FT : Foreign Universities In India

Friday, July 24, 2009

India plans to open its higher education sector to foreign investment and some of the world’s leading universities next year to help meet the growing skills requirements of millions of its young people.  Kapil Sibal, minister of human resources development, said he aimed to have legislation in place to allow top universities such as Harvard, Stanford and Yale to enter the country by next July.  India is one of the most attractive education markets but historically the government has not encouraged foreign participation in the country’s halls of academia.  Mr Sibal told the Financial Times: “I do not see why foreign institutions should not be allowed.  Hopefully, by the first academic [term] of 2010, we should have the legislation passed that puts in place a mechanism, framework and regulator for the foreign universities to start functioning.”

India faces an enormous challenge to provide education to young people, many in remote locations.  By some estimates, the country needs to build 1,500 universities over the next five years to equip enough people with the skills to sustain rapid growth in Asia’s third-largest economy.  Education reform is likely to provoke fierce debate in parliament, because some political leaders fear foreign influence, the prospect of higher fees and disregard of affirmative action measures.  Under Mr Sibal’s predecessor, the government this year rejected a commission’s recommendation that it turn to private investors to help extend better quality education to more people, retaining barriers to entry on foreign participation in its higher education sector…..Some commentators view India’s burgeoning young population as an advantage over other Asian countries such as China and Japan.  About 35% of India’s 1.2bn population is between 20 and 25 years of age.  Others see it as a tremendous risk, if large numbers remain uneducated.  According to the University Grants Commission, only 9% of 20-25 year olds enrol for a college degree.  “The entry barriers [for foreign partners] are a little too high.  Universities have to adhere to fee structures and reservation processes,” said Shobha Mishra, head of education and health at the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry.  “There has been a lack of clarity over regulation.  Foreign institutions went into collaboration on certain programmes and student exchanges.  But there’s been no campus development.” 

India’s institutes of technology and management are widely respected.  Yet the country’s education system has attracted some strong public criticism.  The deputy central bank governor, other officials and celebrities have spoken out about how shocked they were by the neglect of schooling, and what some see as worthless qualifications…..Ramachandra Guha, the Bangalore-based historian and author, likewise has lamented that teaching standards have deteriorated, arguing that India’s leading public universities are shadows of what they were 30 years ago.  A report by Technopak, a Delhi-based consultancy, this year found that more than 60% of colleges and 90% of universities in the country were of “poor standard” and “hence the quality of the students is low”.  While political leaders in India, including prime ministers Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Manmohan Singh, have traditionally been educated at Oxford and Cambridge, an increasing number of Indians are following them for education abroad.  An estimated 160,000 students leave India every year to study abroad, according to the National Knowledge Commission, an advisory group to the prime minister.

Reference : http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/8a6b3104-76f6-11de-b23c-00144feabdc0.html

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