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India’s pathway to reform

UAE students have long flocked to Indian universities. But with the sector in desperate need of an overhaul, is the degree worth the paper?

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Experts say India’s well-reputed universities simply aren’t producing enough employable graduates
GN Focus

How would you feel if world-class universities were accessible, just a few hours away from home, instead of having to travel halfway across the world? If the Foreign Educational Institutions (Regulation of Entry and Operations) Bill 2010 had been passed in India, this would have been a reality for UAE and Indian students. However, this bill, whose first version was tabled way back in 1995, has been held up even today.

That the Indian education system is in need of a complete overhaul is no secret. Even Shashi Tharoor, Minister of State for Human Resource Development, has stated that India is failing to produce “well-educated” graduates.

The numbers speak for themselves. Ninad Karpe, MD and CEO of IT institute Aptech Limited, says, “Presently 33,023 colleges and 700 universities cater to 4.5 million of the 18 million students who need university education every year. This demand can’t be met with local capital (both private and public) and resources alone,” he points out. But with the increase in digital learning, can’t we do away with physical classrooms? Karpe disagrees, “Even though internet learning’s popularity is increasing, it cannot currently address all market segments. At educational levels, there is a need for a blended model that involves classroom-, technology-, and project-/experience-based teaching. Hence, physical campuses from foreign institutions are definitely required.”

Dr Meenakshi Rajan, Director, International Relations, Somaiya Vidyavihar, a Mumbai-based educational trust that has been in the sector for more than two decades and encompasses 34 institutions, 27,000 students and 2,000 faculty, seconds it. “The available quality of higher education in India is unable to meet the demands of a growing youth population. The strategy for ramping up the education infrastructure immediately needs to include a framework for the participation of private educational institutions — domestic and international,” she says.

Industry experts also point out how this move, by virtue of much needed competition in the sector, will bring depth to the curriculum, apart from giving global exposure to students. Jayanti Ghose, an award-winning career and education consultant who has been working in the sector for almost three decades, says, “Many students wish to move to foreign universities on account of the wider variety of courses and programmes as well as quality of curriculum and method of teaching and learning, but are unable to do so due to the high cost of living and studying abroad. Allowing foreign universities to set up campuses in India would be a positive move for the students as well.”

Sanjay Dhingra, Manager, Market Research, Eli Lilly and Company (India) Private Ltd and an Indian School of Business (ISB) alumnus, batch of April 2012, explains, “While the quality of education offered at the ISB is top-notch thanks to its curriculum, which draws a lot from its global partner schools (Wharton, Kellogg, London Business School and others) and manages to attract top faculty, the presence of foreign institutes in India would have given me access to a better pedigree of education, throughout. Even though a few institutes such as ISB and the top IIMs are able to match the quality of education provided by top foreign universities, their number (and seats) is really miniscule compared to the demand for such education. Not having top foreign universities in India also limits the interest of top global faculty to come teaching in India. The cost of education at these (foreign) institutes though would need to be reasonable and justify the return on investment,” he says.

Several academicians, including those from Ivy League colleges, have shared their concerns about the rigid regulatory framework that threatens to take away their autonomy. A 2012 PwC study, India — Higher Education Sector: Opportunities for Private Participation, lists some of the barriers that would decrease the Indian education sector’s attractiveness to foreign players. They include the not-for-profit entry barrier for private capital, multiple approvals, inconsistent policies, limitations on intake of students and a lack of availability of trained faculty.

Industry bodies such as Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry and the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India have also rued the fact that India isn’t producing enough employable graduates. Rajan explains why: “It is estimated that the percentage of Indian college graduates readily employable in the market is only 15-25 per cent of the total talent pool. The economic growth has created jobs in various sectors, which require a different sort of skilled manpower. With vocational training separated from higher education, the current education system is not equipped to cater to this demand, while the vocational education sector suffers from poor demand due to low prestige and quality,” she adds.

Karpe adds another dimension. “The recruitment criteria typically rejects a good candidate with necessary skill certification from a private/vocational institute but without an academic degree,” he states. “Hence, even the industry shares part of this blame.”


Points of caution

Jayanti Ghose: “Examples of 
foreign campuses of reputed universities/institutions running successfully in China, Singapore, Hong Kong, etc. could be used to understand how India could attract the same. If a foreign institution is unable to offer what we lack in terms of effective teaching, encouragement of individual thinking, research, analysis, proactive learning, assessment and evaluation systems, then their presence would be pointless.”

Ninad Karpe: “While all the necessary measures to prevent fly-by-night and low-quality foreign operators should be in place, it would be too optimistic to assume that only the top foreign universities will be able to meet our need for increased capacity and quality, since it’s not very apparent that these top universities are desperate to set up their campuses in India. We can initially open up courses where there is a critical shortage and then subsequently open up others.”

— S.R.


Points of caution

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