Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Foreign Education In India

http://www.thehindu.com/2008/07/15/stories/2008071555180800.htm

This is an interesting article analysing the request by foreign university (and higher education providers) to be allowed to set up campuses in India. The writer points out some of the obvious flaws of opening access to primarily private institutes. These include:

The fact that these universities would only offer programs that are in high demand in the market and would not invest in research intensive courses that might not generate as much profit;
They might not be able to provide access to underserved sections of society as they will be interested only in making profit and not offering equitable access;
That it would be difficult to regulate the quality of education that these institutions would provide and that it might not be the same as what they provide in their home countries.

All valid concerns but a little pointless in my opinion. If one looks at the larger context of the state of Education and especially higher education in India, then it is apparent that the government does not even have the funds to cater to the streams that are in demand. The author of the article himself admits that hardly 10% of the relevant age group attend institutes of higher education. Given this scenario, to me it seems that it is better to let private universities address the market demand. This way, the government can focus on sectors that might not generate as much profit.

Coming to the second point, of providing access to underserved sections of society, it is first important to have the capacity to serve a populace as large as ours. Second, once that capacity exists, it will distribute itself across the socio-economic spectrum to ensure its own survival. Yes, quality will suffer but this is where the government will be able to pitch in once the pressure to provide for the basic infrastructure is off its shoulders. Also, even with an entirely Indian system of education, the government has not really been able to ensure quality except in the few IITs and IIMs. Most Indian universities hardly provide even the basic infrastructure required for higher education. So, that is hardly a valid reason to refuse access. If anything, mechanisms need to evolved to ensure a basic minimum standard is met and this criteria would need to apply to Indian as well as foreign based universities.

All in all, given the overall scenario of paucity of funds as well as infrastructure in the education sector, it seems to me to be better to allow foreign players (after appropriate screening) to set up campuses to cater to the demand that is emerging and is only likely to climb higher.

Friday, 4 July 2008

Paradoxes

It is the 21st century and we do live in what we like to think of as a liberal world. I for one, have what may be a bad habit. I generalise based on the few people that I know and the few experiences that I have had in my rather young life. While it works for me lots of times, sometimes I am rudely woken up. I imagine all of upper-middle class, educated, working, young Indians to be like me and my friends. After all, why not? Brought up in large cosmopolitan cities, in english speaking schools, college educated, working in progressive industries such as the media and advertising.

And then an encounter surprises me, delights me with the diversity and makes me ponder about the paradoxes that exist in the seemingly globalised parts of this country. And so let me narrate a small incident.

I was in office in a meeting along with my senior planner with a sales representative from a TV channel. She (the sales rep) was narrating the plot of an upcoming serial to us. She got to the crux of the plot where she essentially wanted to say that the younger daughter-in-law was made to sleep with her older brother-in-law to produce a heir for the family. What amazed me was that she could not get herself to say the word "sex" or even the phrase "sleep with" and finally resorted to "mate".

It made me think about the paradoxes that exist in India - the confluence (or confusion) between tradition and modernity; the tense relationship that exists between the two that often explodes in various forms - debates on censorship, vandalism on Valentine's day, a march for Gay rights, a controversial re-writing of religious myths etc. It reminds me that Liberalised India is still young, that we are still gestating, that not everyone subscribes to a modernity that is essential Europe and America inspired.

It also amazes me that we are able to survive as a country with so many contradictions, paradoxes and differences; that we have room for everything without breaking apart at the seams. 
 

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