Degree Phoney Or Foreign?
The imperatives of the Foreign Educational Institution (Regulation of Entry and Operation, Bill, 2010) approved by the central Cabinet in the third week of March 2010, are indeed worth a serious national debate. One wonders why even in times of unhindered global connectivity, such significant issues and even the preliminary drafts cannot be discussed in the universities and colleges before these are finalised. A full-scale participation of academia is possible and could certainly strengthen any reform proposal, particularly on its implementation strategies and its imports. Even after the Cabinet approval people are still surfing the internet to get a glimpse of the draft. In its absence they have to depend on media reports and statements that emerge from the MHRD.
The shape of higher education in India will certainly undergo a major transformation once the Bill becomes a law of the land. Higher education requires a real metamorphosis but how much of that expectation shall get fulfilled by the arrival of foreign providers is certainly beyond any realistic estimate at present. MHRD is expectedly justified in presenting a very encouraging picture that may emerge when the swanky campuses are seen around in Indian cities. However, even those who may be seeking clarifications and expressing certain apprehensions deserve some space.
It has been deeply internalised in Indian psyche that all that is foreign is superior. The British used education as a tool of strengthening the concept of European (Western White) superiority in practically every aspect of life. They replaced the indigenous system of education and transplanted the alien system of their choice and the one designed to serve their objective of strengthening the alien rule. One must conceded that they had the foresight and competence to embark upon a long term strategy which served them well during their presence in India. It survives even after their ouster from India, rather unhindered. We are now in for a new phase in the post-Independence developments in higher education.
It is not out of place to recall that World Bank entered the elementary education sector in India in 1990-91. The two decades of international cooperation in elementary education could be revealing to any system and probably could have impressed upon everyone that universal elementary education is the sole national responsibility that has to be discharged by the people and the governments together. The logic must extend itself to higher education sector as well. Our lead national institutions dealing with school education and teacher education and their state counterparts have remained busy in learning from abroad, foreign visits and preparing appraisal reports for the visiting missions. During these two decades, public schools flourished, government schools lost their credibility and the entire country began to realise that only English-medium education is real education! The present national preoccupation in education seems to be the central government’s keen desire to pave the way for the arrival of ‘Foreign Providers’ in India.
UPA Humiliating Indian Talent- Dr Murli Manohar Joshi
The former Union HRD Minister Dr Murli Manohar Joshi is vehemently opposed to the Regulation of Entry and Operation Bill 2010, as it does not suit the Indian milieu. In an exclusive interview to Uday India Correspondents Sachin Kaushik and Vaishali Tanwar, Dr Joshi elaborated on the shortcomings of this Bill. Excerpts:
What is your opinion on the Regulation of Entry and Operation Bill 2010?
In my opinion the legislation should come in a different form, which should emphasise on how to improve the education system in India and take care of all the three tiers of education–primary, secondary and higher. If the present government wants something seriously to be done then it should look at the bottom–the quality must come from there. We have our own system, which is very good. Except that we are not producing quality teachers, our attention should be on producing good and efficient teachers. The talent is galore, but rather than improving the talent and giving more opportunities to them, the government is trying to implant something that will not suit the Indian environment because this government wants the education model to be westernised. My basic objection is why are you humiliating the Indian talent, instead of improving their quality, instead of making very strong reform measures?
Do you think it will affect the Indian education system, our cultural values and ethos?
It will definitely affect our culture and ethos. I have a very important case of agricultural universities. The first university was the Pant Nagar Agriculture University and thereafter many other agricultural universities have been setup. Our whole agriculture has been morphed in accordance to the American style, as what is taught in these universities is based on foreign-scape, which has affected our bio-diversity. Our food security is in danger and the most experienced farmer in the world, that is the Indian farmer, rather we say the father of farming, has been humiliated badly. The American universities have imposed all its agricultural ways, which are not agriculture but agri-business, so the linking of this agricultural education and agriculture research with America has resulted in huge loss to the country. It should be an eye-opener and we must learn from this and have this experience with us before we plunge into this new gesture. We are forgetting about our own ancient education universities like Nalanda, Takshila, Vikramshila, where thousands of students used to study and most of them were foreign students. India has the capacity to produce eminent scholars. A couple of years ago several foreign universities were teaching Sanskrit, today there are hardly one or two universities teaching Sanskrit. Oxford itself has a Hindi Chair, which has been vacant for years. Instead of promoting Indian system, the government is importing such a system that is not needed.
Do you think this Bill means to sub-standardise our education system?
Why do we think that we are sub-standard in Education? All our students who have studied here have gone in other countries and done wonders. This is one aspect for which I am serious. Why do we always think that India is sub-standard, is lacking behind and its education system is backward? This is humiliating India. And what about the degrees, will they be of same worth? What are they in their own country? As a matter of fact, that is to earn money, as their economy is sagging. It is to create more man-power from India as it is cheaper here. I want to say that some of the science departments in California University are at the verge of being closure, so if they cannot hold their departments in their own country, how will they be able to manage here? It will be re-colonising India through our mindset. So the Macaulay is back, on our invitation this time!
According to you what is the vision of the present HRD Minister?
The present HRD Minster says that we will open 800 to 1000 more universities; we have nearly 400 at present. But where are the teachers? Whatever good teachers we have will migrate; teachers teaching those students who are clamouring for foreign degrees and depriving those students, who want to remain in India and want to serve India, of quality higher education. The ostensible reason that the government gives is that billions of rupees are siphoned out for higher education, to different countries, so instead of sending our student outside, let the campuses come here. But they forget that all these students who link themselves with foreign system of education will always aspire for foreign jobs. Because the curricula the foreign universities will be bringing here will serve the cause of their own countries, not ours and if they teach the same which we are already doing then what’s the need? The government says by 2020 India will have carved niche for itself in international world. But my question is when you can’t have stronghold on your own education system, how can you imagine having a position in the international world? Those students, who will come out of it, will not be of any pride for India. So, instead of creating a mirage of foreign education, the Government of India should provide infrastructure for that quality higher education here. This hurry in education is dangerous.
It is said this would enhance quality, bring Indian education on level with international standards, and augment research! To some it appears to be the panacea for all the ills and deficiencies that have crept in the higher education system of India. Once these benefactors arrive, the 460 odd universities, 20,000 plus colleges with 13 million student enrolments shall all get upgraded, motivated and inspired! Some even wonder why this magical idea did not take shape earlier! It is also being argued that nearly 1.53 lakh students leaving Indian shores for higher education would stay in India and contribute to Indian economy instead of alien economies. If one takes a comprehensive look on what has happened in the past and what is likely to happen, it may be worthwhile to recall what Mahatma Gandhi wrote in Harijan of July 9, 1938: “The medium of foreign languages through which higher education has been imparted has caused incalculable intellectual and moral injury to the nation. We are too near our own times to judge the enormity of the damage done. And we who have received such education have both to be victims and judges, an impossible feat.”
As a nation, India seems to have more faith in others to set its own house in order than in its own capacity to begin putting things in order. To some, who are worried about the universalisation of education, the conditions in over 65-70 per cent of the schools that are run with public funds and practically total apathy to the Right to education amongst masses are areas that probably deserve far greater priority than any other aspect. One must hasten to add that it does not mean that the sad of state of higher education could be relegated to background. Even in that sector, one could certainly prioritise the areas of activity and explore to what extent internal action could set things right. Every one laments lack of quality in higher education and non-suitability of our general graduates and even graduates in professional areas being deficient to take up assignments without additional professional inputs. Several hasty actions during the last couple of months have in fact reduced the initial welcome even amongst those who had high hopes for educational reforms when the new government took charge in May 2009. Too many pronouncements, equally, if not more, clarifications and explanations have made people suspicious. It must be acknowledged and accepted.
Let us take the case of regulatory bodies in higher education as these are responsible for maintaining levels and standards on one hand and also for ensuring dynamism and in curriculum development and in ushering in new pedagogy and
techniques. Needless to say these aspects become of paramount importance in a world dominated by the advances in Information Communication and Technology (ICT), globalisation and above all the pace of change all around. The manner in which the MHRD acted in the case of Deemed Universities reveals much more than what is contained in the stay order of the Supreme Court of India. If undeserving institutions got recognition, how could those responsible for it remain unidentified and unaccountable as yet?
Foreign Universities Will Enhance
Profile Of Higher Education: ASSOCHAM
The enactment of draft Foreign Education Bill will not only dramatically enhance profile of higher education in India but help it save outflow of about 7.5 billion of foreign exchange per annum as large number of Indian students go abroad to receiving higher education, reveal findings of The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM).
With smooth passage of Foreign Education Bill in Parliament, foreign universities would be allowed to set up their campuses in the country which would be a step in the right direction. This will also prevent brain drain as students that go overseas for higher education, usually prefer to serve overseas land rather than opt to return to their motherland which in itself is a great loss of human resources, feel the ASSOCHAM.
Releasing it’s findings, ASSOCHAM President, Dr Swati Piramal says that Indian students going abroad, cost the country a foreign exchange outflow of $ 10 billion annually and a legislative framework to provide foreign universities to open their campuses in India could prevent at least 3/4 of students number as they would prefer to study here.
According to estimates made by ASSOCHAM, over five lakh students choose to go overseas every year to obtain higher education which include professional courses in engineering, medical and management.
The reason as to why large number of Indian students prefer to go to foreign universities is that such institutions in India have capacity constraints which deny them space. Secondly, many abroad going students have a perception that foreign education is qualitatively superior that provides skills to help them find better placement.
The Bill after Parliament approval and with due assent from the President of India is expected to widen the definition of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in higher education and is anticipated to not only shake up the market but also open exciting possibilities for top teaching, said Dr Piramal.
The ASSOCHAM is of the view that after foreign universities are allowed to open their campuses in India, it’s domestic higher education which currently is run on high subsidies would also be deregulated and fill-in a sense of greater competition, benefits of which would be ripened by these students.
Currently, higher education in India is so subsidised that on an average an engineering or management students in reputed institutions pay $ 120 per month as fee while the amount is between $ 1500-5000 in equivalent institutions in country like USA, Canada, Australia, Singapore and Britain.
A country like Australia earns nearly $ 15 billion annually from around four lakh foreign students while the number of foreign students that are currently receiving higher education in India is less than 30,000. This is despite the Indian higher education is highly regulated and is also criticised for not imparting necessary skills as required by Indian industry to employ such students.
According to ASSOCHAM, the foreign universities have already put in place elaborate plans to set up their shops in India especially in places like New Delhi, Hyderabad, Chennai, Chandigarh, Pune, Mumbai and even Dehradun and are keenly waiting for this Bill to become an Act.
The ASSOCHAM has appealed the all political parties to extend their support to UPA government so that it’s smooth passage is ensured in the Parliament and education sector which is a key segment of Indian economy is also opened up for foreign direct investments.
The Bill which has already been cleared by the Cabinet has some cause of concern about provision which allows foreign education institutions to have their own admission processes and fix fees. However, the law of land applicable to private institutions should be applicable to foreign universities aspiring to set up campuses in India, feels the ASSOCHAM.
Currently, the fee for private engineering and medical colleges is fixed by state level committee headed by a private Judge. There is no mechanism to finalise the fee structure in private universities. The current Bill should ensure that the management of foreign universities does not exploit the Indian students and unnecessarily take advantage of free flow of education, said Dr Piramal.
The central government now plans to set up a National Commission for Higher Education Regulation and Research (NCHER). Obviously, it will take its own time to get operational and then bring over 400 universities and twenty thousand plus colleges up to the desired level! There are state universities that have not been allowed to fill in posts of academics for decades together. They manage by arranging teaching on per-lecture basis’ or guest lecture basis in which the person concerned gets pittance of an honorarium. How can such a university become a center of creating and generating knowledge, disseminating knowledge and doing international level research? It is impossible how the presence of foreign providers will impact such aspects of the higher education practices in India?
The internal private entrepreneur in school education sector is far more clear in his/her objectives than the government. Investment is for earning and they are least interested in social obligations and such clichés like common school system or neighborhood schools. The Supreme Court of India has been approached against the provisions of 25 per cent reservations in the Right to Education (RTE) Act. The petitioners have quoted the TA Pai case judgment delivered by the eleven judge bench of the Supreme Court in case of minority institutions and private unaided institutions. Such institutions, the Court ruled “are free to admit students of their choice and the state by regulatory measures cannot control the admissions”. Legalities apart, the issue has a serious social, economic and cultural context. All court rulings directing the Delhi public schools to admit 25 per cent children from weaker sections have been flouted on one pretext or other. The RTE provision that “every child of the age of 6 to 14 years shall have a right to free and compulsory education in a neighborhood school” is just not digestible to those running schools for the elite! Will the foreign providers in higher education be more conscious of the socio-economic concerns of the weaker sections than our own people? Why should they be?
The most important point emerges here. No matter what provisions are included in the proposed Act, the basic objective of the entrepreneur shall always remain earning ‘decent’ and increasing dividends and plough back the profits to the mother country. Any illusions that profits shall be invested in India alone would remain as hollow an expectation as the assumption that public schools are not earning any profit and hence, need not pay any taxes on it!
There are other examples also. Jamia Milia Islamia University is unwilling to implement the 27 per
cent reservation quota for the OBC and in all probability shall get away with it. Aligarh Muslim University is not implementing the SC/ST quota in faculty appointments. No one talks about it as any such mention would be promptly branded as a communal act! The mute point is: are we really serious about things and are we willing to accept ground level realities or continue to take decisions only on paper under the illusion that all is well in the system?
As compared to 13 millions students in higher education in India only around 1.53 lakh are estimated going abroad for higher education. Though the numbers have increased, it certainly is not a new trend. In fact it is a tradition that values education abroad superior to inland learning. It began in pre-Independence era and at present the focus has shifted from UK to US. Our students studying abroad have brought name and fame to themselves and also to India. But not all stories are very encouraging. Australia has attracted considerable attention in India as the whole nation felt anguished the way Indian students were humiliated, insulted and even murdered there. They go there for a foreign degree that is valued higher in India; for the possibility of getting a lucrative job; and probably some go because they cannot get a place in Indian higher education system but their parents manage to finance their studies abroad. Will the foreign providers be able to stop this trend of going out for higher education?
The major issue before India is to increase access to higher education which stands pegged around 10-11 per cent only for the relevant age group. This again cannot be expected to show any meteoric rise only because some glamourous but mostly unknown foreign brands would arrive in India and would be giving their much sought-after certifications.
In a global village it is but natural to look around and find out the experiences of those who formally opened their doors to the foreign providers much before India. China, everyone knows, is capable of implementing its regulations both for internal entrepreneurs and the external arrivals. Its policies have proved that it keeps a close watch on what is happening including the approach and even intentions. India has miserably fell short in implementing any of its regulations that could have ensured a check in the decline of quality in education and credibility of its own institutions. One wonders how it can do so with foreign providers who are certainly aware that they enjoy special place in the eyes of practically most of the Indians and of course, the government.
In Gulf nations, the foreign universities and colleges have come in big numbers; money is no problem and they are earning their share out
of the petro-dollars. Even there, the quality standard have suffered. There are serious apprehensions that in India, the second-rate sub-standards foreign institutions may make a beeline for setting up campuses. It happened in Israel which opened its gates over fifteen years ago. It realised that mostly substandard colleges have come and quality was low. Learning from experience it asked them to pack up and return back to their beloved homelands. Could India have studied these experiences before hand or if it has done so in detail, why not let the nation know about it?
The nation is being informed that ‘although the foreign universities might not get reservation laws for establishing their campuses in India, they would be allowed to conduct affirmative programmes for children of the weaker sections of the society’! Private ‘inland’ providers have an 11-judge Bench Supreme Court judgment in their favour and are not bound by any reservation laws. So, why burden the guests with it? They could charge their own fee like private providers are doing at present.
It is also being presented as a great plus point that the fees charged shall be far less than in their own country as the ‘cost of infrastructure and other things’ is far less in India. There are plans to set up fourteen “Brain-gain” universities during the eleventh plan period (2007-12).
It is said that the Yale University is already in touch with MHRD to assist in development of a leadership programme to mentor these universities! Talent must be acquired from anywhere and probably everywhere but let this process not become a statement on the paucity of ‘brain gain’ and talent within the existing in-country academia. This is a genuine apprehension and needs to be taken in that light. Every criticism and analysis need not be brushed aside as ‘political’ and hence ignored as of no consequence. That would be shortsighted approach.
What eventually happens after the arrival of the foreign providers in education would be revealed only after the concerned Bill is made public and the final shape, it takes in the Parliament of India. There may be accusations of political opposition against some but it must be accepted that such steps require a professional and academic consensus building as the first step. Inputs from all sides must be welcome, at least for a thorough and sincere consideration.
All the dreams of India as a super power shall increasingly become dependent on the cognitive capital that India possesses and which is committed to India. Getting assignments outside and filling the gaps in ageing societies elsewhere could only be minor by-products but certainly not the main objective of educational initiatives and innovations. It has to be an inward looking system that keeps its doors and windows open for new ideas and experiences from everywhere, analyses these and accepts only that which fits in national requirements. It has to be a system that is proud of its own strength and has full faith in its own potential.
By JS Rajput
(The author is former Director, NCERT.)