Wanted: a university interested in educating members of the Indian diaspora in their homeland.
That’s the bottom line of an advertisement being run by the ministry for overseas Indian affairs. It has begun asking foreign trusts and societies in higher education to submit applications to establish a university for non-resident Indians (NRIs) and persons of Indian origin (PIOs)—25 million people spread over more than 130 countries.
But some NRIs themselves remain sceptical, saying most of the young people flocking to India now seek jobs, internships, volunteer opportunities. Education, they said, still seems a reason to go—or stay—West. “I think it’s a great idea on paper,” said Anand Shah, founder of Indicorps, a non-governmental organization that has brought 250 young adults of Indian descent here for both long- and short-term service projects. Though he sees rising interest among young people, he doesn’t expect that to translate into students clamouring to attend university here instead of in the US or in Europe.
Many top universities are now global brands in their own right, offering programmes to study everywhere, including India, for those students who are searching for their roots. Barring the big name technical schools such as the Indian Institutes of Management and the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), India’s universities don’t yet rank on a global scale, said Shah, a US-born Harvard University graduate who started Indicorps along with his sisters.
“I’m not sure they’d be able to attract the calibre of faculty and staff or be able to meet the same educational standards,” he added. “They’d be better off expanding the capacity of an IIT or a JNU (Jawaharlal Nehru University).”
Officials from the ministry were unavailable for comment and further details were not available, according to the official who answered the phone. The proposal for the university cleared the cabinet in March. The Centre has been considering a proposal to allow foreign universities to enter India with 100% foreign investment.
The advertisement, also circulating among NRI organizations via email and on the Internet, says that after a 45-day period, a shortlisted group will be invited to present to a screening committee of several ministries and organizations such as the All India Council for Technical Education and the Medical Council of India.
“There are many people who have brought their children up outside but are looking to keep that root of India. They don’t want to give up,” said K.V. Shamshudheen, chairman of the Dubai-based Pravasi Bandhu Welfare Trust, which has lobbied for such a university to be established in Kerala and often lobbies the government on behalf of the NRI community from West Asia.
“If they send them to the US or the UK, they don’t learn the respect for Indian culture and Indian heritage you want them to,” he added. His organization does not intend to submit a plan for such a school because it lacks experience in the education sector and the necessary resources, he said.
Kishore Asthana, an Indian businessman who spent more than two decades in Oman and is now retired in the New Delhi suburb of Gurgaon, chose to send his two children to the US for their education. He said he can see the appeal of a university dedicated to the diaspora here, especially for conservative families that don’t want their?children exposed to Western mores as undergraduates.
However, he said he would still choose universities outside India thanks to an uncertain admissions process here. “You have to queue up after your results come out. You don’t know which universities you will get in,” he said.
Asthana’s son Manu, 33, attended the Wharton school of business at the University of Pennsylvania and is now a vice-president at TXU Energy in Dallas, Texas. Daughter Namrata, 29, attended Vanderbilt University and has moved to India and works for a major multinational company in Gurgaon. “Universities in India at that time did not have the cachet of Wharton or Harvard or Oxford,” he added.
Aparna Kalra contributed to this story.