Now, Harvard in Hyderabad: Why the distance is longer than what UGC wants India to believe

Now, Harvard in Hyderabad: Why the distance is longer than what UGC wants India to believe

Sania Farooqui has been thrilled since January 5 when she heard the news that the University Grants Commission (UGC) had allowed foreign universities and educational institutions to set up their campuses in India. Sania’s dream of a Harvard degree need not remain a dream. It now appears well within the realm of the real. After completing her BTech in Biotech from a private university...

Sania Farooqui has been thrilled since January 5 when she heard the news that the University Grants Commission (UGC) had allowed foreign universities and educational institutions to set up their campuses in India. Sania’s dream of a Harvard degree need not remain a dream. It now appears well within the realm of the real.

After completing her BTech in Biotech from a private university in Hyderabad, her mother wanted her to settle for the Indian School of Business (ISB) locally. But Sania is not inclined to enrol for the Business Administration of Healthcare Institutions course offered at ISB. She wants to study biomedical engineering at Harvard.

The cost of studying at Harvard is more or less equal to the Rs 42 lakh fee per annum at ISB. So, after listening to a television news anchor announcing that studying at Harvard and Cambridge, Oxford and Berkeley from India itself was about to become a reality, Sania was elated.

But neither Sania, nor the ill-informed TV anchor, was aware that many top universities in the world like Princeton and Yale, Oxford and Heidelberg only have ‘study abroad’ programmes for foreign students but no full-fledged campuses overseas. Only second- or third-ranking universities such as Concordia University in the US or Nottingham University in the UK have campuses abroad. Their overseas campuses too are mostly in Latin America, China or Malaysia but none in south Asia.

Factoring in the cost

Still, considering that around 8 lakh Indian students studied abroad in 2021 and the figure is expected to go up to 1.8 million by 2024, if high-quality foreign universities start their campuses in India a large number of these students can study in such universities in India itself. Their parents can save a lot of money.

Strategy consulting firm Redseer estimates that by 2024, about 1.8 million students would be spending around $80 billion annually to study abroad. If India can affect a reduction in the rate of this foreign exchange by setting up campuses of foreign universities, the country’s economy too stands to benefit.

“This exercise is meant to woo the upper middle and middle classes. Already many families are sending their children abroad for higher studies, but the cost of living there is very high. Moreover, they have to adjust in a totally alien environment. So, parents are happy that they will be able to save 40-50 per cent of the cost if top universities have their campuses in India. But the fee structure of foreign universities is still undecided and could be high because they will be paying their staff high remuneration to relocate to India. So far, it seems this will be an unregulated area. Same is the case with the admission process. All this has to be looked into,” Tripta Wahi, professor at Delhi University, told The Federal.

The idea of allowing foreign universities to set shop in India is not a new one.

Old wine in a new bottle

The Narasimha Rao government had first drafted Foreign Education Bill in 1995 only to throw the plan in the dustbin later. During UPA-I, a draft law was prepared by the then HRD ministry but the Cabinet never cleared it. During UPA-II, Kapil Sibal tabled the Foreign Educational Institutions Bill. The Bill could never be passed and it lapsed in 2014.

The issue remained in cold storage during the first term of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Now, after more than a decade after Sibal’s announcement, the UGC has brought alive the proposal again with its draft regulations. The domestic reluctance and resistance have probably been overcome. But, will it really revolutionise higher education in India?
Professor Harjinder Singh, who teaches at Indian Institute of Information Technology Hyderabad, says, “When the news came there was a lot of jubilation. Students and their parents seem to be happy thinking they will get the same facilities in their home country. But it is unlikely this will happen. Education has become a commodity which can be sold at any cost. It is the brand name for which people fall and you can’t blame them as the conditions in our institutions are deteriorating fast.”

Perhaps, a closer look at the UGC announcement would help understand why the news needs to be taken with a pinch of salt.

UGC has announced that foreign universities with a global ranking up to 500 would be allowed to open their campuses in India. If it had limited the number to top 50 or even 100, it would have been a different ball game. Extending it up to top 500 will open the flood gates for all kinds of institutions to barge into India and fleece Indian students.
UGC’s draft regulations on foreign universities come with other problems too. For instance, the UGC gives them a carte blanche. The universities will be allowed to fix their own fee and can have their own policy for recruiting faculty and taking in students. Experts say this could prove counter-productive for UGC’s policy.

“At least the Congress had the good sense of not pursuing the proposal of Kapil Sibal. If you read the UNESCO 2000 Report, it clearly mentions that setting up universities in developing countries has been a total failure as the quality of education is completely compromised. The NEP draft itself puts no restrictions on private educational institutions.

They can fleece the students here. Now, the foreign universities will do the same,” said professor Anil Sadgopal, who has done pioneering work in the field of reforms in education.
Others say, while parents are happy that these campuses would prove cheaper, it may not actually turn out so when they seek admission.

Reluctance of foreign universities

The big names in global higher education did not evolve as commercial enterprises in the first place. They came up mainly as centres of pursuit of knowledge and subsequently produced the necessary skilled human resources needed for their advanced economies and administrations. They cannot be expected to act like teaching shops branching out into numerous subsidiaries looking for profitable investment opportunities like normal businesses do.

Professor Krishna Kumar, former director of NCERT and a noted educationist, told The Federal: “What is being proposed now is not something new. During the UPA regime, HRD Minister Kapil Sibal had made a really serious effort in this direction. But in his meetings with representatives from several foreign universities, the president of Harvard University clearly told him that these world-class Ivy League universities were not set up in a matter of days. It took 150-200 years to create a university like Harvard. So such universities cannot be transplanted into another country just like that. I don’t think this proposal is going to succeed.”

“After all, can universities be grafted like plants from one place to another? The other important matter is regarding the curriculum. For example, in Social Sciences, would they be able to understand the needs of a developing country like India? As far as technical and vocational courses are concerned, they are already being conducted with foreign collaboration. Indian universities and educational institutions have already been collaborating with foreign universities and incorporating what they have in their curricula. I don’t see the need for this proposal or any validity in it,” prof Kumar added.

Any foreign institution, operating on Indian soil, is bound to abide by Indian laws. Would this apply for foreign universities too, especially relating to legal norms on fee caps for professional courses, employment conditions and employee rights, reservation for SCs, STs and OBCs and quality standards fixed by institutions like Medical Council of India or All-India Council for Technical Education (AICTE)?

In 2021, the gross enrolment ratio in higher education in India was 27.1 per cent and around 40 million students go to 42,000-plus colleges under thousand and odd universities.

If out of 6.5 million students who graduate in India every year, only around 4 million continue in higher education, the main reason why 2.5 million are unable to continue with higher education is its affordability for them. This problem is not going to be addressed by allowing foreign universities.

A professor at Cambridge earns $139,017 per year (Rs 1.14 crore). The UGC scale for a PG professor in Indian colleges is Rs 1.82 lakh per month (Rs 21.84 lakh per year). Why would any Cambridge professor come to teach in India for less than one-fifth of what she gets in her home country?

Running campuses of foreign universities in India is a costly proposition and if at all they come, they can meet this cost only with a high fee structure. The fee for postgraduate medical education varies from state to state and from course to course. Puducherry government, for instance, has fixed the Rs 22.8 lakh for a PG medical course (clinical) and Rs 12.4 lakh for a non-clinical PG course like in community medicine and pathology etc.

The Justice Balasubramaniam Committee set up to fix fees in Tamil Nadu for medical courses capped it at Rs 11.50 lakh per annum. In contrast, the total cost for an MD in Harvard Medical School is $107,050 (about Rs 88 lakh). A good medical school in the UK could charge around Rs 55 lakh. If at all, some of these institutions come to India, they are not going to run their branches here for a lesser cost. Only a thin layer of the Indian elite can afford to pay such fees and hence allowing top-ranking foreign educational institutions is not going to expand quality higher education in India.

Indian problem, foreign solution

Padma Singh, who is a teacher in the Majidia Islamia Intermediate College, Praygaraj, told The Federal, “I hailed from a lower middle class family but worked hard to complete my PhD from Allahabad University. But my doctor friend, whose son is studying in a private medical institution in India, has taken a loan of Rs 2 crore to pay for a private PG seat in medicine and has to work overtime to repay it. When foreign universities set up campuses in India, there being no restriction on the fee structure, the middle classes would end up paying loans for the rest of their lives as they are also under tremendous pressure to join the professional elite.”

As per the mandate of the Constitution, the reservation for postgraduate medical courses in all-India quota in both government and private medical colleges too has been fixed at 27 per cent for OBCs, 15 per cent for SCs and 7.2 per cent for STs besides a 10 per cent EWS quota. UGC’s draft regulations make no mention about reservations in the foreign higher education institutions planning to run their campuses in India. Would these institutions be exempt from following the reservation norms too?

Higher educational institutions are already plagued by lack of academic autonomy, low priority to research, lack of transparency and professionalism, and outdated curriculum.

The minimum infrastructural standards and requirements prescribed by AICTE and MCI are observed more in breach. Student unions are not allowed in many universities and there is no freedom of expression within Indian academia. Teachers in government institutions cannot even post their comments on public issues on social media. Academia’s very essence has been robbed in the Indian context.

Most of these problems arise from prevailing academic culture and they cannot be sorted out by strengthening an over-centralised and bureaucratized regulatory bodies like UGC, AICTE and MCI, which lack transparency. The draft regulations do not have teeth to rein in racketeering institutions as in Ukraine and Kazakhstan and even in Australia and the UK, which are already fleecing Indian students and which would only be too eager to troop to India to carry on similar practices on Indian soil.

The academic community has to be vigilant.

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