Leadership in education is a key element that determines a nation’s soft power.
India has taken one more step towards allowing foreign universities to set up their campuses in India with the University Grants Commission (UGC) issuing a set of draft guidelines. There will be a legal framework for such universities regarding regulatory, governance and content norms on par with other autonomous institutions of India and the guidelines can be taken as pointers to it.
There are several elements in the draft guidelines that seek to ensure that only serious players enter Indian soil. The UGC wants a firm commitment from the universities to operate in India: they must set up their own campuses instead of offering online courses and ensure that the quality of education imparted here is on a par with their main campus. They can opt for global recruitment of faculty but those who are selected are expected to remain here for a reasonable period. A university desirous of setting up an Indian campus must be a global topper in overall performance or have a great track record in a particular subject.
The universities so qualified will have certain enabling conditions, too. They can decide on the admission process and can fix the fee which the UGC expects to be “reasonable and transparent”. A key take-away from the guidelines is an acknowledgement that it’s a commercial enterprise, and hence the permission to repatriate funds back home.
The UGC has promised that its standing committee will assess each application on merit, the criteria being the credibility, the programmes, the potential to strengthen educational opportunities in India and the proposed academic infrastructure. The initial approval will be for 10 years and it will be renewed in the ninth year subject to the university meeting certain conditions. The UGC will have to take extra care to ensure that the foreigners have a smooth sailing with respect to these processes, instead of landing them in bureaucratic quagmire.
Broad and umbrella conditions which seek to ensure that the universities operate within the Indian legal framework are part of the game but it will be best suited to acknowledge the fact that pursuit of knowledge is a liberal enterprise. Too many university students have languished in Indian jails for long for their concurrence with ideas antithetical to those in power; the Indian state has had no qualms in slapping draconian laws on them. It is unlikely that the two ideas go together.
Foreign universities of repute setting up shops in India will undoubtedly give education in the country an international hue, which is welcome. The regulator and the government must ensure that their entry triggers a healthy competition among institution to prepare the best fare for the Indian student community and make them globally competitive. It should, in the long term, help make India a global destination for education.
Leadership in education is a key element that determines a nation’s soft power. As it stands today, India has hardly a stake in it. Our investment in education is far from what is required, especially when compared with China. And the foreign universities which land here with a commercial eye cannot be expected to promote egalitarian education, which India can ill-afford to ignore. In short, the arrival of the foreign universities only adds to the need of public funding of education, and does not lessen it.