Higher Education: ‘Destination India’ for foreign students

November 14, 2020 6:15 AM

The space vacated by China in higher education, owing to Covid-19, is India’s for the taking. India must capitalise on this opportunity by strengthening its academic institutions to attract more international students

Many other countries are likely to be cautious in their recruitments and cross-border exchange with China as well.Many other countries are likely to be cautious in their recruitments and cross-border exchange with China as well.

By Rakesh Mohan Joshi

The higher education sector in India remains inwardly oriented despite the fact that the country is home to the world’s second-largest population with proficiency in English after the United States (surprisingly, more than the United Kingdom). Out of over 53 lakh students studying overseas, as per the ministry of education, India attracted only a little over 45,000 students in 2018.

A majority of these were from neighbouring or low-income countries, mainly comprising Nepal (24%), Afghanistan (9.6%), Bhutan (4.3%), Nigeria (4%), Bangladesh (3.5%), Iran (3.4%), Yemen (3.2%), United States (3.1%) and Sri Lanka (2.7%). On the other hand, China’s ministry of education reported over 4.92 lakh foreign students studying in the country, mainly from South Korea (10.2%), Thailand (5.8%), Pakistan (5.6%), India (4.7%), the US (4.2%), Russia (3.9%), Indonesia (3%), Laos (2.9%) and Japan (2.8%). China receives a large number of students, over 25,800 for doctoral research and 85,000 for post-graduate education. In contrast, India receives merely 1,560 students for doctoral research, 4451 for post-graduate and merely 1,430 students for medical education.

Interestingly, India is the fourth-largest country sending students to China, with over 23,000 students enrolled in Chinese higher education institutions (over 21,000 are enrolled for medical degrees). Over 45 of China’s medical colleges are approved to impart medical education in English to foreign students. Moreover, China has made commendable efforts to induce academic rigour and quality to put its educational courses and degrees on a par with international standards.

As a result, a large number of degrees awarded to international students in China are recognised in many countries. For instance, China’s medical degrees offered to Indian students are recognised by the Medical Council of India. Moreover, China has made its higher and technical education highly cost competitive as the average total cost to complete a six-year medical degree in China works out to about `20-30 lakh. In contrast, Indian private medical colleges charge exorbitant fees, a considerable part of which also constitutes hidden components such as capitation or donation.

The number of students wanting to pursue medical education far exceeds the seat availability. So, despite the sub-standard quality of education and research in some privately-owned medical colleges, such colleges can command high fees.

However, Covid-19 has changed things. While Covid-19 has impacted trade and economy worldwide, it is also expected to impact the cross-border flow of socio-cultural goods and services, including cross-border education. A fear psychosis has been created in the minds of students, parents and governments alike not to be venture into countries like China, US and Europe for higher education. Such sudden turn of international events seems to radically impact not only the inward flow of international students across countries but also deter companies from cross-border recruitments.

Recently, the American International Recruitment Council (AIRC) cautioned recruiters against recruiting students from China. Many other countries are likely to be cautious in their recruitments and cross-border exchange with China as well.

Such unforeseen commotions in the post-COVID world would significantly transform the cross-border flow of students for higher education and could benefit countries, which are prepared to capitalise upon the emerging opportunities. India’s ambitious New Education Policy 2020 holds promise in this regard.

The new policy aims to open up India’s highly constrained education system with a number of unprecedented steps such as flexibility of choice of subjects, multi-disciplinary and integrated learning, flexibility of exit at any stage of graduation with some certificate, diploma, degree or advance degree and accumulation of credits that could be used later. Moreover, it also paves the way for attracting top foreign universities into India and promote Indian universities and institutes to venture into foreign terrain.

Had we implemented these steps earlier, we could have taken advantage of the recent happenings in China and other countries. However, India can still capitalise upon the international scenario and become a major player in cross-border education. Focus on quality, international benchmarking and outward orientation hold the key to success in realising India’s unexplored potential in higher education.

It shall require a strong commitment on the part of the government, its agencies, emerging academic entrepreneurs, academic administrators and professors alike, to uphold highest standards of academics and integrity. And, to make India a global hub in education so that it can regain its ancient glory as the centre of knowledge creation and dissemination.


Professor and Chairperson (Research), Indian Institute of Foreign Trade

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