Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Should India open its doors to foreign universities?

Philip Altbach, in The Hindu:

If Mr. Sibal believes that he will easily get well-functioning, top quality foreign universities to set up shop in India quickly, he is mistaken. It is likely that some of the for-profit providers, such as Laureate and Apollo, will be most interested. These institutions, which have operated successfully in many countries, are not seen as prestigious institutions. University transplants frequently have experienced significant logistical problems. A challenge involves convincing professors and staff from the home campus to teach abroad. Indeed, this ordeal often acts as the Achilles’ heel of foreign providers, for in almost every case, they end up hiring local staff to teach. It may be sufficient for Indians to study in an ostensibly foreign institution in India taught by local professors; the students may end up with a foreign degree but not with much of an international experience. Just as important, if the foreign institution cannot earn a quick profit, it might well pull up stakes and leave or, alternatively, reduce costs by lowering the quality.

First, a few observations: (a) foreign universities are unlikely to be inexpensive; so they will likely be a niche player catering to a small population that's reasonably well off. Therefore, their direct impact on higher ed scene in India is likely minuscule. (b) they are more likely to be teaching shops -- even if they are branch campuses of NYU or Stanford -- rather than 'real universities.' (c) they will have to depend quite heavily on local teaching talent.

As far as I'm concerned, (a) and (b) are neutral, while (c) is a positive. But there's also a big indirect positive that I see with the entry of foreign universities: India's higher ed regulators will be under pressure to be strict in enforcing their rules and quality norms; in order to appear impartial, they will have to do the same with Indian institutions as well. This is good for all students.

I'm all for letting them in as long as they don't ask for concessions (such as land grants).

* * *

On a related note, a couple of links:

  • It's reform time in universities:

    In a March 30 letter, UGC Chairman Sukhadeo Thorat asked the vice-chancellors to draw up a road map of reforms with a solid action plan. Prof. Thorat’s directive has come in the wake of the suggestions made by the UGC’s Committee on Academic and Administrative Reforms, headed by A. Gnanam.

    Based on the Gnanam committee report, the commission has suggested an action plan to be implemented in a phased manner. When the Central universities have been asked to implement the reforms in two years, all State universities have been given three years.

    The UGC has identified five core reform areas: semester system, choice-based credit system, curriculum development, admission procedures and examination reforms.

  • Tougher PhD norms to kick in:

    The UGC is banning MPhil and PhD programmes offered through correspondence or distance learning under a notification to enforce stricter screening of research programmes at higher education institutions.

    Specifying minimum standards and procedures to award MPhil and PhD degrees for the first time, the UGC today unveiled plans that could make substandard research tougher.


  1. Subrahmanya said...

    "UGC today unveiled plans that could make substandard research tougher."
    Did you notice this? I had, in my blog.

  2. Anonymous said...

    Couldn't agree with you more. A couple of observations.

    "foreign univs are unlikely to be inexpensive.." so are 'our' leading private univs. See the fees at Manipal - 7 lakhs for BE, almost 21.5 lakhs for MBBS, about 17.5 - 25 lakhs for MD/MS courses!! (this latter figure looks obnoxious) - these are of course, for the merit seats. I don't think the foreign univs can charge anything substantially more than these numbers.

    So let a few of them come so that our young generation has a better mix of univs to choose from. Yet, I feel that some kind of fee regulation is needed for both foreign and indian private univs - to meet the aspirations of all - given the ground realities in India.

    As far as India's higher ed. regulators are concerned, I don't share the same optimism as you - so long as the system is completely overhauled and the current crop of 'regulators' are given the boot. Isn't this appalling? 2 crore for a medical postgradute seat?

    our regulators - my foot!


  3. Anonymous said...

    It would be better if these foreign univs/instis offer some specialized, niche programs (useful in global market place) that are not available in the Indian instis. Market forces themselves can determine whether these programs (and therefore the instis) survive. Indirectly even if they do hire and train local talent for teaching these programs that would be a good exposure and help in jumpstarting education in non-traditional fields of study.

  4. Winnowed said...

    "I'm all for letting them in as long as they don't ask for concessions (such as land grants)."

    I couldn't agree more!

  5. Anonymous said...

    From the WSJ article : Indian Minister Seeks to Ease Limits on Foreign Schools -

    >Foreign universities have been lobbying for years to enter India unobstructed. Blair Sheppard, dean of Duke University's Fuqua School of Business, which last year >decided to rotate students through India as part of two master's in business administration programs, said he would establish master's degree programs there "in a >heartbeat" if the restrictions are lifted

    Foreign universities just want to make the quick buck with quick buck programs that will churn out Indian managers for foreign companies (remember the old British civil service) which will increasingly enter India to sell their goods.
    I hope there is a regulator who will raise the bar on the kinds of programs that are offered especially to ensure that specialized programs that can create intellectual property, advanced infrastructure and services in the educational sectors trickle in along with other kinds of programs.