Indian universities overseas: a growing trend

The five million Indian population in the Gulf, of which over one million is in the UAE, was the reason Birla Institute of Technology and Science in the year 2000 opened its engineering campus in Dubai.

The five million Indian population in the Gulf, of which over one million is in the UAE, was the reason Birla Institute of Technology and Science (BITS) in the year 2000 opened its engineering campus in Dubai. ?Lots of Indians working in Dubai wanted to send their children to an Indian institute,? says LK Maheshwari, vice-chancellor & director, BITS Pilani. ?KK Birla was the chancellor of BITS Pilani when the decision on the Dubai campus was taken and he took this decision to ?help a friendly country? and not from the commercial aspect,? adds Maheshwari. The arrangement was such that Eskom was the local partner that bore the ?financial burden entailed in setting up and running the institute in Dubai? while ?academic aspects such as faculty recruitment, curriculum and degree award were in control of BITS?. What started with an enrolment of 60 students in 2000 has had 600 students enrolled in 2009 with over 45% from India. BITS was obviously pleased with the response to the Dubai campus that made them consider a proposal in 2003 from the government of Mauritius to set up a campus there, but because of a change in government the plans got stalled.

?When one looks at overseas educational alliances, there are clearly two categories. One category of institutes pursues ?internationalisation? with a bigger dimension to uplift all countries involved, to create goodwill through the educational process and in this case money is incidental. If you take the example of BITS Pilani itself, when we opened in 1964 we were helped by the MIT in the US not for money, but to make successful an initiative of a private group in the field of higher technical education. On the other hand, there are the ?trade-in education services? such as cross-border supply, setting up institutes, which are the fly-by-night initiatives, not long-term and primarily driven by commercial motivations,? adds Maheshwari.

Others such as SP Jain Centre of Management and Manipal University also have campuses in Dubai focusing on management studies. While time will tell what the motivators of the overseas initiatives of higher educational institutes are, these universities seem to be acting with speed to find their place in the sun. Ask Atul Chauhan, president, Amity education group, which has recently opened its campus in London and Singapore. The two campuses, he says, have been opened after a great deal of research. ?So far we?ve got a phenomenal response. The London school, for example, has already got 1,500 applications from students all over the world while the Singapore campus has got about 1,000.?

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Singapore?s institutes? do have a feather in their cap which would serve as a good example for Indian institutes wherein the former?s policies regarding admission, course content, faculty selection and ranking are all transparently declared on the Web site. In India, all claim to be a ?top ranking institute? with no official verification provided.

While BITS Pilani was granted a ?deemed to be university? status by an act of Parliament back in 1964, private, self-financing institutes such as Institute of Management Technology, Ghaziabad, opened campus in Dubai in 2006. It is already thinking of a new campus in Singapore. IMT chose Dubai because it?s a global business hub and MBAs are much in demand. Another reason is its access to India which would let Dubai campus leverage faculty resources of its India campus. ?If you have international tie ups and campuses, you attract more students in India since Indian institutes abroad give students a chance to have a global exposure at a reasonable rate,? acknowledges AM Sherry, chairman, admission & student affairs IMT, Ghaziabad.

However, a counter point to consider is that in India, where students hold Western higher education in high esteem, would prospective students choose an Indian academic institute in England where there is an Oxford or a Cambridge to choose from? Chauhan of Amity education group describes his differing target students and objectives, ?There are some unparalleled leaders and we are not competing with them. But everybody doesn?t get into them. We offer an MBA at competitive rates and provide best facilities. Our positioning is not of an Indian academic institute transported abroad. It has been set up like any British B-school with global accreditation, director and faculty members. The same is the case for Singapore. We expect only 20% of students to be Indian.?

Savita Mahajan, chief executive, Indian School of Business, Mohali campus, offers a different perspective. She says, ?Indian schools opening abroad are targeting Indian students who can?t get admission in other foreign schools. If it?s about giving a global perspective, we are doing it here in India.?

The Indian government is in favour of formulating guidelines to allow universities and government-run institutions to set up branches abroad to fund higher education for the poor back home and expand the educational infrastructure here. So far, private educational institutions have explored education opportunities abroad. Pune University became the first government-run institution to open its campus in UAE in 2009. While the process was tedious and long-drawn, Pune University was finally able to get approval.

However, bureaucratic hurdles have not dampened the intent of Indian institutes to open branches overseas. Corporate India has put the Indian flag abroad, it?s time Indian education did the same,? quips Chauhan.

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First published on: 17-08-2009 at 23:32 IST