The much awaited Foreign-based Education Providers’ (FEP) Bill has finally received the cabinet’s nod and in the process Union human resources development minister Kapil Sibal has managed to pull off a coup of sorts in the higher education sector.
Some members of the Indian academia believe that if it is implemented, the Bill will boost competition among overseas and national education providers. Competition at a global level would be the tool that would help shake the system out of complacency—induced by a skewed demand supply gap.
Competition, experts say, will make pedagogy creative and exciting. It will also assure optimal allocation of resources. With more foreign players, there would be better discipline, professionalism and the spread of a global education design in the country.
However, before private and/or government universities and colleges embrace this environment of “healthy competition”, it needs to be asked whether the Centre would eventually succeed in luring the “right” international education providers.
Till date, the Union government has not permitted any foreign university to award degrees in India. However, there are over a hundred overseas universities that are already active here through the so-called “collaborations” with Indian private educators. The Bill (hopefully) will make it possible for our government to regulate entry and make them accountable for the quality of education they provide; and, create a disincentive for those who don’t deliver on their promise.
However, the real purpose of the Bill is to attract the best universities such as those in the Ivy League. Will it? In spite of the best intentions, the Bill, if implemented in its current form, may not be able to change much of the status quo.
The best universities in the world want independence from the state. But the FEP Bill empowers the government to revoke the university status of a foreign provider (much in the same way that the 44 deemed universities were recently “de-recognized”).
Second, the Bill is asking for a hefty corpus from foreign providers. The current version proposes Rs100 million, but some believe it could, well, end up being anywhere around Rs500 million. It does little to inspire confidence, especially since it’s viewed as a security deposit.
Again, the Bill states that foreign providers are welcome to invest, but cannot repatriate surpluses. Expecting a Bill that has provisions to curb and control bottom-rung players, to also enable top-ranked universities, is like asking an athlete to run with shackles around his feet.
The truth is that the world’s best universities are going through a rough patch financially; endowments shrank by an average of 60%. Even the best and the biggest today are in no position to invest a modest few million dollars in India, let alone do it with zero returns.
Unless we fix this, the government’s intention will remain just a dream. Worse, the ones that are here will initiate other forms of “collaboration” to stay under the radar.
Pramath Raj Sinha is founder and managing director of 9.9 Mediaworx and founding dean of the Indian School of Business. Respond to this column at firstname.lastname@example.org