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New Delhi: Morton Schapiro, president of the US’ Northwestern University, is on his first visit to India, one that comes soon after the Foreign Educational Institution (Regulation of Entry and Operation) Bill, 2010, has been cleared by the Union cabinet. The Bill allows foreign universities to set up campuses. Schapiro met human resource development minister Kapil Sibal, who oversees education, during this visit; the meeting was scheduled for Tuesday after the interview with Mint. Edited excerpts:

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How hopeful are you about this Bill?

Well, we will see what happens with Parliament. But as a university president in the US, I think it is pretty exciting.

Why is it exciting? It has provisions of a corpus fund that universities have to deposit; they cannot repatriate profits. Aren’t endowments down in the US?

Oh, they are way down. But there’s been a rebound. Most of our peer institutions lost 25% of their corpus of endowment in the market debacle in the last two years, and I think we have got 10% of it back.

I think what is exciting is that everyone is looking to globalize. I think this might be an interesting move for India. A lot of other countries already have those kind of provisions.

You mentioned the restriction on being able to repatriate capital. If you are looking to globalize and provide international experiences for your students, if it’s a not-for-profit (college), the restrictions on repatriation are not all that binding.

Will you look for partners?

Competitive edge: Northwestern University president Schapiro. Priyanka Prashar/Mint

You mentioned the Qatar campus. Have we lost out to competing locations? For example, NYU (New York University) has a campus in Abu Dhabi.

I think there are a lot of students out there. There is enormous under-enrolment worldwide in higher education.

The economics literature, to which I have contributed myself, indicate the rate of return on higher education investments is very high and also their contribution to economic growth.

I don’t think there is so much a first-mover or someone gets in to the exclusion of everyone else. I think there is an enormous under-served market.

That said, the vision there in Qatar is staggering. I haven’t been to Abu Dhabi but I know NYU is very optimistic.

You mentioned the global nature of education. Can you expand on that?

I am a big fan of Tom Friedman’s The World is Flat. Of course, he was greatly inspired by what is going on in India. You want to prepare all of your graduates, whether MBA students or lawyers or doctors; you want to prepare them for this globalized world.

I and many people in similar positions in the US think that we should provide opportunities for our students to study abroad and for other students to come here. Partnerships is one of the ways to do it.

The last I looked, you have 160,000 Indian students studying abroad, 100,000 of them or so in the US, but we only have 3,100 US students studying in India. So it is a remarkable disconnect.

In the short term, it is good for our services balance. The US is the largest net exporter of higher education services in the world. We netted $12.6 billion (Rs57,456 crore) in terms of (what we earned from) the students who come in versus students we send abroad, and that’s good. But think about this imbalance. You have 100,000 Indian students studying in the US—learning about our culture, about our technology. And we reciprocate with 3,100. That’s going to put us at a real competitive disadvantage.

So the short-term benefit is services trade account. But the long-term liability is how are we going to have people ready to be positioned to be global partners with India, the same with China.

Do you think this Bill will help reverse the flow?

It’s hard to see. It depends on a for-profit provision in there (in the Bill); depends on how you will do accreditation. I have been reading your papers and there is a lot of speculation about which of the US universities are going to come—is it the most prestigious, highly selected, heavily resourced universities? We have to see how it shapes up. Of course, it (the Bill) hasn’t been passed by Parliament yet. It’s just a Bill.

Are you aware of the plans of other universities? Harvard, Yale... Do you see them coming here?

You know, a couple of us are in Qatar. Georgetown (University) is in Qatar, Texas A&M, Cornell. NYU is in Abu Dhabi. I think everybody is looking to globalize their product. Presumably, the Bill will make it a little easier for US colleges and universities to set up here in India, if it passes.

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