Creating a global classroom

“Foreign students promote diversity in university campuses.” Picture shows foreign students on a visit to New Delhi for an exchange programme.   | Photo Credit: V_V_Krishnan

The success of the >Mars Orbiter Mission is yet another example of how India is approaching great power status. But the problem is that India generally does not act like a great power, nor does it have the necessary infrastructure. Let us take an example to demonstrate this: higher education. India dramatically under invests in its universities and colleges. Most large countries not only have world-class universities, but also an effective international higher education “foreign policy,” which some people call soft power. India has neither.

The establishment of >Nalanda University and SAARC’s South Asian University are some small initiatives in the right direction. But are they sufficient when compared to India’s aspirations to be recognised on par with China’s rising global stature?

Internationalisation of higher education is at the forefront of academic thinking globally. Providing local students with some kind of international consciousness and knowledge is considered important for employment as well as citizenship in a globalising economy. Educating students from abroad helps bring international students to local classrooms and assist future cooperation, economic ties, and so on. Some countries such as the U.K., the U.S., and Australia earn significant sums from educating international students.

Many countries and academic institutions have elaborate strategies for internationalisation. The Americans have the Fulbright programme, which brings thousands of students and academics to the U.S. each year — and sends Americans abroad to study and engage in teaching and research. The German Academic Exchange Service offers similar programmes. Both China and Japan have national programmes to attract foreign students. The Saudi Arabia government sponsors a massive scholarship programme to send its students abroad to study. India has basically nothing.

Scholarships to foreign students

Although institutions like the Indian Council for Cultural Relations offers scholarships to foreign students, its scope is very limited. In 2013-14, the ICCR sponsored only 3,465 scholarships for foreign students to pursue undergraduate, postgraduate and doctoral programmes. In 2012-13, around 21,000 international students were pursuing higher education in 121 institutions in the country. India hosts around 30,000 international students compared to the 2,00,000 Indians studying abroad. Japan and China each have more than 1,00,000 international students, and the U.S. hosts more than 8,00,000. Most of India’s international students are from South Asia; regionalisation might be a better term than internationalisation. The large majority of non-Indian students study in private universities and are hardly represented in the public sector. Manipal University, a private university, stands first with an enrolment of 2,742 international students in 2012-13.

A few of the Indian public-funded universities seem to be unaware of the potential of attracting students from U.S. and European universities for short-term study to their campuses. Currently only a few Central universities such as Jawaharlal Nehru University, Hyderabad University, and Tata Institute of Social Sciences facilitate the short-term incoming student visit programmes. Since the fee charged to an international student is at least five to eight times higher than what is charged for local students, this could be an excellent source of additional revenue for the ailing state universities. Apart from generating additional revenue, foreign students promote diversity in university campuses.

Since the fee charged to an international student is much higher than what is charged for local students, this could be a great source of additional revenue for the ailing state universities

However, the host universities would have to change some of the regulations with regard to credit transfer. The recent initiatives at the University of Kerala to issue academic transcripts similar to overseas universities could be a model for other universities. The initiatives undertaken by Mumbai and Pune universities to attract foreign students are also worth considering. Apart from credit transfer regulations, the host universities would also have to ensure many facilities to the foreign students in the form of orientation programmes, excellent hostel facilities, remedial courses, healthcare facilities, visa facilitation, and other services.

The number of Indian branch campuses functioning abroad has also increased. An offshore campus of Manipal University is in Malaysia and another private university, Amity, operates campuses in the U.S., U.K., China and Singapore. The presence of four Indian private institutions in the Dubai International Academic City also reflects this trend.

Another trend is the opening up of off-campus centres of Indian universities in countries where a sizable number of Indians are working. However, recently there were some reports in the media that the University Grants Commission had advised the Mahatma Gandhi University in Kerala to shut down seven of its international off-campus centres because of violations of the UGC guidelines on the territorial jurisdiction of universities.

Internationalisation has so far not been integrated into strategic planning at the majority of Indian universities and colleges. Institutions alone cannot be blamed for this situation because currently India does not have a national policy governing the entry or operation of foreign higher educational institutions. Although the  Foreign Educational Institutions (Regulation of Entry and Operations) Bill was >introduced in the Indian Parliament in 2010 to regulate the entry and operation of foreign  higher educational institutions, it failed to achieve sufficient consensus in Parliament and eventually lapsed.

Currently only a few Indian universities and colleges have significant alliances with foreign institutions for activities including development and delivery of courses, joint research, or the exchange of staff and students. Although new private universities and colleges are very active in promoting internationalisation through the adoption of foreign curriculum, twinning programmes, etc., their objectives generally have only a limited dimension — improve their market position through the promise of preparing students for the globally integrated economic environment.

There is a feeling that integration of foreign educational programmes into Indian institutions will provide an efficient way to improve academic quality and standards, which is not always true when it comes to realities on the ground. This collaboration is generally between a newly established private institution from the Indian side and a middle-grade institution from a foreign country. Most of the Indian institutions tout the presence of foreign faculty and placement assistance. The websites of some of the private institutions with foreign tie-ups boast that half of the faculty members employed by them are foreign nationals, which is not entirely true. Most of the foreign nationals work in their Indian partner institutions on a short-term basis. For these institutions, revenue generation is more important than educational quality. They see internationalisation as a method to attract more domestic students for ensuring a high return on their investments.

So far, there is no strategy for internationalisation despite the tremendous benefits that this could accrue to Indian higher education. Higher education internationalisation is a priority in much of the world. India needs to join the race.

(Philip G. Altbach is research professor and director of the Center for International Higher Education at Boston College, U.S. and Eldho Mathews is Consultant at the Ministry of Human Resource Development’s National Higher Education Mission.)

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Printable version | Jan 20, 2022 5:31:57 AM |

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