For a country which has its share of debates, a new item has been added for diligent debate in India. The move by the Government of India to allow foreign educational institutions to set up bases in India is considered an unnecessary cost-push move by some educational experts given that the Indian educational system has reached a state of maturity. On the other hand, the proponents feel that the move is a logical extension of globalization with Indian universities being allowed to set up shops in foreign shores and vice versa. It is also hoped that foreign universities bring in the required investments for world-class educational experience in India. Some experiments of liberalization in India have had unwelcome fallouts of mass entry; some caution, therefore, is probably well merited.
Foreign educational institutions in India
Over the last ten years there has been a significant proliferation of the so called foreign educational institutions in India without commensurate qualitative change in the educational scene. According to the Association of Indian Universities, the foreign education institutions in India have increased from 144 (in 2000) to 631 (in 2010). The maximum number were from the UK (158), followed by Canada (80) and the US (44). Of the 60 foreign education providers, who have programmes of collaboration with local institutions, only 25 local institutions were affiliated to Indian universities or approved by regulatory bodies. Only 32 of the 49 foreign institutions operating under twinning arrangements have had approval or affiliation. A review of the institutions or the institutional collaborative arrangements indicates that the arrangements are usually aimed at awarding a degree with a “foreign tag” rather than achieving any institutional transformation.
The Foreign Educational Institutions (Regulation of Entry and Operations Bill) 2010 has been pending before the Indian Parliament for the past two years. There has been growing concern in recent years that fake foreign varsities were duping students from India. Now, over 600 foreign education institutions operate in the country. The UGC put its plan to allow foreign universities to set up campuses on hold after a large number of members felt that there was need for greater deliberations from different areas of study, including technical, medical, law and architecture. There are also questions raised on the need to allow foreign varsities to function as "deemed universities''. Overall, it is clear that the existing framework has not enabled the real Ivy League institutions enter India; nor has it stopped the pursuit of higher education abroad by India’s talented students.
The Universities Grants Commission has oversight and approval authority on the Indian university system. In an attempt to rein in fly-by-night operators who could money making educational shops in India, the UGC has made its approval mandatory for all collaborations between foreign and Indian educational institutions. The new regulations approved by the UGC on June 2, 2012 give existing institutions six months to get approval. The UGC has also laid down dual criteria to ensure that quality academic institutions are allowed to run joint degree or twinning courses. Only those foreign institutions will be allowed to collaborate who figure in the top 500 of the Times Higher Education World University Ranking or the Shanghai Jiaotong Ranking. The Indian varsities should have received the highest accreditation grade from the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) and the National Board of Accreditation (NBA) to be eligible for a tie-up with a foreign institution.
The degrees will be awarded by the Indian universities for their acceptability in India. Institutes failing to abide by the guidelines would be penalized. The UGC is empowered to stop grants in case of public institutions while it can recommend to the Centre withdrawal of recognition in case of deemed universities. As stated by the UGC, the regulations aim to set a quality bar to the entry of foreign educational institutions into India, as well as for collaboration between the foreign and Indian educational institutions. The regulations, however, do not, and probably were not intended to, provide a canvas for structural changes in the Indian educational system, even in the higher education band where such foreign educational institutions operate. A more fundamental appraisal is needed.
Indian education, more with less
The Indian educational system has certainly its world-class achievements. The numbers of Indian students who gain admission in the top rung US educational institutions annually and the numbers of the Indian scientists and engineers employed in the US constitute a clear testimony to the Indian talent and Indian universities. In addition, the strong base of science and mathematics from the school level in India contrasts with the diffidence to engage in those studies in the US. However, these achievements are more in keeping with India’s ability to “do more with less”, rather than with a natural potential to “do even more with more”. The gaps in the educational system can be seen at different levels from primary school education to higher university education.
The need for a massive transformation in the primary and secondary school educational systems together with strict enforcement of the right of every child for education is keenly felt in India. This is, however, a domain which is, and has to remain as, the core competence of India. Foreign institutions would have little incentive or capability to play a role in this area. The fact that the pre-school and school years are also the years of solid foundational grounding in the Indian culture and Indian ethos, there is a case for the Indian institutions to display their moorings. Given this situation, this blog post focuses only on the higher education component of foreign institutional entry. The higher educational system has serious shortfalls in terms of infrastructure, faculty and research direction.
Higher education, lower resources
The largest of the entities in the Indian educational system, the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) have an annual budget in the range of Rs 2500 million (USD 50 million). They have typical faculty strength of 500 and student strength of 6000. In contrast, the top rung US universities have budgets of USD 1 billion to 4 billion (20 to 80 times over). The faculty strength tends to be the order of 2000 to 4000 and student strength of the order of 20000 to 40000. It is not uncommon for the top US universities to receive USD 500 to 1000 million each in research grants or alumni gifts. It is also not uncommon for the US universities have research budgets of the order of USD 750 million. While clearly there are differences of scale and scope, these are particularly pronounced in funding channels and their scale as well as research budgets and their scope.
The Indian higher educational system has done particularly well to equip each of its students to higher education or higher research abroad. What the Indian system failed to do is to create a base of fundamental research and development in its institutions in India that could serve as the further developmental grounds for the Indian talent. Even today, the breakthrough research continues to get done in the university laboratories of US, Japan and Europe. The Nobel prizes continue to get won by professors of US and European laboratories (despite several Indian researchers working in those laboratories). The entry of foreign educational institutions should address this fundamental infrastructure, research and resource gap rather than aim at providing run of the mill degree award and executive development programs.
Building a new research ecosystem
Foreign educational institutions can make a significant contribution in building a new research ecosystem in the Indian educational institutions. The work in the foreign laboratories is continuously focused on the fundamentals of matter and biology, oftentimes exploring the linkages. For example, at a time India is looking at genetics, epigenetics has been taken up in a big way in US laboratories. Interdisciplinary research is an institutional approach to provide new solutions. Microrobotics for less invasive surgery, nano-structured meta-materials, development of new materials such as graphine, ultra-sensitive diagnostics, human protein sequencing, personality genetics, amino acid studies, solar energy development, and so on. While not all research makes it to commercialization and while some is hyperbole in advance, the fact remains that many new problem solving directions are emerging from the US academic research.
The dilemma or disconnect for the Indian educational system lies in having a valuable stock of academically trained scientists and technologists in India who necessarily have to find a research base in the advanced laboratories of the US, Japan or Europe. Clearly, the value proposition for the foreign educational institutions must lie in accessing Indian talent without barriers and for the purpose creating the requisite laboratory infrastructure, research processes and information exchanges in India. This would certainly be a more complex process than sourcing products or processes from India because of the sensitive nature of intellectual property generation and patenting issues. By acting innovatively and responsibly with enhanced capabilities of scientific and technical communication the Indian talent can actually accelerate the publication and intellectual property record of the foreign universities. On the whole, a new ecosystem needs to be the sine qua non for getting the foreign educational institutions in to India.
What the governments can do
The governments, state and central, should treat setting up of state-of-the-art laboratories under the Indian-foreign educational system on par with attracting global commercial manufacturing and research proposals. Liberal provisioning of land and supportive infrastructure such as roads, power and telecommunications would go a long way in creating world class educational and research infrastructure in India. The Government of India and the Indian universities can also address the intellectual property constraint or barrier through a vibrant intellectual property office (IPO) system in India. Proposals of collaboration between the Indian and foreign universities must specify clear domains of research and goals of development. Commercial viability could be attempted for the initiatives through sponsored research projects.
Posted by Dr CB Rao on June 3, 2012