India shifts aim to gain­ing do­mes­tic ‘em­i­nence’

The weekly mag­a­zine for higher ed­u­ca­tion

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A plan by India to cre­ate 20 do­mes­tic “in­sti­tu­tions of em­i­nence”, with po­ten­tially sig­nif­i­cant im­pli­ca­tions for the coun­try’s place in global higher ed­u­ca­tion, has been hailed as a more sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment model than shelved plans to in­vite in for­eign uni­ver­si­ties.

How­ever, com­men­ta­tors have warned that India faces huge chal­lenges over au­ton­omy and funding if the pro­pos­als are to suc­ceed.

De­vel­op­ments in In­dian higher ed­u­ca­tion – the world’s sec­ond largest sec­tor in terms of stu­dent num­bers – could po­ten­tially have a huge im­pact on uni­ver­si­ties around the world if plans to raise the qual­ity of its do­mes­tic uni­ver­si­ties al­ter global stu­dent flows or bring new op­por­tu­ni­ties for in­ter­na­tional col­lab­o­ra­tion.

The Cabi­net of India’s pre­vi­ous Congress-led gov­ern­ment ap­proved a For­eign Ed­u­ca­tion Providers Bill, pro­vid­ing a frame­work al­low­ing over­seas uni­ver­si­ties to es­tab­lish branch cam­puses in India, in 2010. But the plan, a bid to drive up qual­ity in In­dian higher ed­u­ca­tion, was first blocked by Com­mu­nist law­mak­ers then be­came bogged down when in­tro­duced to Par­lia­ment.

Last week, the In­dian busi­ness news­pa­per Mint quoted two gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials as say­ing that the idea had been shelved. “There is no work hap­pen­ing on that; in­stead the gov­ern­ment will give more thrust to the do­mes­tic world-class univer­sity plan,” said one of­fi­cial quoted.

Plans to se­lec­tively fund 10 pub­lic and 10 pri­vate In­dian in­sti­tu­tions, which would be al­lowed to re­cruit up to 30 per cent of their stu­dent body from over­seas and would have the aim of be­com­ing “world-class teach­ing and re­search in­sti­tu­tions”, were first an­nounced last year.

Hu­man re­source de­vel­op­ment min­is­ter Prakash Javadekar said last month that the in­sti­tu­tions se­lected – by meth­ods yet to be fully con­firmed – would be known as “In­dian in­sti­tutes of em­i­nence” (re­plac­ing the ear­lier “world-class univer­sity” tag).

The For­eign Ed­u­ca­tion Providers Bill would have al­lowed only “top 400” ranked in­sti­tu­tions to set up in India and im­posed strict fi­nan­cial lim­i­ta­tions on their op­er­a­tion.

“The In­dian bill was cer­tainly the most ev­i­dent man­i­fes­ta­tion of the con­cern that the im­port­ing coun­try may be taken ad­van­tage of by the for­eign in­sti­tu­tion,” said Ja­son Lane, a transna­tional ed­u­ca­tion ex­pert and chair of the de­part­ment of ed­u­ca­tional pol­icy and lead­er­ship at the State Univer­sity of New York Al­bany. “How­ever, it went to an ex­treme and cre­ated an en­vi­ron­ment where it was near im­pos­si­ble for an in­ter­na­tional branch cam­pus to be suc­cess­ful.”

Kevin Kinser, pro­fes­sor of ed­u­ca­tion at Penn­syl­va­nia State Univer­sity, said that “while it would be a huge boost if India opened its doors”, most for­eign uni­ver­si­ties “have been cau­tious about the pos­si­bil­ity and would have tread lightly in any case, be­cause the pol­icy land­scape [in India] is no­to­ri­ously un­re­li­able”.

Ex­pert ob­servers of In­dian higher ed­u­ca­tion see the do­mes­tic “in­sti­tu­tions of em­i­nence” plan as a more sus­tain­able op­tion for India’s longterm de­vel­op­ment.

Devesh Ka­pur, Madan Lal Sobti

pro­fes­sor of con­tem­po­rary India at the Univer­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia, and co-ed­i­tor of the re­cent Nav­i­gat­ing the Labyrinth: Per­spec­tives on India’s Higher Ed­u­ca­tion, said the idea “that elite higher ed­u­ca­tion in­sti­tu­tions would rush into India (or for that mat­ter any­where) in any se­ri­ous way with­out big bucks is a com­plete delu­sion”.

The “in­sti­tu­tions of em­i­nence” plan “is a much bet­ter idea – at least in prin­ci­ple”, Pro­fes­sor Ka­pur sug­gested. If im­ple­mented cor­rectly, each in­sti­tu­tion will it­self “form part­ner­ships with good in­sti­tu­tions around the world, whether twin­ning, fac­ulty/stu­dent ex­changes, joint re­search projects”, he said.

His co-au­thor on Nav­i­gat­ing the Labyrinth, Pratap Bhanu Me­hta, for­mer pres­i­dent of India’s Cen­tre for Pol­icy Re­search think­tank and now vice-chan­cel­lor of Ashoka Univer­sity, agreed that the for­eign providers plan had been a “pipe dream”. But he added that key hur­dles in the do­mes­tic plan are whether the in­sti­tu­tions se­lected are “given the req­ui­site de­gree of au­ton­omy”, par­tic­u­larly for uni­ver­si­ties un­der the au­thor­ity of state, rather than cen­tral, govern­ments.

Other chal­lenges are the “cred­i­bil­ity of reg­u­la­tors”, the se­lec­tion process for in­sti­tu­tions of em­i­nence, along with the strength of India’s econ­omy af­fect­ing re­sources and in­vest­ment for those in­sti­tu­tions, Dr Me­hta said.

A bud­get of 10,000 crore ru­pees (£1.2 bil­lion) for the 10 pub­lic in­sti­tu­tions has been ap­proved.

Philip Alt­bach, re­search pro­fes­sor and found­ing direc­tor of the Cen­ter for In­ter­na­tional Higher Ed­u­ca­tion at Bos­ton Col­lege, said that the “in­sti­tu­tions of em­i­nence” plan “is in­tended to im­prove the top of the sys­tem – but the pro­posed funding is in­ad­e­quate, and the deep prob­lems of bu­reau­cracy, politi­ci­sa­tion and the pres­sure of num­bers in the pub­lic univer­sity sec­tor are sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenges”.

He added: “Thus, it will take India a rather long time to stem the out­flow of many of its best stu­dents to top uni­ver­si­ties over­seas.”

The 20 uni­ver­si­ties will be granted free­doms in­clud­ing the abil­ity to set their own fees for for­eign stu­dents, scope to set their own salaries for for­eign fac­ulty in a bid to at­tract over­seas tal­ent and a de­gree of dis­cre­tion in ad­mis­sions. The gov­ern­ment will set tar­gets for av­er­age pub­li­ca­tion rates of staff in high­sta­tus in­ter­na­tional jour­nals.

Beast of bur­den India’s plan to im­prove higher ed­u­ca­tion qual­ity will have to over­come bu­reau­cracy and in­ad­e­quate funding

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