Any, many, or the best? | The Financial Express

Any, many, or the best?

India must not desperately seek foreign higher education institutions to enter and operate in India. It has no dearth of its own institutions. What the nation needs is the best of the best among foreign universities

UGC, education
The public higher education institutions would probably be more concerned about retaining their senior faculty. (IE)

By Furqan Qamar

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A recent regulation by the University Grants Commission (UGC) allowing the entry and operations of Foreign Higher Education Institutions (FHEIs) reiterates the long-held belief that their presence is essential for providing quality higher education in India. It is argued that FHEIs would bring in the systems, processes, and practices that ensure quality and promote excellence in teaching, learning, research, publications, extensions and community engagement. Higher education regulators appear convinced that FHEIs, with their courseware, pedagogical practices, and publication standards would trigger healthy competition in higher education. But the purpose is likely to be defeated due to a built-in favourable bias for FHEIs. The thought of granting total immunity to FHEIs from the UGC and governmental regulations would work to a huge disadvantage to the domestic higher educational institutions (DHEIs) as they are tightly controlled, excessively regulated, micromanaged, and subjected to multiple dictates. The need for a level-playing field and prevention of possible malpractices have been conspicuous by their absence.

This would, though, concern primarily the private higher educational institutions. The public higher education institutions would probably be more concerned about retaining their senior faculty. The faculty crunch is a global phenomenon. International hiring may not be of much help. The FHEIs may also not be able to spare their own faculty on a long-term basis and would be looking for talents within India. Such senior faculty is available mostly in public higher education institutions and they must genuinely worry about their flight to FHEIs.

The timing of the initiative is somewhat surprising as it comes at a time when the prime minister has been exhorting the nation to “erase any traces of colonial mindset.” However, it is often presumed that the presence of FHEIs would help millions of Indian students from going abroad and thus save the nation billions in foreign exchange. The economic benefits are quite often stylised and overstated beyond exaggerations. The UGC chairman appeared quite conservative in his estimate that $28-30 billion of forex fly out of the country because a few others in the past felt that forex outflow on account of studies abroad could be between $50-70 Billion. Reserve Bank of India (RBI), in contrast, reports a forex outflow of no more than $5.6 Billion during 2021-22. Those who go abroad leave expecting greener pastures, better career prospects, and higher income opportunities. Further, they also have a better prospect of financing their higher education abroad than when studying in India.

India has been trying to have an effective framework for the entry, operation and regulation of the FHEIs for some time. Previous attempts failed to reach fruition on two counts—the fear that the move would unleash crass commercialization, and due to stiff opposition on the ground that FHEIs would cause cultural pollution, undermine Indian tradition and culture, and would promote western values. However, people have, by now, become quite used to the commercialisation across all types of higher education institutions. Higher education is now hegemony of self-financed private institutions; only a few of them are truly philanthropic. The private tendencies in public higher educational institutions too are quite rampant. Those opposed to the move on this ground have apparently become rather zealous about attracting FHEIs.

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The initiative has been taken by invoking the new education policy (NEP 2020) but differs from it in many respects. First, it does not gel well with the revival and reinvigoration of Indian knowledge, tradition, culture, and languages. Second, the policy did not favour the regulatory route and pitched for legislative measures to give effect to the idea. Third, the regulation thins out the benchmark set by the policy for attracting FHEIs. While the policy insisted that the top 100 foreign universities in the world be invited and facilitated with academic, administrative, and financial autonomy, this regulation seeks to open a door for the top 500 FHEIs either overall or in any discipline category. Fourth, the FHEIs are least likely to teach in Hindi and other Indian languages which may counter the move being vigorously pursued presently.

Freedom to charge whatever fees they want and the explicit mention of the permission to expatriate money to the parent institutions subject to the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA) and other provisions are not likely to entice world-class universities. They all work as not-for-profit entities and pecuniary and materialistic motives seldom guide their decisions. The best ones are least likely to apply for permission and subject themselves to scrutiny and evaluation by the standing committee proposed to be set up under the regulation. Numerous provisions like prohibiting them from doing anything contrary to public order, decency, or morality; the insistence that they would abide by any conditions prescribed by UGC and the government of India; and banning them from acting as a representative office of their parent entity to undertake promotional activities, would be seen as too restrictive.

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India has no dearth of higher education institutions. What India needs is institutions of excellence. If such institutions can’t come, let it be. Why be desperate to bring FHEIs?

The writer is former advisor (Education), Planning Commission, and professor of Management, Jamia Millia Islamia. Views are personal

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First published on: 28-01-2023 at 04:30 IST