Harvard at Dhankanal (on foreign education providers in India)

| July 26, 2015 | 0 Comments

“India and Indian scientists should be grateful to the US for feeding India and giving it so much aid and assistance…they should be prepared to do what they are told to do by the US.” This was said to me in my office by David R. Watkins of the US Environmental Protection Agency on November 9, ’81. Watkins wanted me and the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), Hyderabad, to work on the toxification and metabolism of chlorinated aromatics, banned as pesticides in the US. Only my Indian upbringing prevented me from throwing him out.

It doesn’t require much insight to see that if a power wishes to control India’s destiny, it can do so easily by controlling agro-chemicals and seed production. But this may be passe—the new strategy is to have foreign education providers (FEPS) set up campuses here as the first step towards controlling education—higher education to begin with.

FEPS would benefit in two ways. First, they repatriate profits to the parent organisation, in the same way Coke and Pepsi does. Second, they get to ‘convert’ us to their country’s way of life and thinking—make us believe, for example, that US intervention in Iraq was absolutely right. We would, of course, have a regulatory system. But the endemic corruption means the feps will work around it. This scenario is not painted by the ‘Consultation Paper on Higher Education in India and gatt: An Opportunity’, prepared by the Trade Policy division, commerce ministry, for the ongoing services negotiations at the WTO with a view to opening up “trade in education services”.

Those supporting FEPS cite the following arguments: one, India doesn’t have the institutions and resources to provide high-quality education to meet the growing demand. They cite the fact that in ’04-05, 80,466 Indian students enrolled in US universities, and that education generated as much as $13.4 billion (of which a substantial proportion came from India) in revenues for the US in ’03. If the FEPS were in India, these students would stay here. Two, countries like Malaysia, China, Singapore, Indonesia, New Zealand and Japan already have FEPS. Three, Australia, New Zealand, USA and Japan have proposed setting up institutions of higher learning in India, as a step towards trade in education services. And since FEPS would be regulated, what’s the problem?

Are these arguments valid? To begin with, those who send their children abroad for education do not do so because facilities in India do not exist. Getting a degree from Harvard by studying in Cambridge, Mass, is not the same as getting one from a Harvard-supported campus in Salem or Gurgaon. For every Harvard, there will be 10 unknown US universities setting up campuses here. Since establishing FEPS would be a negotiation between a rich country (like the US) and a poor country (like ours), the process of setting up a campus here will be no different from that of getting a driving licence.

Second, the existence of world-class educational/research institutions here testify to our ability to establish and run them. There’s no reason why we can’t multiply them. Neither finance nor human resources are limiting factors: it’s rather the socio-politico-economic will. Third, most FEPS would come only to augment their profits. Any good accruing to India would be incidental. Fourth, most countries already with FEPS boast stringent regulations. China insists foreign institutions must partner Chinese ones, and such partnerships cannot have profit as their objective.

There are also clear disadvantages of having FEPS in India. One, to make higher education accessible to all, we must first democratise education up to the higher secondary level. This would generate enough resources and mechanisms to provide higher education of quality to all those who want and deserve it. Nowhere in the world has a successful education system worked from top to bottom. Second, the FEPS’ fee structure is bound to make them exclusive. Their presence here could lead to a collapse of the entire educational system in the public sector, as happened with our excellent governmental school system when school education was commercialised.

Third, considering the prevailing situation, no amount of regulation would prevent subtle indoctrination of our young. This may not be in our national interest. Fourth, there’s a demand to decommercialise our education system. But FEPS will make Indian educational providers more profit-minded, thus capping all efforts to democratise education.

I believe we should welcome high-quality FEPS such as Harvard, MIT, Heidelberg, Oxford and Cambridge, to come to India, on an altruistic or philanthropic pilgrimage, preferably teaming up with an Indian entity. This will be a part of academic cooperation, not trade. This system exists around the world and is not under the control of GATT.

Reference: Harvard at Dhankanal (on foreign education providers in India). P.M. Bhargava. Outlook, 6th November 2006, p.55.

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