For decades, foreign universities have been an integral part of
India’s higher education. Whiz kids across the country with the
financial means have left for highly regarded global universities to study.
Many never come back, taking both their tuition money and their
talent overseas. More than 160,000 students are currently studying in
schools in the U.S., Australia, Britain and elsewhere. Over 100,000
pack up and head to study abroad every year, spending $7 billion on
tuition and housing.
But what if big foreign universities like Yale, MIT, Stanford, Columbia Business
School and the London School of Economics could set up
campus in India India’s new minister for human resource development,
Kapil Sibal, wants to make that happen. By next July, Sibal intends to have
new laws in place that would open up India’s heavily regulated
educational system to foreign players, with a goal of building a skilled pool of
local managers and workers to help run an economy that continues to grow at
a rate of 6.7%. Sibal also intends to make this new wave of higher
education accessible to a larger swath of students, having foreign
schools reserve over a quarter of their seats for India’s economically
disadvantaged. “If India wants to be a world-class educational hub,
then we need access to global institutions,” said Sibal early this
Sibal is not alone in his mission. On July 6, finance minister Pranab
Mukherjee increased the budget for higher education by 55% to $3.1
billion, saying “the demographic advantage that India has needs to be
converted into a dynamic economic advantage by providing the right
education and skills.” Taking cues from India’s politicians, nearly all of the major foreign English-language universities now have an eye on
India. Next January, Allan Goodman, president and CEO of the New
York-based Institute of International Education, with which some 800
U.S. colleges are
affiliated, plans to bring a 20-college delegation to India to explore
opportunities to set up programs here. Goodman sees India’s large
English-speaking population, affluent middle class and the value given to higher
education as attractive opportunities for his schools. “For us, India
is the country of the future,” says Goodman.
While many foreign universities already have Indian partnerships in place,
their models of business vary. Carnegie Mellon, for instance, has for the past eight years offered a Masters program at Chennai-based Sri Sivasubramaniya Nadar
school of Advanced Software Engineering.
Students fork over $53,000 for the 18-month program 15% lower than
if the coursework were done in the U.S. They also spend the last six
months at Carnegie Mellon’s Pittsburgh campus. The London School of
Economics offers three-year undergrad degrees in economics, finance
and management through the Indian School of Business and Finance
Delhi, for a total tuition of $20,000, or one-fifth the standard cost.
“Our students get a degree from a reputed foreign university at Indian
rates, while LSE gets global reach,” says ISBF Director Jitin Chadha.
Tie-ups like these may be a bargain, but they also circumnavigate national
requirements for accredited schools, which govern student
admission, fees and faculty salaries. Carnegie Mellon, for instance, now selects
students jointly with its private Indian counterpart, and sets its own
curriculum that is taught by local faculty. Under the proposed
legislation, schools would continue to operate with those special
concessions. But Sibal plans to make it mandatory for foreign
universities to reserve seats for the underprivileged a
requirement that has not gone down well with many academicians. “If a
country’s aim is to educate the poor, then many foreign universities
are not going to do that because [those students will]survive on grants and not fees,” says IIE’s Allan Goodman.
India needs to find a way to boost its higher education sector.
A 2006 McKinsey study concluded that only 25% of India-trained
engineers and 15% of finance and accounting professionals had the
skill sets to work for multinational companies. The report highlighted
the dismal quality of education in many private colleges, where the
curriculum is not in sync with industry needs. And this unemployable workforce is growing: India has the world’s
largest pool of young people, with nearly 60% of its population
under 25, according to the National Knowledge Commission, a
government advisory body on higher education. Of these, relatively few
go to college. Currently, only 11% of 17-to-23-year-olds sign up for
higher education. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh wants to double the
college-going rate in the next five years, and wants more Indian
institutes for technology and management.
Sibal’s legislation still needs to be approved by
the Indian Parliament. And the government still needs to ease
regulatory roadblocks and find a way to make education a financially viable
business for all concerned. But if that can be done, many more Indian students may
just stay at home to study.
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