- Top skilling for India, wider footprint for foreign universities.
India has unveiled draft norms for foreign universities keen on setting up a campus here. These are intended to be light-touch regulations promising considerable autonomy to the best global institutions as long as they deliver quality education. Many reputed educational institutions in the US and UK have opened campuses in other countries, and China has been a key beneficiary. A growing democratic India with a large demographic dividend – about 700 million people or half of its population below 30 – has plenty to offer as it seeks to become the world’s talent factory. The IITs and IIMs have shown the way.
India woos the world’s best institutions
The University Grants Commission’s (UGC) draft regulations say foreign universities ranked among the top 500 can set up base in India if they match the standards of excellence set by their foreign parent. It promises considerable autonomy to these institutions in framing curriculum, and in selecting faculty and students. There is considerable cynicism in India that it will lead to any transformative results. But India can make headway if the UGC delivers a hassle-free policy environment for foreign universities.
What India can learn from the world
A 2016 report by The Observatory on Borderless Higher Education in concert with C-BERT showed that at the end of 2015 alone, some 76 countries (a 10% rise since the beginning of 2011) hosted around 250 international branch campuses (IBCs). The top five host countries included China (with 32 IBCs), UAE (31), Singapore (12), Malaysia (12) and Qatar (11). This number is likely to have grown since then, though set back by covid in the last two years. The top five home countries were the US, UK, Russia, France and Australia, accounting for over 70% of the IBCs.
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Some of the most reputed institutions such as Harvard, Princeton an Oxford do not have any IBCs, perhaps wary of a possible dilution of standards in satellite centres, but some known institutes have ventured out. So, there’s Cornell University (US) in Qatar, James Cook University (Australia) in Singapore, University of Nottingham in Malaysia, Paris Sorbonne University (France) in Abu Dhabi, and many more (according to information collated by QS Top Universities).
Some countries have made efforts to develop clusters of foreign institutions to develop a vibrant symbiotic educational ecosystem for local and international talent. QS Top Universities reported in 2021 that Dubai’s International Academic City has 27 IBCs from 11 countries, with over 20,000 students of 137 nationalities. Malaysia’s EduCity and Qatar’s Education City too are similar initiatives.
What India offers the world’s best colleges
India has large numbers of skilled and semi-skilled workers. Apart from its obvious demographic dividend, it is also a democracy, unlike China. The growing numbers of Indian-origin people in top corporate and government positions in the west shows India is emerging as the world’s talent factory. However, the country needs more quality institutions to train its youth.
The success story of IITs and the IIMs is instructive. India’s best institutes are known more for the prodigious talent of their alumni than for the infrastructure and pedagogy they provide. Acing the IIT and IIM entrance examinations (JEE and CAT respectively) is a daunting challenge for most. The sheer number of applicants has forced these institutions to keep raising the difficulty levels of the entrance examinations – in some ways, making them more an exercise in elimination than active selection, at least in the initial rounds.
This is an opportunity for the world’s best institutes, to help India groom its vast human resources for the globe. There will be hurdles along the way, particularly in finding qualified faculty, but the world gains from skilling India. After all, the developed world is grappling with an ageing population, and needs skilled talent. This is obvious across the globe – from Canada and Australia to Germany and the UK.
Over the past few decades or so, the world has tried to fathom the Chinese growth story, even making efforts to learn Mandarin. However, India may be the rising star of the next few decades. For the world’s best universities, it makes sense to help skill India. India also has the added advantage of a large English-speaking middle class. And the growing influence of the Indian diaspora may make Indian languages popular globally too, from Hindi to Tamil. Even a Harvard or an Oxford may just find the Indian story compelling.
Elsewhere in Mint
In Opinion, Madan Sabnavis says the upcoming budget may not spring any big surprise. Pramit Bhattacharya reveals what data says about the great Indian middle class. Rajat Dhawan writes about five priorities for India Inc. Long Story delves deep into India’s ongoing pension battle.
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