The promotion of the global exchange environment for students is very much on the radar of the Indian Ministry of Human Resource and Development (MHRD). However, foreign universities are still not being allowed to enter the country’s educational landscape. To know more about the global exchange programmes and the current state of Indian higher educational infrastructure vis-à-vis its ability to deliver quality education to overseas students, Bhawna Satsangi talks to multiple stakeholders from varied areas.

While a host of steps are being taken by the MHRD to promote global exchange programmes for the Indian students, there is one fundamental question that remains unanswered. Why aren’t foreign universities not being allowed to open branches in India? At a time when India is in dire need of skilled manpower, the usage of trained teachers with global exposures is the need of the hour. This is exactly where the foreign universities can play a decisive role.

The Problem

Experts believe that the existing educational standards in the country is not up to the mark. Indian higher education institutions have largely failed to produce skilled graduates who are employable. The reasons are more than obvious – severe shortage of knowledge amongst the existing teachers, the illicit politicization of education, administrative mismanagement and the likes. Consequently, students today are increasingly getting attracted towards foreign education.

India Ratings and Research (Ind-Ra) revised the outlook on its rated educational entities to stable for Financial Year (FY) 2019 from positive in FY 2018 due to a nearly stagnant rate of enrolments and net profitability. The report estimated that the market size of the education sector will reach Rs. 5,912.20 billion in FY18 and Rs. 6,680 billion in FY19. This shift is primarily due to an accelerated private sector participation owing to a liberalized regulatory regime, which has boosted the education sector. More collaborations with foreign institutions and industry associations would help the sector grow further.

According to the Ind-Ra, India has the largest number of higher education institutions in the world. However, these institutions lack global recognition subject to a severe shortage of quality and infrastructure.

The government spending on research and development (R&D) constituted about 52 percent of the total gross domestic expenditure on R&D (GERD) in FY 15. However, education-related R&D received only 4 percent of GERD. In contrast, other countries like the US and UK spent about 13 percent and 26 percent of GERD respectively on higher education-related R&D in FY 15. An improvement in the quality of education and adequate R&D expenditure in higher education are the basic requirements to get world recognition and create a global education brand.

The Current Scenario

Rajesh Pankaj

Rajesh Pankaj, the Joint Director of FICCI, said, “The total budget spending on education is about 4 percent which is miniscule compared to other countries. The R&D sector receives only about 0.60 percent, which is very less. Former Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh had earlier emphasised that the government should increase its spending to 1.5 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on R&D. It has been more than 10 years since he said so. However, the spending on R&D has still not increased. The US spends close to 3.8 percent of its GDP on R&D while Canada spends about 3 percent. So, the government has to increase its allocation for R&D.”

If the accredited foreign institutions were allowed to offer degree programmes to the Indian students in India at a much cheaper rate, there would have been a larger number of opportunities here. Lucrative career prospects attract a huge number of students to study abroad. According to a Ind-Ra countrywide survey on higher education, the country’s outbound mobility of students is primarily towards the developed countries. Around 63 percent of the Indian students preferred USA, Australia and Canada for their higher educational needs.

Top 10 Educational Destinations for Indian Students (End-March 2017)

Countries Students Studying in Other Countries
United States of America 165,918*
Australia 66,886
Bahrain 27,000
Canada 50,000
New Zealand 32,000
United Kingdom 16,715*
China 16,694
Russian Federation 6,500
Philippines 6,500
France 5,000

*FY 16 Data

Source: Ministry of External Affairs, Ind-Ra

Gurinder Bhatti

Gurinder Bhatti, the Chairman and Managing Director of ESS Global: Study Abroad, said, “In 2017 alone, close to 4,00,000 students went abroad for studies from India and only about 45,000 students came to India from neighbouring countries. So, there is a huge gap between the inbound and outbound student mobility to and from India.”

Students today choose to study abroad due to a large number of reasons. In India, the number of seats in quality institutes is quite less in comparison to the number of aspirants, which makes entry rather tough. Let us take the examples of the Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) and the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs). Only a select few make it to these prestigious institutes and the rest are left with no option apart from enrolling for low-quality private institutes or going abroad.

Going abroad for studies gives students a chance to stand out. It also helps them gain practical knowledge and get exposed to research opportunities, which are hardly available in India.

“The higher educational system in India seldom provides practical exposure, multi-cultural diversity and overseas experience, which support students in the long term. Also, getting admission in Indian institutes is becoming increasingly difficult with scores of new competitive exams having been introduced due to a limited number of seats,” confided Bhatti.

One of the possible explanations for foreign institutes not being allowed in India is the fact that leading universities such as Oxford, Yale or Harvard haven’t yet expressed interest.

The Possible Solution

Rajesh explains, “Any foreign university cannot open a campus in India on its own as per the existing law. But, they can certainly open campuses through a local partner. GMR and Schulich School of Business in Toronto have a joint venture. The curriculum has been designed by the Schulich School and the degrees are given in Toronto. So, the involvement of foreign universities in India is on a case-to-case basis as far as joint ventures are concerned. Any kind of student exchange programme can be done in partnership with a local partner.”

Another reason that Bhatti believes could be the reason is the presence of stringent laws to set up universities in India. “Foreign education providers are prohibited from making profits and that’s the reason India has not seen top Institutes willing to set shops. Only half the door is opened for foreign institutes to invest in India. However, we might see the lifting of such restrictions in the near future as a bill in this regard is pending in the parliament,” he said.

Rajesh added, “The bill is pending subject to political compulsions. However, it is a robust bill. It not only helps overseas universities to establish ventures in India but also provides the ground for local institutions to set up campuses overseas. I expect the bill to be implemented sooner or later as internationalization of education is bound to happen.”

Collaboration Is the Only Way Forward

MHRD is presently focusing on the institutions of eminence plan under which students will get education comparable to that offered by the top universities abroad. The government is also focusing on attracting foreign students to India.

Recently HRD Minister Prakash Javadekar announced an ambitious plan of attracting 2,00,000 foreign students to India, more than four times the current number. The government is making conscious efforts to liberalize the stringent rules in the higher education sector. To enhance the focus on skill learning and practical training, MHRD is also conducting several twinning programmes with foreign institutes. Higher education institutes can also privately forge partnerships with foreign institutions or universities. This significantly eases the hassle for students, who look for options outside India.

Currently, foreign universities are permitted to run in India by tying up with domestic academic institutes. Several foreign institutes are already operating via local partners in India. These institutes share faculty members, have collaborative programmes and offer distance education options. However, current laws do not allow foreign institutes to set up campuses in India.

Talking from the education point of view, Bhatti said, “Indian students will get advantages such as knowledge augmentation, increased practical exposures, enhanced research opportunities and reduced expenses through these collaborations. However, studying abroad will continue to remain the primary choice among students because of a number of reasons such as multi-cultural exposure, permanent residency options after study and the likes.”

Meanwhile, the MHRD initiatives of bringing the foreign institutions to India will open up new opportunities not only for the Indian students but also for the inbound students from neighbouring countries. “Foreign institutes will create a competitive environment among the higher education institutes in India thereby enhancing the quality of education. The overall capacity to provide education to the students will also expand and boost domestic education,” informed Bhatti.

A Successful Experiment

Ravneet Pawha

Ravneet Pawha, the Deputy Vice President (Global Engagement) and CEO (South Asia) of Deakin University in Australia, informed, “At Deakin, collaboration underscores everything we do. Our award-winning partnerships help us turn research into beneficial commercial and community outcomes, produce world-class graduates and contribute to the growth and sustainability of the communities we’re a part of.  The collaborative engagements include articulation pathways, credit transfers, mobility programmes for students and faculty members, collaborative research and the likes.”

“The articulations/ credit transfer programmes provide pathways for learning, opportunities for domestic and international students to experience new cultures and allow the sharing of ideas and experiences around the world.  The other benefit is reduced costs as they are studying parts of the programmes in their home countries and partly on-campus. Deakin currently has such arrangement with various premier Indian education providers including VIT University, Chitkara University and Symbiosis International (Deemed University),” she added.

Other Initiatives

National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) too is running several programmes that give Indian students an opportunity to work abroad. “Recently we tied up with Sweden to send IT and telecom professionals from India to Sweden. Students who get trained in a proper way will get opportunities to go and work in Sweden,” informed Rajiv Mathur, the Senior Head of Private Sector Fund Mobilization at NSDC.

He opined, “Foreign universities are definitely far ahead of us. I have seen the kind of infrastructure they have, the kind of training they give, the kind of curricula they provide and the kind of industry associations that they forge – they actually are miles ahead! We are trying to imbibe the best practices from these universities in India as well.”

Rajesh added, “The Indian higher education system is going through an evolution. There are central institutions that are ready to do anything, adopt technology 4.0 and new age technologies. There are institutions that are open to new type of education. So, the ones which have evolved are really coming up in a big way. Therefore, Study in India programme will focus on 160 institutions to start with and enrol foreign students.”

Overseas Education Has Its Own Advantages

To upgrade the skills of the students, NSDC is also running some international skill programmes and has opened a couple of skill centres mostly targeted for people who wish to work in the Middle East. “We are skilling people and preparing them for the international markets. Apart from technical training, we also provide them culture training. If a person is going to work in the Middle East, he should know the culture of Middle East so that he/ she doesn’t get into trouble,” informed Rajiv.

“Our ministry has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Government of Japan under which three lakh people will be sent to Japan as apprentices for a period of three years. The world as a whole is suffering from the problem of an ageing workforce. Sweden is a prime example, which is not finding enough employable young people. So, they are trying to take people from India as it has a predominantly young population,” he added.

NSDC will also be tying up with other institutions. “We have launched an expression of interest (EOI) scheme asking foreign institutions to come and become our advisors in setting up multi-skill training institutions with world class facilities. There will be commercial agreements. There will be a partner who will invest in land and the likes and the skilled people will come and give technical training,” shared Rajiv.

O. P. Jindal Global University (JGU) and Broadband India Forum have collaborated with Macquarie University in Australia to boost joint research programmes, promote staff exchanges and arrange internships for students.

Existing Government Initiatives

MHRD is taking several steps to facilitate the engagement of foreign faculty members by the IITs. In order to address the shortage of faculty members in these premier institutions, various measures have been taken. These include the creation of a pan-IIT faculty pool, the effective use of VAJRA scheme of the Department of Science and Technology (DST), the appointment of eligible Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) card holders as permanent faculty members, hassle-free visa to foreign faculty members and the reduction of annual income ceiling from US$25,000 to Rs. 9.10 lakh per year.

MHRD has also launched a Global Initiative for Academic Networks (GIAN) to enable foreign faculty members to teach courses at India higher educational institutions. The ministry has also launched a Study in India programme with the objective to improve the country’s soft power with a focus on the neighbouring countries and use it as a tool in diplomacy. The programme has been started with a vision to boost the number of inbound international students to India, to double India’s market share of global education exports from less than 1 percent to 2 percent, an improvement in the overall quality of higher education, an increase in the global ranking of India as an educational destination and a reduction in the export-import imbalance in the number of International students.

“Under this programme, a fee waiver to meritorious foreign students will be given by the Institutes. 100 percent fee waiver of tuition fees will be given to the top 25 percent students, 50 percent waiver to the next 25 percent students and 25 percent to the next 25 percent students. The remaining 25 percent students will not be given any tuition fee waiver,” informed Satya Pal Singh, the Minister of State for Human Resource Development.

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Reporting by Bhawna Satsangi
Special Correspondent, Delhi