FT : The Indian Education Reform Debate

Monday, April 19, 2010

…..To gain a foothold in India, Schulich [York University’s Schulich School of Business in Toronto] has partnered with SP Jain Institute of Management and Research to offer the Schulich India MBA at SP Jain’s Mumbai campus.  With its vast young population, fast-growing economy and need for trained graduates, India is a promising market for higher education.  While there are plenty of exchange programmes and tie-ups between Indian and international universities and business schools, there are no overseas university campuses in India.  And there are just a handful of programmes like Schulich’s, which offer a full-time degree from a foreign university by partnering with an Indian institution.  While Indian law allows overseas direct investment in higher education, international universities cannot establish campuses in India.  Ambiguous regulation and stringent restrictions on tuition, faculty salaries and curriculums in higher education have also limited the presence of international institutions in India.  However, India’s cabinet last month approved a proposal to allow international higher educational institutes to establish local campuses.  The Foreign Educational Institutions Bill is expected to be introduced in parliament this month and would need final approval before becoming law.  Some hope the proposed legislation could help to change the landscape of higher education in India.  However, others doubt that overseas universities will rush into India due to lingering issues about accreditation, regulation and quality.  Some experts also believe the impact of international universities in India is limited and the country would be better off strengthening domestic institutions to raise the bar on higher education.  “Foreign education providers would be simply unable to make a dent in the national requirement,” says Karan Khemka, partner at the Parthenon Group, a consultancy that specialises in education.  “India requires between 1.5m and 2m new seats each year, up from the 1.1m it has been adding each year for the past three years.” If the proposed bill becomes law, Schulich is eager to set up a campus.  “We are hopeful and ready,” says Ash-win Joshi, executive director of the Schulich India MBA programme.

The Schulich India MBA is housed in a refurbished section of a building on SP Jain’s campus.  Twenty-five students from India are enrolled, but Schulich envisages numbers growing to 35-40 next year and eventually up to 180, if it opens its own campus.  Schulich hopes non-Indians will comprise about 40 per cent of the India MBA class, in the same way that most students on its Toronto programme are not from Canada.  Through a “twinning” agreement, students in Mumbai follow the same first-year curriculum taught at Schulich and then move to Toronto where they are integrated into the school’s second-year class of MBAs.  Through the Schulich India MBA programme, graduates are awarded a degree from Schulich. Schulich has long been bullish about India, setting up a representative office in India in 2005 and recruiting heavily in India for its Toronto MBA. Dezsö Horváth, dean of Schulich, believes that India’s higher education market represents a more attractive investment than China.  “The shortfall in business education in India is much more significant than in China,” he says…..“Given the demographic of India, so many young people will need higher education.  India needs to strengthen its education infrastructure, just like its physical infrastructure,” adds Prof Horváth.  To ensure the quality of its India MBA programme is equal to that offered in Toronto, Schulich flies in faculty from Canada for three-week stints to teach eight of the 10 classes in the first year of the programme.  The remaining two classes, which focus on quantitative skills, are taught by SP Jain faculty.  Importing faculty is an expensive arrangement, admits Mr Joshi: “Managing that resource is significant.”  Schulich hopes to hire full-time faculty eventually in India.

India has more than 400 universities and 20,000 colleges, of which almost half were set up in the past decade, according to an Ernst & Young report on India’s higher education sector.  Yet there is still a dearth of quality, higher-education institutes.  Some Indians satisfy demand by going beyond India’s shores.  About 160,000 Indians go to colleges and universities overseas, spending $4bn annually, according to the National Knowledge Commission convened by prime minister Manmohan Singh.  Mr Singh strongly backs an overhaul of India’s entire education system and insists that the sector must be strengthened for India to compete on the global stage.  Reforms in higher education have been spurred by Kapil Sibal, appointed last year as minister for Human Resources and Development.  Mr Sibal’s predecessor was sharply criticised by educators for strangling the sector with stiff and Byzantine regulation.  Yet setting up more universities does not address India’s fundamental challenge of preparing students for higher education.  At 12 per cent, India’s gross enrolment ratio for higher education is almost half that of China and lower than many developing countries, says Ernst & Young.  At an education conference in New Delhi in November, Mr Sibal highlighted that only 12 per cent of 220m school-going children in India reached college level. India aims to increase this to 30 per cent by year 2020.  At the same conference Richard Levin, president of Yale University, cautioned that establishing world-class educational institutions was a difficult task that normally takes decades.  He stressed that partnerships and affiliations with international universities were more viable than setting up campuses of world-class universities in India. There also remains a lack of clarity about how tuition, fees and salaries would be governed if the foreign education bill becomes law.  In the past, opposition political parties have blocked the bill partly because of the threat of profiteering.  High fees would give an unfair advantage to wealthy students, they said.  There are also fears of shoddy private operators offering poor quality education.  As such, there has been a push for a strong accreditation policy governed by a new and independent regulator.  The entrance of quality foreign universities into India could help address the country’s massive education challenge.  But encouraging stronger home-grown institutions by liberalising the sector may be a more realistic long-term solution.  “Just as deregulation of healthcare or telecom has given Indian consumers choice and quality, the same applies to education,” says Mr Khemka.  “Today the Indian student must struggle to get into what by western standards are shoddy and sub-par colleges because they have no choice.  Competition will clean up the industry.”

Reference : http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/8a04ded6-4b49-11df-a7ff-00144feab49a.html

2 Responses to “FT : The Indian Education Reform Debate”

  1. jeremy Says:

    Seems to me this is one country crying out for Green MBAs, MIBs and MEds …

  2. MMM Says:

    Spot on. Technology has to be leveraged in new innovative ways if we are ever going to solve a problem of this scale and complexity.

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