Even as a top advisor to US President George Bush vowed to extend more visas to Indian students, she also said she wants a two-way exchange to take place.
India’s economic growth means more Americans want to study here and understand its business practices, said Karen Hughes, undersecretary for public diplomacy and public affairs, and envoy-at-large of the Bush administration.
This week, Hughes is leading a delegation of six university presidents to explore student and faculty exchanges and common degree programmes with Indian universities.
While India sent 76,000 students to the US last year, it received less than 2,000 American students. India represents the largest source of international students in the US.
At a Thursday morning briefing with the press, Hughes assured Indians that securing visas will not be a problem. “Every Indian student who has been accepted by an accredited US university will get a visa,” Hughes said.
She said that the US wants to be seen as a welcoming country and has been working hard to rebuild its visa capacity and restructure immigration laws after the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.
Security clearances and other formalities have resulted in long delays for immigrants to secure green cards, which allow them to live and work in the US.
The result has been stiff competition from Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Singapore for Indian students. Experts say these countries are cheaper for Indian students and boast easier admissions and visa processes.
“In the US, many students get stuck at the visa stage, so the admission goes waste,” said Neeraj Sharma, who heads Essaycraft, a company that helps Indian students applying to universities abroad. “But I have not heard of a single student whose visa got rejected by Australia.”
But the group led by Hughes this week has its sights largely set on the growth in Indian education. Hughes said she wants to possibly double or triple the number of American students in India.
“We want to send our students here for summer or even for one year of study,” said John Lilley, president of Texas-based Baylor University. “We want to start a dialogue with Delhi University for that.”
While many universities have made exploratory trips to India over the last few years, the government has still not given them sanction to open campuses. Those already here are operating jointly with established Indian universities.
After eight months of delays, the Foreign Education Providers Bill was approved by the Union cabinet on 1 March, with a clause that all universities would have to follow the laws of the University Grants Commission. The organization oversees higher education in India, mainly fee structures and quotas for students of economically and socially backward classes.
The Bill also said select “institutions of excellence” will be exempt from following these rules. An advisory board to be set up by the government will decide which colleges deserve to be exempted.
But Hughes said that if the Bill is enacted by Parliament, it will impact the type of partnerships that will be possible between Indian and foreign universities.