graduate from a relatively lower quality of institutions and will have lower employability. In addition to this foreign universities are also likely to be exempt from providing reservations for weaker sections of the society. The existing gap between the privileged and the marginalized would thus widen posing challenges for societal stability.

Conclusion

The entry of foreign universities is not a silver bullet for the malaise in the Indian university system. The entry of foreign universities in the present scenario would lead to significant distortions in the higher education sector and have negative societal effects. The need of the hour is to reform our 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 should be allowed in the country. It is thus an idea whose time has not yet come.

(Neel Karnik is a student of the Masters in Public Policy program. A graduate in electrical engineering, his areas of interest are Internet and social media, energy, agriculture, international relations, and policy evaluation. He can be reached at karniknitin@nls.ac.in)

References

Kancharla, B., & Dubbudu, R. (2017). Indians students studying abroad in 86 different countries; 55% in USA & Canada. Retrieved 4 October 2019, from https://factly.in/indians-students-studying-abroad-in-86-different-countries-55-in-usa-canada

Koshy, J. (2016). Indian engineers, scientists in US nearing one million. The Hindu. Retrieved from https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/Indian-engineers-scientists-in-U.S.-nearing-one-million/article14000053.ece

NITI Aayog. (2018). Strategy for New India @75 (pp. 116-120). Retrieved from https://niti.gov.in/sites/default/files/2019-01/Strategy_for_New_India_2.pdf

Office of the Registrar General and Census Commissioner of India. (2011). Census 2011. Ministry of Home Affairs.

The Hindu. (2010). Foreign university campuses to help India save USD 7.5 bn outflow. Retrieved from https://www.thehindu.com/business/Economy/Foreign-university-campuses-to-help-India-save-USD-7.5-bn-outflow/article16581735.ece

United Nations Development Programme. 2018. “India Skills Report”. https://www.in.undp.org/content/india/en/home/library/poverty/india-skills-report-2018.html.

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