Even as New Delhi issued an advisory cautioning Indian students to keep to well-lit areas and not to venture out alone at night in Australia, a second death has been reported. The partially burnt body of 25-year-old Ranjodh Singh was found in Griffith last week. The incident comes close on the heels of the murder of 21-year-old student Nitin Garg in Melbourne in the same week. Even though the jury is still out on whether these two were hate or ‘opportunistic’ crimes, such attacks seem to be continuing despite promises made by the Australian government. There are over 1.2 lakh Indian students there and as many as 100 attacks against them have been reported in the last one year.
While India must impress upon the Australians that taking tough measures would benefit both parties since Indians form the major chunk of overseas students in that country, it must also look within. The one question that it needs to address is this: why are such a large number of Indians going for foreign degrees, even when many of these overseas institutions are substandard and run by fly-by-night operators. Yes, there is always the lure of a better lifestyle, job guarantee and a foreign degree does have a brand equity in India, yet in many cases these students — especially the ones who don’t secure eye-popping marks here — are forced to opt for foreign colleges/universities because there’s a supply-demand mismatch when it comes to higher education in India. There are some islands of educational excellence while others — the ones that are accessed by the majority of students — are below par. While the Centre has often talked about opening up the education sector and 15 more new central universities are in the pipeline, there’s a need for improving what we already have. Over the years, centres/cities of educational excellence — take for example Allahabad and Kolkata — have been destroyed by politics and mismanagement. Yet, there are many good institutions that can still deliver quality education to many more provided they are given adequate resources and autonomy. In addition, the higher education sector should also introduce new courses that can meet the requirements of the changing job market.
In an interview to a newspaper last year, Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal said his ministry’s aim would be expansion, inclusion and excellence. Not an easy task but one that needs to be undertaken without any further delay. If not, our aspirations of becoming a knowledge-driven economy will remain on paper.