Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Foreign Education In India


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.

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