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Thursday, May 17, 2018

Study in India

Recently, the Government has launched a Study in India initiative. Under this initiative, a web portal has been created to give all relevant information to any potential foreign student. The government is offering fee waivers to many foreign students. This is one of the rare activities of the government, where four different ministries are working together - Ministry of Human Resource Development, Ministry of External Affairs, Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Commerce and Industry. There is focus on 30 countries in Asia and Africa where a lot of outreach will be attempted. All CFTIs have been told that they can have 15 percent super-numerary seats for foreign nationals. The goal is to increase the number of foreign students in India from around 45,000 now to 2,00,000 in 2023.

There is no doubt that having more foreign students in our universities is desirable. Diversity in the classroom is good for learning. In due course, it may become financially profit making for our poor institutions. And, of course, it enhances soft power of the nation. But the question is whether it will work.

There have been a lot of discussions on social media as to why foreign students don't come to India. A lot of reasons have been provided:

They don't know enough about our programs, which universities are good, how to apply and so on. Well, if lack of information was the primary issue then this new initiative will certainly help. But is that one of the main reasons.

They hear biased news about the country. How women are unsafe. How foreigners, particularly from Africa, are discriminated, attacked, etc. All such news are amplified and a wrong impression of security has been created. Well, the new program can do very little to correct that impression.

The image of the country as a difficult place to live in. Harsh weather. Difficult to negotiate house rentals. Difficult to travel around. And so on.

We can keep debating these reasons, and would never reach a conclusion. But if we really want to understand why foreigners don't want to study in India, the easiest way to find out is to understand why Indians don't want to study in India. Yes, a very large number of Indians go abroad to study. And I bet they don't do so only because they think that international exposure will help their careers. (If that was all, then we should be seeing a lot of people going abroad for a semester or two.)

While we have only 45,000 foreign students in India, more than 5.5 lakh Indians are studying abroad as per a Lok Sabha answer by the Government in August, 2017. Instead of 1.5 lakh foreigners, can we have a goal to attract 1.5 lakh of these back to Indian universities by 2023. I am convinced that if we can attract Indians to Indian universities, foreigners will also get attracted.

So, why do Indians go abroad. They do, because there aren't many good institutions in India. And therefore, those who didn't get admission to any of the few good quality institutions and could afford to study abroad, leave India. If we want to have 2 lakh foreigners, and if we assume that on an average our best institutions will have 5 percent foreign students within the next 5 years, it means that we must have good institutions with 40 lakh Indian students in them. The entire IIT system is only 75,000 students (and I have no hope of IIT system having 5% foreign students within 5 years).

And the reason for not having good enough institutions in India is very obvious. Quality requires resources. In India, government invests heavily only in a few institutions, and most states have tuition control on private universities. We must find a solution to this problem: How to provide students with weak financial background access to good quality education. Today, she has no such access, because there is no (or very little) good quality education. And our public policy has consistently preferred access over quality. Can we find a mechanism by which a poor can get access to quality. This could be by way of allowing high tuition but supporting financially weak students through a variety of means. By government chipping in through some schemes of scholarships for poor. With banks giving easy education loans. By encouraging philanthropic funds to flow into education through which the institutions can provide financial support. It will have to be a combination of all of these. And if we can allow quality institutions to exist on Indian soil, we will not only save huge amount of foreign exchange that we spend on educating lakhs of our youth abroad, but will also be able to attract foreign students to such institutions.

And when we talk of quality of education, it is not just about attracting good faculty and having good infrastructure, but also having a good student experience. Do we have enough freedom on our campuses. Do we have enough flexibility in our academic processes. And when you consider some of these issues, unfortunately even the best in India (like IIT system) do not compete well with even the ordinary outside. There are about 100,000 alumni of IIT system outside India. How many of them are able to convince their own sons or daughters to spend just one semester under Study Abroad program in an IIT. Certainly, in these cases, the issue is not lack of information but actually having the information that their alma mater does not compare well with the options that their wards have.

Of course, it is not my point that the "Study in India" initiative is bad. We must attract as many foreign students as our current quality of education providers can do. Advertising our strengths, pushing public institutions to admit more foreign students, providing tuition waivers, easing visa and other hurdles will increase that number, but to reach 2 lakh and beyond, we will need to improve the quality of our education offerings.

11 comments:

Sriharsha J said...

Are you talking about poor getting quality education OR people going abroad for studies?
Poor students anyway will not go abroad for studies.

Sriharsha J said...

Are you talking about poor getting quality education OR people going abroad for studies?
Poor students anyway will not go abroad for studies.

Dheeraj Sanghi said...

@Sriharsha, those who have the option of studying in India and abroad, if they still choose going abroad, it is an indicator of attractiveness of our educational institutions. Remember, the person in another country has exactly the same option - whether to study in his own country, or come to India or go to some other country. So if our own people (only those who have the option are being considered) are not choosing our institutions, how can we expect foreigners to choose our institutions. To me, our students going abroad in such large numbers is an indicator of quality of our own institutions.

Next, I am asking the question, why do we not have quality institutions. We don't have them since they are expensive. Our politics is such that it is acceptable to have uniformly poor quality of education for everyone but it is not acceptable that only the rich gets quality education and the poor does not. So to have quality institutions in India, we will have to come up with some funding mechanism that allows poor students access to such high quality institutions. Without such an access mechanism for poor, we simply won't be able to build quality institutions and we won't be able to attract foreign students.

Gagan Agrawal said...

This is a comment from one of the 100,000 IIT graduates outside India, specific to ``how many will like their son/daughter to come and study in an IIT for a semester or so''. Well, from an academic view-point, I will be happy to see my own son spend a semester in an IIT -- IMO, academic standards and quality of peers are top notch. The problem is that for a 18 year old who has grown up entirely in the US, it is hard to adjust in India. We/he struggle(s) with it during a short visit to India, so 4-5 months is just not on the cards.

Though I do not disagree with the premise of the article, and especially about need for access as well as quality in the Indian system, reason for Indian students going abroad is more than academics. Settling abroad with (what seems like) higher standard of living is a big factor. I see that parents in India view a child (son?) settled in US as a good financial security in their old age.

Varun Aggarwala said...

I find it a little surprising that you do not mention the elephant in the room, i.e. high quality paying jobs.
Most of our countrymen who go abroad for education (the bulk at masters and undergrad level) do so for getting OPT/work visa's which are near impossible to get after applying from India. Maybe a tiny silver, wants better education but more and large it is all about jobs.
I agree with your central premise that more needs to be done in order to improve our institutes, but in my opinion if the economy is booming and India becomes a desirable location for expats, everyone would flock to our universities.

Dheeraj Sanghi said...

@Gagan and @Varun, I am fully aware of the high paying jobs after a foreign degree. And yet my contention is that a large number of people going for under-graduate education these days would have gladly stayed back if they had access to quality education in India, and gone for Masters degree abroad. By some accounts, almost 1 lakh students are going abroad for under-graduate education abroad every year. I don't have any scientific study to back up my claim, but I have talked to many 12th class students planning to go abroad, and they tell me this. Of course, the possibility of emigration or at least doing a job for a few years is making it possible for some families who would have otherwise found it extremely difficult to support foreign education to still send their kids abroad.

Gagan Agrawal said...

I agree with the observation that for undergrad admissions, rule for many is: if admitted to a good school in India, choose India for undergrad, else consider US (assuming of course family can afford US undergrad education).

Lakshman Iyer said...

Is there a scale indigineously develeoped by India which shall be even extended to India , China like GRE | GMAT and Even SAT all these are US admninstered tests and we should have a similar designed administered tests develeoped by India ( as an Apex council) extended to SAARC nation and China as well through a knowledge consortium. If we do this - India can be an competitive hub by merit and knowledge as core element to choose .
More thoughts to add.
Regards
Prof. Iyer .
Faculty - Employability , Test.preps. Skill Development and Academic project consultant.
+91-9920392890

My Take... said...

I agree with the part that getting an education loan should be made easier. The current scenario is not that great with banks denying loans to prospective students at some of the premium institutes of the country.

Rahul Agrawal said...

I agree we need to bring back large number of Indian students studying abroad, to widen our research and knowledge base. But we should be cautious as well of not discouraging students who decided to stay back. See any recent faculty recruited to IIT or NIT and you will find him having a foreign degree. Good, we are able to get them back. But what happen to our PhDs who toiled hard with the system. Do they not deserve a equal footing?

I am not questioning your decision about choosing a researcher with foreign exposure. But feeling sad to realize that those who stayed back in India and did work, are worthless in eyes of their own faculties/guides.

Sir, I will very eagerly wait for your blog on faculty recruitment, as you are among the people to choose teachers/researchers for tomorrow.

Thanking you
Rahul

Dheeraj Sanghi said...

@Rahul, I don't think you have understood my comment. When I say bring back these 1 lakh students, what I mean is that create conditions in the country that every year 1 lakh students need not go abroad for higher studies.