Mumbai: Foreign universities are responding cautiously to India’s proposed legislation that would make it easier for them to set up full-fledged campuses here.
Foreign universities want to expand their presence in India, senior administrators at these universities say, but they don’t expect to immediately build their own campuses even if the law is passed. The proposal was approved by the cabinet last week and is expected to be introduced in Parliament next month.
“We are waiting and keeping in touch with companies and the ministry to see how the legislation plays out and what options might emerge,” said Mark Kamlet, provost and senior vice-president at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University.
The legislation would potentially open a huge market to international educational institutions. But university administrators say the law likely won’t give them enough flexibility in admissions and hiring to set upstand-alone degree programmes.
Many say they would rather increase collaborations with Indian universities, which is permitted under the current regime.
Big potential: A file photo of students from the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, studying in the library of the IIT campus in New Delhi. With at least 490 universities and 20,769 colleges, India has among the largest number of higher education institutions in the world, according to report by the HRD ministry. Sanjit Das/WSJ
A similar Bill introduced earlier was blocked by the government’s former Leftist coalition partner. The chances for the Bill succeeding this time are greater because the Left is no longer part of the coalition.
“I think if the legislation does pass, our discussions will get fairly serious fairly quickly, and we would be interested in deep cooperation,” Kamlet said. “But we might still find it easier to collaborate.”
While India has a huge population and an unmet need for educational institutions, many challenges remain to setting up university campuses, according to Madeleine F. Green, vice-president for International Initiatives at the American Council on Education, a Washington-based group of US colleges and universities. Among those hurdles are quality control, accreditation and regulations, she said.
“My research has shown that there is tremendous interest in India and a whole gamut of potential ways to interact, but setting up a campus in India is not what every institute is interested in doing,” Green said, adding that the interest in India is more in research partnerships and cooperation.
Earlier this month, Carnegie Mellon signed an agreement with the Punjab government to help start an international university in a new township in the industrial city of Ludhiana. But Carnegie Mellon’s role is limited to advising the university on its computer software and information systems.
New York’s Columbia University this week opened its fourth international centre for research and regional collaborations in Mumbai, but it doesn’t plan to have its own campus here.
“It is very important to spread the benefits of education—there’s no question about that,” said Lee Bollinger, president of Columbia University. “But, to set up a branch campus is very difficult, to make it a self-sustaining financial system…unless you have some major external funding.”
Brown University, in Providence, Rhode Island, will send a delegation to India soon to explore other opportunities and expand its existing partnerships. University officials say the timing of their visit is coincidental to the Bill’s being passed by the cabinet.
“We are interested in talking with the government, we are eager to talk to people in India about the various roles they see for us,” said Matthew Gutmann, vice-president for international affairs at Brown University.
During its visit to India, the Brown University delegation is expected to renew its existing student and faculty exchange programmes with St Stephen’s College in Delhi, Gutmann said.
American university officials say hurdles remain to recruiting world-class faulty and providing research grants. Officials at top foreign universities say they could establish stand-alone campuses here only if they have the flexibility to pay the competitive salaries needed to attract top faculty and allocate research grants on merit. Indian government regulations restrict almost every aspect of university administration, from tuition fees to salaries to research grants.
Yale University is currently in discussions with the ministry of human resource development (HRD), which oversees education, to advice the government on its plans to set up 14 new national universities in the next few years.
“We are in discussions to formulate a curriculum on institutional governance, faculty development and other topics,” said George Joseph, assistant secretary for international affairs at Yale University. He added that Yale isn’t considering a stand-alone campus at present.
Other countries, including Australia, are also interested in expanding their higher education links with India.
Kelly H. Raj, education counsellor for the Australian High Commission, said her country is waiting to see the details of the legislation to assess opportunities.
India, with at least 490 universities and 20,769 colleges, has among the largest number of higher education institutions in the world, according to report by the HRD ministry. But the quality is low at many of these academic institutions, critics say, and many graduates’ skills are so poor they are unemployable.
Around 160,000 students leave India every year to study abroad, according to the National Knowledge Commission, an advisory group to the prime minister.
Thus far, foreign educational institutions have made a foray into India, but their involvement is limited. There are at least 100 foreign educational institutions offering programmes in the country, but most are vocational or technical and run for only a few weeks or months.
The Wall Street Journal