Indians in general have a common fascination that cuts across all regional boundaries - their love for anything from foreign shores. From chocolates to apparels, from ideas to accents, middle class Indians attach a lot of credibility to any product that boldly wears a Western tag. Now, with the Union Cabinet's go-ahead to the Foreign Educational Institutional ((Regulation Of Entry And Operation) Bill, one wonders how would we, a foreign brand-hungry nation, approach it.
While many who had been longing for foreign degrees are now elated at the opportunity to grab one in their own country, a few others fear that this could worsen the nation's already commercialized education system.
Heads of India's premier institutes like IIT and the IIM have, as expected, welcomed the government move. Understandably, they needn't worry as applicants far outnumber seats in these most sought after institutions. Most educationists believe that it is highly unlikely that top universities like Harvard, Cambridge or Yale would set up their campuses in India. They are also skeptical about the quality of education imparted by foreign institutions whose sole objective seems to centre around profit. Reports from USA and UK indicate that many of institutions keen to come to India are in difficult financial condition and need wider markets to remain profitable.
"How can government make sure that foreign institutes would do justice to the Indian education system? Instead of inviting these institutes, the government must improve the standard of education. It is strange that IIMs are not allowed to open their campus in other countries while foreign universities are welcome to open branches in India," says Sutpa Kar, a law student from Delhi University.
Every year University Grants Commission issues a list of fake universities that are running in the country. Obviously the list does not take into account those universities that are deemed but should have long been doomed because of their quality (or the lack of it).
So when the system has failed to identity such universities, how would it monitor these foreign universities with glorified badges?
Does the government actually believe that foreign institutions with hefty price tags would help the country ensure higher education to everyone?
Besides, with less than 13 per cent of India's population having access to higher education, does the government actually believe that such institutions with hefty price tags would ensure higher education for all?
"It is too early to invite foreign institutes in India as 70 per cent of the population is still rural. These universities are likely to serve the purpose of well-off students who account for less than 10 per cent of total student population," opines Dr Ravi Gunthey, Associate Professor of Psychology at Jai Naryan Vyas University in Jodhpur, Rajasthan. "This upper crust will stake a even larger claim in the dwindling job market using their foreign degrees and deprive the talented but poor students from better opportunities", cautions Dr Gunthey.
There are many, however, who would like to wait with their fingers crossed before pouncing on the government.
Like Dr Seema Narayan, Associate Professor at Delhi University and an alumnus of Columbia University, who says: "I would not like to jump to conclusions since I am not aware of the niceties of the Bill. Indian universities do lag behind when it comes to disciplines of social sciences. But, the measures need to be taken in a calibrated manner. The foreign institutes will come with heavy price tags and may create class hierarchy."
However, A P Sharma, Principal A P J School in South Delhi, has a different take on the Bill. He says, "I don't understand why we are paranoid about these institutes? In fact, it is a commendable move by the government. With the arrival of these institutes, Indian universities will have to raise their standards as they are least bothered about the quality of education they provide."
However, it is yet to be seen whether the Bill, which aims at enhancing the Gross Enrollment Ratio in higher education in India, will make it mandatory for these foreign institutes to set up campuses in small cities as well.
Many argue that the Bill would also curtail the exodus of Indian students abroad, and save an outflow of $7.5 billion spent by about 500,000 Indian students who go abroad every year. It is a known fact that students study abroad not for the degree alone but also for the job opportunities in foreign shores. For most of them education is an excuse to enter foreign shores and settle there.
While the debate on allowing foreign institutions is getting louder, senior educationists are questioning the commitment of the government towards improving higher education scenario in India. They mention that out of an outlay of Rs. 46,500 crore in the 11th five year plan for higher education only Rs. 8,300 crore has been released in the first 3 years. By systematically reducing public investment in higher education, government has deliberately deprived our institutions of needed resources and neither built new institutions despite huge demand. Was this negligence a well planned strategy to encourage commercialization of higher education and then to invite foreign education providers to fill the gap between demand and supply? Will it be possible for our 'malnourished' public education institutions to compete with the foreign players?