A retrograde step (Foreign Education Providers)

| July 26, 2015 | 0 Comments

A retrograde step (Foreign Education Providers). P.M. Bhargava. The New Indian Express. 7th Apil 2010.

It has been shocking to see the Union Cabinet approve the Foreign Universities Bill for presentation to Parliament, for the following reasons:

After more than six decades of Independence, we have not been able to put our own system of higher education in order; The number of people who are functionally illiterate probably still exceeds those who are functionally literate. Those who receive any modicum of reasonable (leave aside high-quality) education represent less than 20 per cent of our population. Indeed what else can you expect when 77 per cent of Indians live on less than Rs20 a day, and higher education of even low quality, is extremely expensive. It is, therefore, not surprising that we have not won a Nobel Prize in science for nearly 75 years. Recently Nature, one of the world’s best known scientific journals, ranked India as seventh, with China having a much higher rating (R Prasad, The Hindu, March 18). If we believe that by handing over our channels of providing higher education to foreign education providers will improve the quality of education, should not we, by the same argument, hand over our administration to foreign countries, to raise its very low standards from the point of view of inefficiency, bureaucracy, political intervention and corruption?

n Should not a large country like India, with an enviable history, resources and capabilities, make an attempt using its own resources, to set its house in order, rather than asking outsiders to do so? Should not we first study the role of foreign universities (if any) in other countries — developed or developing — especially vis-vis the role of the universities of one’s own country?

n Are we so stupid as not to realise that no foreign university will come here for altruistic reasons, given our bureaucracy and extent of corruption? If any does come it would only be to satisfy its needs which could be: to fill in the deficit in its own country, of appropriately trained people; to spread its country’s culture and message: social, political and economic; and to make profit. One might argue that the bill prohibits the repatriation of any profit by a foreign university. Surely, our administrators cannot be so naïve as not to recognise that there are many well-known ways of legally circumventing the above provision in the bill. Should we not learn a lesson from our numerous de facto profit-making educational institutions that have been, in fact, set up primarily to make money for individuals?

n It does not take much to realise that the vast proportion of, if not all, the universities that would come here to further the objectives I have mentioned in the preceding section, will be fly-by-night operators. The Yash Pal Committee Report rightly said that we should have no objection to having any of the top 200 universities in the world set up a campus here, provided it follows our rules and gives an Indian degree. One can predict that more than 99.9 per cent of the universities that may come will not be among the top two hundred.

n The bill makes many distinctions between Indian and foreign universities — in regard to salary, curricula, fees and reservation policy. It does not need much imagination to see that the privileges proposed to be given to foreign education providers in the bill, will kill our own educational system. Knowing the lure of foreign label for most of the Indians — especially the rich and the powerful — our own universities will become like government schools of today where only the children of the poor and the deprived go to receive no education. Not only that, because of salary considerations, the high-quality teachers in our universities may justifiably prefer to go to even the second, third and fourth rate foreign education providers. Wouldn’t this be an important step towards de facto losing our independence? If the government is serious about improving the quality of our higher education and believes that the concessions the bill provides for foreign education providers, will be a step towards improving our higher education, why does not it give the same privileges to our universities?

n There is no question that a substantial influx of foreign education providers in the country will sharpen the class distinction in the country. Is this really what the government of India wants? Why, then, the façade of inclusive growth?

n One can predict that no foreign university will offer high-class science courses like a master’s in modern biology or nuclear physics, as this will require high investment. Moreover, courses in such subjects will not send a culture-specific message to the student; Therefore, courses will be offered by foreign education providers only in areas that would not require large investment and where culture-specific messages can be conveyed.

n I am amused at the statement made by the HRD minister that having foreign universities in India will prevent Indian students from going abroad. This is a ridiculous thought. Those who go abroad, do so for obtaining a totality of new experience, not just for getting a degree. If this was not so, we would not have such a large number of students from Europe studying in America and vice-versa.

n One of the objectives of the proposed bill is to provide education that is better in quality than in existing universities. Let us assume that Harvard or Cambridge decides to set up a campus here. It surely will not send all its faculty here for the whole year. The backbone of teaching will be teachers recruited locally or from the international market. Why don’t we use, on a part-time basis, such of our outstanding academicians who are good in both teaching and research, to improve quality in our own universities, by giving them appropriate facilities and incentives? Similarly, why can’t a provision be made for our universities to invite for short or long periods, or even recruit for a regular position on special terms and conditions, outstanding academicians from abroad?

If the Centre is committed to improving higher education, let it put up this bill for a national debate over a period of six months. Jairam Ramesh did that for Bt-brinjal which was actually approved by the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC). The minister rightly realised that the approval for release of Bt-brinjal by the GEAC was extremely flawed and that there was far greater expertise in this regard amongst various strata of people in the country than within the GEAC. He has wisely put an indefinite moratorium on the open release of Bt-brinjal. If the HRD ministry provides an opportunity for such a debate on the foreign universities bill, I will not be surprised if only those who voted for Bt-brinjal on account of self-interest will vote for the bill, while the vast majority of the rest will be against it, as was the case with Bt-brinjal.

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