The Foreign Educational Institutions (Regulating of Entry and Operations) Bill, 2010, was introduced in the Lok Sabha on May 3 after Cabinet approval. It is aimed at regulating the entry, operation and standards of foreign education providers (FEPs), providing quality assurance, preventing commercialisation, protecting students from fly-by-night operators and promoting educational tourism.

The FEPs already have a presence in India. In 2008, 156 FEPs were operating (90 universities, 20 colleges and 46 training institutions); there were 225 collaborations, delivering 665 programmes: 168 on management/business administration, 144 on engineering/technology and 132 on hotel management. The only difference the Bill will make is that the FEPs can grant degrees in India, and will be subject to direct regulation.

The Bill has evoked a bewildering variety of views. An education revolution that is bigger than the telecom revolution (Sibal). It is unlikely to either stop the brain-drain or attract top foreign universities (Jairam Ramesh). We don't need foreign universities, we need good teachers living and teaching in India. Our infrastructure will attract only sub-standard FEPs and not Oxford or Harvard (Prof. Yashpal). No great impact in the short run, in the long run, the best Indian institutions and the best FEPs may collaborate, compete and give good education (Prof. B.B. Bhattacharya).

Studying on the foreign campus of the parent university has advantages such as ambience, international student mix, accessibility to the entire university infrastructure and adjustment to a foreign culture. Studying on the Indian campus of a foreign university will be no different from studying in an IIM or IIT. No special India-specific research or curriculum is likely to be evolved by the FEPs. They will merely entice good faculty from the existing institutions and impoverish them (Prof. Savadatti). We are not unduly worried about losing our faculty to the FEPs. We can attract and retain good faculty. We welcome the entry of the FEPS with whom we could collaborate (spokesmen of IIMs and IITs).

Cambridge is not a hamburger to be franchised. It can't be replicated overnight overseas (VC, Cambridge University).We may think of collaboration but not a campus (Yale University). The local academic environment should be made exciting and good FEPs would automatically come in. Autonomy and accountability are the key (Yoginder Alag). If the FEPs don't do research, their utility would be limited. The FEPs should cross-subsidise between rich and poor students. The overall effect is not clear (Prof. P.V. Indiresan). The Bill is a sell-out of Indian higher education.

Instead of adequately funding and reforming it, the government is blinded by the so-called competition instinct. The establishment of IIMs, IITs, IISc and TIFR stemmed from the commitment to the cause of Indian education, and not competition. Even the state-funded U.S. universities came up, thanks to commitment and not competition. The Bill has to be looked not through market spectacles, but socio-political vision (Prof. Anil Sadagopal).

The variety of views expressed above clearly shows grossly inadequate consultation and reflection on the government's part. The problems faced by our higher education sector are inadequate, inequitable access, poor internal governance, low average standards and commercialisation — all abetted by poor and inappropriate regulation. The presence of IIMs and IITs has neither stimulated the competitive instinct in other institutions nor stifled their commercial instincts.

While there should no barriers to the entry of an FEP within the law of the land, there is no case for canvassing for it or hailing it as a revolution. The local educational environment should first be such as to automatically attract the former. The existing collaboration trend may continue and expand. No great university has developed through imports!

A mischievous comment may provide the appropriate ending to the article: we should concentrate on attracting as many Australian universities as possible to India so as to avoid students going there and getting beaten up or killed!

(The writer is former Chairman of the Andhra Pradesh State Council for Higher Education and former Special Chief Secretary to the A.P. government)

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