A recent issue of The Week had a cover story on the red carpets rolled out by foreign universities to woo Indian students to their campuses. Since foreign students pay a full fee while the natives pay only a partial fee, the former are, naturally, very attractive. On the supply side, more Indian students can afford expensive education today than ever before.
The numbers reported by the Week are truly staggering. There are at least 120,000 students studying abroad, most of them in English-speaking countries. Expenses? Including tuition, they come to anywhere between a low of Rs. 0.5 million and a high of Rs. 1.2 million per year.
Even if you assume (liberally) that some 75% of them have access to financial assistance -- I am sure it is a gross overestimate -- it still leaves some 30,000 students who pay their way through (with money raised by their parents or through bank loans). This is still a very large number and it represents an opportunity that India itself should be tapping.
Sure, some of the students wish to study abroad for the experience, and there is a lot to be said about it. But I am also sure there is a large number of students who go abroad because they don't find many good colleges and universities offering high quality education right here in India. Here is a quote from one of the people interviewed for the Week's story:
"I'll be taking the CAT exam in November. If I get through, I'll remain in India. But the competition is very tough. So, I've also applied for an MBA course at the University of Technology, Sydney, which I am likely to get."
There is clearly a demand for high quality education in a good university even if it is very expensive by Indian standards.
Bottomline: a university that is similar in spirit to the Indian School of Business (ISB) could be a phenomenal success.
In an earlier post, I estimated what a fully student-funded research university would cost. That estimate was for a bare-bones university, made with the intention of finding out what the lowest cost would be. It turned out to be about Rs.100,000 per student per year. It supports 1 faculty and 2 or 3 graduate students (who all share in the teaching) for 40 students.
Just imagine what wonders one can do with Rs.200,000 or 300,000 per student! The educational experience would not be just bare-bones, it could have all bells and whistles. The students could be taught by some of the most brilliant minds money can buy (!) and could have world-class infrastructure.
When such a university is set up, who knows, it may even attract lots of foreign students (and some foreign faculty too!), offering everyone an international flavour and experience right here in India.
I am sure I am not the only one to think along these lines. After all, ISB and GLIM have been established on a similar principle. However, this hasn't happened, not just for a 'real' university with multiple disciplines, but even for stand-alone institutions in such 'lucrative' subjects such as engineering, medicine and law. To me, this fact implies either regulatory obstacles or market failure. What could it be?
Or, I am perhaps in some seriously elitist dream. Somebody please pinch me!