Hoping for an Oxford degree in India
Now that the proverbial Left monkey is off the government’s back, the country’s education system will be among the sectors on the radar of the administration in its push for reforms.
With more than half of the billion-plus population aged 25 or below and foreign players eager to have a share of the lucrative industry by setting up branches in India, the education sector can potentially bring in a huge amount of foreign investment.
And for many students who would otherwise be squeezed out of the few elite colleges or would have to study abroad, opening up the system could make world-class education available to them without having to leave the country.
So the education minister’s recent remarks that the government may introduce in the August session of parliament a long-delayed bill to allow foreign universities to set up campuses in India will be intently followed by institutions from countries such as the UK, Canada and the US.
High-profile institutions like Oxford, Harvard and Stanford have evinced interest in setting up shop here, apart from hundreds of others.
The Foreign Education Providers (Regulation for Entry and Operation) Bill was cleared by the Cabinet in 2007 but was never introduced in parliament.
The communists, who propped up the government for almost four years, were opposed to opening up the education sector, arguing that the entry of foreign players would benefit only a few who could afford the high fees.
But with an estimated 160,000 students spending $4 billion annually for higher studies abroad, bringing foreign institutes into the country could bring down education costs drastically and make quality degrees available to more. Imagine someone studying in Delhi obtaining an Oxford degree.
Another area of concern is the threat of a deluge of fly-by-night operators who would only eye profits without giving value to education if there is no proper regulation.
On the other hand, too much government control would deter quality institutions who would like to maintain a certain amount of autonomy to be able to function properly.
The answer could lie in the National Knowledge Commission’s recommendation to set up a regulatory body on the lines of the RBI for banks or TRAI for telecom.
With the Bill having a good chance of being taken out of cold storage this year, arguments in favour of and in opposition could be loud. The question remains – will it benefit the intended beneficiaries?
Another moot point – will HRD minister Arjun Singh and Co seek to stuff their quota doctrine down the throat of Harvard once it is in desi territory?