Aspirations of Vishwaguru and internationalization of higher education

The 2020 National Education Policy (NEP) was a watershed moment in Indian higher education history. The policy envisions a complete overhaul and revitalization of higher education. The recently published University Grants Commission (Setting up and Operation of Campuses of Foreign Higher Educational Institutions in India) Regulations, 2023, has reignited discussions about the internationalization of Indian higher education.

Major factors that influence the Internationalization of higher education

  • Higher education is prohibitively expensive, particularly in developed countries: Indian students must pay approximately Rs 70 lakh per year to study at Harvard, Yale, or Stanford, and more than Rs 55 lakh per year to study at Oxford or Cambridge. Tuition fees alone would be roughly 15 times higher than at Indian private universities. The new proposal undermines the NEP’s vision of equity and inclusion by limiting higher education to the super-rich.
  • The project is unfeasible due to the high costs of establishing top university campuses: A noble goal is to have uniform academic standards at both the parent university and its international campus. However, international campuses have become a second-rate option, primarily available to those who are unable to gain admission to the main campus. The quality and excellence of teaching and research on overseas campuses cannot compete with those on their home campuses.
  • Post-Covid, the landscape of global higher education has shifted dramatically: the concept of brick-and-mortar international campuses has given way to the development of strong partnerships, student and faculty mobility, exchange and immersion programs, joint teaching and research opportunities, collaborative conferences and publications, and online and blended degree programs. Global perspectives on international collaborations have shifted.

Steps to establishing yourself as a global leader in international education

  • Increased autonomy for Indian universities and Institutions of Excellence (IoE): In general, Indian universities, both public and private, are highly regulated and poorly governed. The ingrained institutional practise of regulatory bodies telling universities what they should do must end. The government should pay more attention to IoEs and broaden their scope and scale so that they can become natural destinations for international students.
  • Increasing the global orientation and outlook of universities: To meet the needs and aspirations of international students, India should establish global universities led by the public and private sectors. The Gross Enrollment Ratio (GER) in India is lopsided. The national GER is approximately 22%, but some states, such as Tamil Nadu, have a GER of 52%. More public and private universities must be built across the country, with greater autonomy, resources, and better governance structures, while regulatory bodies’ roles are reduced.
  • Provide more resources to all Indian universities: Indian universities are severely underfunded. The NEP envisions a 6% annual investment in higher education, as well as a National Research Foundation to allocate additional resources. More tax breaks for CSR and philanthropic initiatives are needed to encourage private sector contributions to public and private universities.
  • Breaking down barriers, bias and prejudices, and hierarchies: The NEP aims to break down long-standing barriers between public and private institutions. However, many biases and prejudices remain. The caste system is replicated by an institutionalized hierarchy in the Indian higher education system. The IITs and IIMs are first in the pecking order, followed by the central universities. Following that are the IISERs, NITs, and, much lower down, the state public universities.
  • Create a liberal and progressive regulatory environment for Indian universities in order to attract international students: Much more than education reform will be required if India is to become a popular international destination for students from developing countries. The government must reform its visa and FRRO registration procedures. The quality of infrastructure and hostels on university campuses must be significantly improved. The safety, security, and well-being of students, particularly women, must be guaranteed. Other types of university towns and education cities can create a comprehensive ecosystem in which students and faculty can study, work, and live.

What should India’s strategy be?

  • Focus on becoming an independent global higher education destination: Instead of allowing developed-country universities to establish international campuses, we must focus on becoming a global higher education destination in our own right.
  • Assume leadership to realise the Vishwaguru aspiration: We will not achieve the Vishwaguru aspiration by inviting prestigious foreign universities to locate campuses. We must reclaim the role we held over 2,000 years ago, when Nalanda, Takshashila, Vallabhi, and Vikramshila drew faculty and students from all over the world.
  • High-quality education at an affordable price: We have the potential to be true global leaders in providing high-quality education at an affordable price. Similarly, we can conduct high-quality research at a lower cost.
  • As an example: Indian scientists successfully completed a Mars mission on a $74 million budget, less than the $108 million production cost of the Hollywood film Gravity.

@the end

Outsourcing Indian higher education to international universities will not help India become a Vishwaguru. Instead of allowing universities from developed countries to establish international campuses, it should focus on becoming a global higher education destination in its own right.

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