The proposed UGC guidelines are ill-conceived and populist, and hardly take note of the educational and financial interests of foreign universities.
NEW DELHI — Nearly 800,000 young people from India attend foreign universities every year in search of quality education and entrepreneurial training, resulting in a massive outflow of resources – $3 billion – to finance their education. These students look for greener pastures abroad because of the lack of quality teaching and research in most of India’s higher education institutions.
Over 40,000 colleges and 1,000 universities are producing unemployable graduates who cannot function in a knowledge- and technology-intensive economy.
The Indian government's solution is to open doors to foreign universities, with a proposed set of regulations aiming to provide higher education and research services to match global standards, and to control the outflow of resources. But this decision raises many questions.
Surprisingly, while promoting social justice and welfare through university and college quotas for students from poorer families, the government has made this decision without any limit on the fee structure. Education experts and academics are concerned that opening the doors to foreign universities may further strengthen the commercialization of education, and that decades down the line, it may overshadow our educational models and encroach on our educational system.
A social welfare activity
There is no denying that the presence of foreign universities may have some advantages, but we have to weigh what disadvantages it may cause in the short and long run. Can we envision creating Indian Institutes of Technology and Indian Institutes of Management campuses with the same rules abroad?
But we see no corresponding gains to India’s economy from these highly educated and trained students. Most job seekers seek placements in multinational corporations with higher earnings, and therefore, they do not return to the country.
Foreign universities don’t see India as an attractive destination.
Another concern raised by pedagogues: the idea that education in India is largely a social welfare activity, for which the government has made an oft-repeated commitment to allocate at least 6% of the GDP (although currently less than 3% of the GDP is spent on education).
While several private educational institutions offer diploma or degree programs as a social service, they are not permitted to commercialize education or earn profits. Why?
Young graduates of the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi.
No gains for the universities' funders
Though the Supreme Court of India prohibits profit-making in education, there are many private institutions under the patronage of large companies and top political leaders who use accounting gimmicks to skirt tax laws and make money. Is this what India expects foreign universities to do in the country?
In such an educational environment, in which the private education lobby is so strong and can flourish despite a ban on profit-making, foreign universities don’t see India as an attractive destination.
Now, the question is, why should a top foreign university, say Harvard or Oxford, supported by donors and taxpayers, provide a charity service in India, without tangible gains to its funders?
The proposed guidelines by the University Grants Commission (UGC) do not commit to providing physical or financial capital for setting up campuses. While foreign universities will be allowed to charge any amount of tuition and other fees, how can they generate profits for repatriation when the Supreme Court does not allow the operation of "for-profit" educational institutions? Foreign direct investment in the education sector is unclear.
A flawed approach
In fact, foreign investment in higher education institutions has to be attractive in terms of profit-making for both the country of origin of universities and the private investors. The U.S. and most countries in Asia and Europe allow for the establishment and operation of ‘for-profit’ institutions, while institutions in India operate on the basis of a "not-for-profit" basis. Therefore, the government’s approach to inviting foreign institutions to India without profits is flawed.
Additionally, students, who spend huge amounts on their foreign degrees, are looking for decent earnings in multinational corporations, for which India’s employment market is ill-suited due to massive unemployment.
The proposed University Grants Commission guidelines are ill-conceived and populist.
UGC had earlier invited foreign universities, but none have responded thus far. Why? This must have been investigated to know why foreign higher education institutions are not interested in locating their campuses in India. The experiences of countries in West Asia, even with financial support, have not been successful as expected due to various regulatory, financial and academic reasons.
In the past, some of the best-performing universities in India have tried to establish collaborative arrangements with credible foreign institutions for students and teachers to exchange and promote joint research programs. Even though UGC supported such collaborations by Indian universities, the Ministries of Home and External Affairs have not encouraged students or faculty exchanges, citing national security concerns.
In view of this, the proposed University Grants Commission guidelines are ill-conceived and populist, and hardly take note of the educational and financial interests of foreign universities.
M.M. Ansari is a former member of the University Grants Commission and Mohammad Naushad Khan is sub-editor at Radiance Viewsweekly.