If the government has its way, foreign universities may soon be able to open campuses in India. Recently, the ministry of human resources development started the process to let these universities operate under the new companies law.
The approach is a compromise. Originally, the government had planned to seek parliamentary approval for the purpose.
The Foreign Educational Institutions (FEI) (Regulation of Entry and Operations) Bill, 2010, sought legislative backing for the step. This was not forthcoming. Parliamentary logjams and effective lobbying by educationists in India’s state-run universities killed that option. Now the government is planning to notify the University Grants Commission (UGC) (Established and Operation of Campuses of Foreign Educational Institutions) Rules. These rules will enable foreign universities to set up campuses and grant degrees in India.
The degrees will be treated as foreign certificates, subject to equivalence requirements carried out by the Association of Indian Universities.
These cumbersome and roundabout steps would have been unnecessary if Parliament had simply passed the relevant law. That, however, is history. Once the rules are notified, FEIs can enter India. At the moment, it is only a proposal. Given the long-winding steps through which a government proposal is moulded into policy, the establishment of campuses in India by these universities may be years away. The step, however, is in the right direction for a number of reasons. The first is the huge ongoing surge in the working age population in India. Between 2011 and 2020, India will add 120 million people to this group. In the next decade, this number will swell by another 100 million.
Providing good education to this huge group is the first step in giving them good jobs. Realistically, of course, it is hard to imagine all of them passing through universities. But even if 10% of this number were to demand quality higher education, the country will be hard-pressed to do that today.
India has 620 universities. Of these, 342 are state and central universities. These institutions are simply unable to meet the demand.
With this number, forget 10% of the so-called demographic dividend, managing even 1% is a tough call. The game is up for a large number of these citizens in any case—nearly half of this decade is over and by the time the first foreign campus is established, probably we would be ending the decade.
What the government and the private sector need to do is to earnestly engage with these potential foreign education providers on the courses they will provide. Close coordination between educational planners, economists and the end consumers of the output from these universities—India’s private and public sectors—is necessary if the country is to make the most of this opportunity.
The other reason why foreign universities need to be welcomed is more general. Indian universities, apart from their limited ability to provide the badly needed supply-side response in education, are also intellectually not on the top of things. While technology and scientific education is largely neutral to ideological issues, it is in humanities and social sciences that India is simply unable to cope with new intellectual trends and education.
For progress, any country needs to breed its own set of thinkers and leaders who have a liberal perspective of the world. In India, quality liberal arts education—an essential part of building such a world view—is sorely missing. Hopefully, these universities can step in and fill this vital breach. If India is to realize its global ambitions, it not only needs scientists, engineers and managers but also diplomats and thinkers of a liberal persuasion. The real service foreign universities can do to India is to help it create its new generation of educationists and thought leaders who can train the next generation of citizens so desirous of quality education.
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