The English language has become all the more important in this age of “globalisation, internationalisation and multinationalisation” of higher education.

Philip G. Altbach, higher education expert from the U.S., has prophesied that India will soon become the largest English-speaking country in the world.

Delivering a lecture at the University of Calicut last week, Prof. Altbach, Director, Center for International Higher Education, Boston College, Massachusetts, USA, said there were more people who spoke English in India than in England.

“There are more people who speak English in China than in the U.S.,” he said.

At present, India is the second largest English-speaking country in the world.

“Soon, you will become number one,” Prof. Altbach told a cheering audience of scholars. “English may be the Latin of the 21st century.”

He said all universities in the world, except Al-Azhar University of Cairo, have stemmed from the Western model. Concerns of cultural degradation owing to the adoption of the English language were baseless. “In Kerala, all of your higher education is in English. It is ‘the' language of higher education here. Yet, your culture is vibrant.”

But Prof. Altbach cautioned the academia that top universities would not bother about local culture when they opened a branch campus in a foreign country. “The local culture is not their problem; it's yours,” he said.

He warned the academic community to be careful about foreign universities promoting branch campuses in India.

“Some American universities functioning abroad have only American names … I've never heard of some of the names that offer foreign degrees here,” Prof. Altbach said.

He said it was highly unlikely that top-class foreign universities would venture into India. Multinationalisation of education, he said, is largely to make money.

Prof. Altbach said the challenge of India's higher education, at present, was to improve quality.

“India has extremely small top-class internationally competitive higher educational institutions,” he said, adding that the best option for India's institutions would be to enter into partnership deals with foreign universities as was being done in China.

He hinted at the impracticality of franchising in higher education. “It's not like opening a McDonald's franchise in India,” he said. Prof. Altbach said that with the disappearance of the Cold War, neo-colonialism had shifted from governments to academic institutions and multinational companies.

Prof. Altbach said that emigration was a major reason for internationalisation of higher education. “We live in an era of migration of academic talent. It largely flows from developing countries to the developed world.”

About 80 per cent of Chinese and Indian students doing their higher education in the U.S. do not return home, he said.

Anwar Jahan Zuberi, Vice-Chancellor, University of Calicut, presided over the function. C. Rajendran, coordinator of the University Erudite Lecture Series, welcomed the gathering. P. Usha proposed a vote of thanks.