Whom does it benefit?

Entry of foreign universities

The ministry of human resource development (HRD) will be tabling a bill on the entry of foreign higher educational Institutions to provide education in India in the current session of  parliament, if things go as planned. Going by the arguments of the ministry, the bill will have to be welcomed by one and all.

In a written reply, the minister of state for finance had informed the Rajya Sabha that during 2008-09, an amount of $ 2.247 billion was sent out of the country as remittance towards tuition fees and other expenses of Indian students studying abroad. The figures for earlier three years were also provided. The amount has doubled every year.

This is no doubt a large sum of money that is moving out of the country. The entry of foreign universities will prevent the outflow of that money is one of the arguments in favour of permitting foreign universities. Two questions are pertinent here: Is the entry of foreign universities an option to remedy the situation? Will those who are opting to move out of the country for higher qualifications decide to stay on if the foreign universities pitch their tents here? At least the HRD seems to think so.

Quality education

The public at large thinks very differently. Those who have wealth will continue to move out to meet their interests. They are a small minority. It may not also be true that those who are moving out of the country are in search of quality education, though there are exceptions.

 The concern of the country should be the majority who do not have enough of means to study even in the country. But the more basic question is why is it in the last 63 years of independent India we have not been able to provide world class higher education for our people? What hindered us from establishing high quality institutions?

The blame must rest at the doors of the Indian state. The state simply did not permit establishment of high quality institutions. With bureaucratisation of higher education, the mediocre ones flourished and the excellent ones were suffocated. And yet, in spite of adverse conditions that we still have some world class institutions is a tribute to the Indian intelligentsia.

Our IITs, IIMs, Birla Institute of Technology, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi and several other Colleges are known world wide. We should have allowed them to be world-class and should have encouraged many more to reach those levels. We did not do it under the license raj. How to compete in the international arena is a question now. The Indian state is convinced that the only way to enhance quality and to make higher education meet global standards, is to open up.

We did that earlier with industry and then with farming and are now moving into education. In both industry and agriculture, we have not gained as a result of opening up. In fact, we have lost out. Coca Cola came and purchased brands like Thumps Up and Limca. There are no more any local drinks available in the market now. Our pharmaceutical giant Ranbaxy has also been sold.

With Monsanto and other corporations entering into agriculture, we have increasing suicide of farmers and dependency on the multinational corporations for seeds, fertilisers and farming. Today the Indian market is full of foreign brands and our manufacturers are working for the MNCs.

Instead of producing steel, we export iron and ore. We are still raw material suppliers. We supply jute and cotton. Today the world is of brands. Only the brand sells. We have not been able to create brands. In fact, we were prevented from doing so. 

At the level of higher education, what we need are more institutes of higher education that become brands in their own right rather than inviting foreign universities. We can easily create them. There is genius here. Foreign universities will be universities with forms and without substance.

 With their huge capital, they will concentrate on infrastructure as many private universities do at present. They would charge exorbitant fees making education out of reach for the majority. There will be style without much content in what they offer. Students will be marketable commodities without learning skills and attitudes for life and living. Higher education will be transformed into an industry than a service.

Primary purpose

As long as the primary purpose of higher education is to build human resource, it should never be a commercial venture. Secondly, higher education is to build the nation. Foreign providers will never be able to understand the concept of India. How will they then assist in the nation-building exercise?

India should have a brand of its own for higher education if education has to serve national interests. One way of creating that brand is to convert our present top institutions like the IITs, IIMs, IISc and our institutes of advance studies into universities. Allow them to affiliate top private and public colleges who are ready to remain under their control as long as they meet standards. Such private and public colleges could gradually grow and can become brands by themselves. 

Instead of encouraging and gradually influencing South Asia through establishment of higher educational institutions there with state support, it is sad that the country is encouraging   foreign business houses to enter educational sector. The primary reason why foreign universities are eager to come to India is to make as much money as possible.

The aspect of viewing higher education as a commercial activity is a recent phenomenon due to the politician-business nexus. With the entry of foreign universities, this nexus is likely to be strengthened, attacking the very premises on which we build the edifice of higher education — of access, inclusion and justice — the directives of the Constitution of the country.

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