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Bringing foreign universities to India

Tuesday 14 November 2006, by SCHUKOSKE*Jane E.

The International Education Week, November 13-17, 2006, is an initiative to celebrate and promote the global exchange environment between the United States and other countries.

FOREIGN UNIVERSITIES outside India play a large role in the Indian higher education scene. They attract many thousands of Indian students to their campuses each year - 80,466 Indians enrolled in U.S. institutions alone in 2004-05 and at least eight other countries actively recruit Indian students. Graduates of accredited foreign institutions play important roles in the development of India upon their return home. Imagine what greater opportunities would be available to Indian students if accredited foreign institutions offered degree programmes in India to expand access to higher education to Indian students!

The attraction of study abroad for Indian students, as a supplement to the Indian higher education available within India, is bound to continue for the foreseeable future. For most students, the motivation is to attain the best possible education. Competition for admission to India’s best institutions is very intense - about two per cent of those taking admission tests for the prestigious Indian Institutes of Technology and Indian Institutes of Management gain admission - and other high-quality education options are needed for the many talented students who are turned away from these and other premier institutions. Moreover, the Indian student population is growing at a fast pace, and Indian institutions strapped for funds will be hard-pressed to create seats to accommodate the demand.

Beyond the issue of access to quality higher education, Indian educators recognise the need to supplement Indian content-rich curricula with activity-based learning and to bridge the gap between academia and industry. With a booming economy in the service sector industry, the time is right to prepare graduates for tomorrow’s careers. Reports have circulated that only one in four engineering graduates in India are employable in the IT-enabled services industry. An article titled "Skills Gap Hurts Technology Boom in India" in The New York Times on October 19, 2006, said the rest were found to lack required technical skills, English fluency, teamwork skills or oral presentation skills.

Many educators acknowledge the need for change in Indian institutions to increase focus on life-long learning, which will result in even larger numbers of students - beyond the usual 19-22-year-old cohort - seeking admission to higher education institutions, whether in India or abroad. Indeed, we see the theme of the need for rapid expansion of a quality higher education sector stated in a recent Government of India report. The five most important issues facing higher education in India have been identified as access and equity; relevance; quality and excellence; governance and management; and funding, according to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Human Resource Development, 172nd Report on University and Higher Education submitted on May 22, 2006. Entry of accredited U.S. educational institutions has the potential to partially respond to all of these needs. The Committee Report, Section X, expresses caution about entry of foreign educational institutions, however. The report states concerns rather than acknowledging potential opportunities. The Committee notes the lack of a database of foreign educational institutions in the country and the prospect of entry by unqualified educational institutions, and observes that even good foreign institutions may adopt double standards in establishing institutions abroad. The report calls for the establishment of a body to oversee all activities of foreign universities/institutions.

Meanwhile, U.S. educational institutions are increasingly interested in India as a nation which is, and will continue to be, an important world force in the coming decades. University presidential delegations from, to name a few, Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Carnegie Mellon, and Purdue Universities, and other high-level delegations including one from the Asia Society, have come to India in the past two years to learn more about and from the country. Twenty prestigious U.S. universities have partnered with Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham for active collaboration in higher education and research through e-learning and India’s educational satellite, EDUSAT. Many others offer twinning programmes, under which the curriculum in India is approved by a foreign university, which facilitates the transfer of academic credit for students to complete their studies at these universities. Which U.S. educational institutions are actually interested in opening campuses in India is hard to discern, as the ambiguity in the regulatory environment has discouraged planning and open discussion.

The regulatory bodies for higher education in India are concerned at the unregulated growth of foreign educational institutions setting up campuses in India or offering twinning programmes in partnership with Indian institutions. The statutory, apex body for higher education in India, the University Grants Commission, has proposed guidelines for recognition of programmes offered by Indian Universities abroad and these guidelines cover twinning programmes between Indian and foreign institutions.

A second statutory body, the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), has the duty to properly plan and coordinate development of the technical education system throughout the country, to promote qualitative improvement of such education in relation to planned quantitative growth, and the regulation and proper maintenance of norms and standards in the technical education system and for matters connected with it. The AICTE published a notification in May 2005 announcing regulations for entry and operation of foreign universities/institutions imparting technical education in India. Two linkage programmes with U.K. universities have been approved by the AICTE since the regulations were notified.

The Ministry of Human Resource Development appointed a high-powered committee headed by Professor C.N.R. Rao in January 2005 to look into all issues surrounding the entry of foreign educational institutions into India and frame recommendations. The committee recommendations, based on which the Central Government is finalising a draft bill on private educational institutes that will also cover foreign educational institutes, have not yet become public.

Within the country, India has witnessed phenomenal growth of private higher educational institutions that are granted the designation of "deemed universities" by the UGC. From around 15 in 1999, the number of deemed universities has grown to more than 105 in 2006. Many of these institutions are progressive in outlook, more flexible in structure, and eager to try new educational methods and approaches.

Weighing the opportunities

Direct investment in the education sector by foreign institutions accredited in their home countries offers the opportunity to expand access to higher education within India. Entry of high quality foreign educational institutions may lead to retention of Indian investment in the country of some of the funds now flowing overseas. In addition to improving access by creating more seats, U.S. institutions, known for preparing students for the job market both through coursework and career preparation services, can enhance the quality and relevance of education to contemporary India.

It is very important that the Government of India, or bodies authorised by it, draw up clear regulations and procedures for foreign universities interested in establishing linkages in India with Indian institutions and ensure transparent and quick implementation. It is important that the regulations allow academic autonomy and other features of U.S. higher education that have caused it to reach its excellence. Foreign educational institutions and Indian partners must, of course, respect the laws and regulations of the land.

Looking at entry of U.S. educational institutions in light of the issues that Government of India has identified as crucial for India - equity and access; relevance; quality and excellence; governance and management; and funding - it is useful to see how these issues are managed by these institutions at home. For U.S. institutions, quality control, governance and management are maintained through the accreditation process for both institutions and professional programmes.

This accreditation process, by agencies recognised by either the U.S. Department of Education or the Council of Higher Education Accreditation, includes periodic quality review of programmes offered abroad. "Relevance" is part of quality, and consumers assess it through placement of graduates - those who successfully find employment or secure background needed for further studies would assess their education as relevant. As for funding, U.S. institutions would assess whether programmes abroad are economically viable. Limits on tuition fees could have an adverse effect on entry of U.S. educational institutions, as such limits could interfere with the ability to offer high-quality programmes.

The United States Educational Foundation in India (USEFI), whose mission is the promotion of academic and cultural exchanges between India and the U.S., has a role in development of partnerships between India and U.S. institutions and facilitation of the entry and establishment of accredited U.S. institutions in India and vice versa. USEFI regularly meets with educational advisers from other study abroad destination countries and stands ready to cooperate in facilitating discussion by interested universities and other parties concerned with apex higher education bodies in India.

(Jane E. Schukoske is the Executive Director, U.S. Educational Foundation in India, headquartered in New Delhi, website www.fulbright-india.org. The global website for International Education Week is http://iew.state.gov/)

See online : The Hindu