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Possibilities in Higher Education

July 30, 2010

With a burgeoning middle class, and a population that is upward mobile, the thirst for education is increasing. Indians have realized that their passport to success is to educate themselves. One good initiative was the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan – Education for All. This was a step further to the Operation Blackboard during Rajiv Gandhi’s times. Indians got the right to education as a fundamental right. This was an attempt at ensuring basic education for all. The Right to Education Bill was passed with this in mind. I thought that the thrust of this government was basic education and with limited resources the government could do just so much and no more. Perhaps I was wrong. At least I hope I was wrong.

The delegation of Prime Minister David Cameron included many Vice Chancellors of British Universities including Oxford, Cambridge, Leeds among others. Their Minister of Universities, Mr. David Willets was also a part of the Prime Minister’s delegation. One area of focus for these educationists was the problem of equivalence of degrees. The Indian government is very keen that degrees from some select Indian universities are recognized in Britain, US and Australia. But that was not the thrust area as far as the British delegation went. The western countries are looking at India as an education powerhouse.

India spends more than $ 2 billion in tuition fees and education expenses for the students that go abroad for higher education. This expense in foreign exchange is increasing exponentially every year. Then there is a brain drain. Students go to the US, UK, Australia and Europe for higher education and most of them find jobs there and stay back. This is a big drain on the economy as well as loss of talent. The same talent can be used in India for the betterment of the Indian economy. We are in effect subsidizing western demand for skilled manpower. This is a burden that a poor country like ours just cannot afford. This is a criminal waste.

Kapil Sibal - Minister for HRD

The Indian government is therefore going to introduce Foreign Education Institutions Bill that will allow foreign universities to open campuses in India. I am still rubbing my eyes in disbelief. If this is true, and it is what I think it is, then what the Human Resource Development Minister said some time ago that education sector is going to change the face of India in ways even the telecom revolution did not, will perhaps be correct. Let me try and understand what this means – am I to understand that Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial College, Harvard, Stanford, MIT, Columbia, Paris, Turin, CERN, Tokyo, Melbourne and other top universities and research institutions will have overseas campuses in India? If so, this indeed will revolutionize the country like nothing will. I am getting goose bumps just writing about it. Is this true? Will there be an annual regatta as is the tradition between Oxford and Cambridge on the Ganges? Will academics be flying to and fro from these institutions on periodic teaching assignments to India and base campuses? If this is true, this can mean a quantum leap for India.

Prof. Yashpal has however cautioned that only the top 200 universities be allowed, otherwise as he says – fly-by-night operators will enter and that will be just no good. Hillary Clinton mentioned on her last visit that the US and India are looking at close cooperation in the field of education. She even mentioned that India had a dynamic minister in charge of this ministry. If Kapil Sibal can pull this off this could transform the country. I am excited like a child just thinking about this. And it makes sense. If we can save a good portion of the $ 2 billion that we spend annually in sending students abroad and use these resources to set up campuses of top universities in India that would mean money well spent. That could mean so many more jobs for Indian academics. That would also mean that Indian universities will have to brace themselves up and ensure that they can compete on quality or else their campuses will remain empty. An Allahabad University or a Calcutta University or a Baroda University cannot carry on with mediocrity when there are the top universities offering quality education.

The way I perceive this, if this bill passes through, which it will by the end of this year, then foreign universities will start campuses across India. These cannot be in the heart of Indian cities. They will have to go a bit further into the rural areas. There will then be small university towns across India. I am sure the villages around such centers of education will benefit and education will be prioritized. There will be more jobs in the education sector. The brain drain will stop and Indians would love to stay back and work in India. People will not move to foreign lands because of the opportunities there but only if they get an offer they cannot refuse. The quality of education will go up manifold. This interaction between the brains of the world and Indians hungry for education will be explosive. I have seen how hungry the youth of India is for education and knowledge. There were limited avenues. If these avenues are available at their doorsteps, I can only imagine what Indian youth can and will do. This will be like putting a match stick to dynamite. Kapil Sibal is doing exactly that.

The question is: why would the foreign universities keen on having campuses in India. The answers are simple. This is a good business opportunity. This could mean making their universities better off financially. Secondly, this will stop the mindless exodus to western universities. And thirdly and perhaps most importantly, they have seen the talent and the industriousness of Indian students and they want to tap on this huge resource for better education and research for their institutions. This also mirrors the increased cooperation between the west and India and is a part of the strategic partnership.

Already some of the top institutions in India like the IIM’s and the IIT’s are saying that they want greater autonomy and would like the quota system to be done away with, if they are to compete with the top universities of the world. I guess the answer to this problem lies in giving an economic quota in the form of scholarships to those who cannot afford education. These scholarships will then help students get education in these universities. A caste based quota will have to be done away with. The Mandal controversy will perhaps finally die down with the entry of these foreign universities.

The quality of higher education is very important if India has to find its rightful place in the world. I hope the government has the will to push this through and top universities impart education in India of the same levels that they do in the west. This should have been done yesterday. Well, even if we can do this now, it will be the right step forward. I know that the Left will cry hoarse against this bill as such over rated universities like the Jawaharlal Nehru University will then be consigned to dustbin if they do not change. The Left rhetoric will die down and a new era of real education and research will dawn in India. As it is, the Left is a spent force. The government should just ignore their stupid ranting. Perhaps the glory of Nalanda and Taxila will again bloom here in India. India could be the research hub for the world. We, as a people and as a nation have a lot to offer to the world. Perhaps the potential of the irrepressible youth of this country will finally find a meaningful outlet. Violence will come down and people will find meaning in their lives. This is going to be interesting.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. July 30, 2010 7:43 pm

    good one. nice and good site

  2. Arun Bhagat permalink
    August 12, 2010 12:44 pm

    the prospect is good as long as corruption does not seep into the projects!!!

    • sharma24 permalink*
      August 12, 2010 5:44 pm

      I do not fear corruption because in the field of education if you do not deliver you will be rejected. Besides if the government goes by Yashpal Committee recommendations only the top 200 will be allowed to have affiliations/campuses in India.

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