An increasing number of students, from Nepal to the United States, are expressing interest in Delhi University.
However, bureaucratic hurdles and impenetrable language barriers are making an otherwise rewarding academic experience unpleasant.
DU opens roughly five percent of its total spots to foreigners, in accordance with a longstanding policy agreed to by university officials and various government offices, including the MEA.
But the total varies from year to year, and it jumped from below 1,500 in 2006-07 to roughly 2,000 in 2007-08, according to DU statistics and a tally conducted by the Delhi University Students Union (DUSU).
Despite the increase in numbers both Indian universities and government officials have yet to wake up to the bureaucratic hurdles faced by international students.
Pan Mohamad Faiz, a 25-year-old Indonesian student pursuing an LLM degree, bristles at the layers of bureaucracy one encounters when trying to file application forms and other papers. “They cannot speak English very well,” he said of the staffers who process such papers. “For a foreigner who cannot speak Hindi, it can be a big problem.”
Komilzoda Sangin, a 25-year-old from Tajikistan pursuing his MA in social work, echoed this criticism. “If you go to them (the staffers) they will tell you ‘Come tomorrow.’ Everything is ‘Come tomorrow.’ They are just sitting and not doing anything, and they will still tell you ‘Come tomorrow.’”
Dean Students Welfare S.K. Vij admitted that problems existed but the university was trying to bring in improvements.
“By and large, I think (foreign students) are fairly comfortable, but there’s always room for improvement,” said Vij.
He noted that the university does not yet have a system in place to track foreign students after they enroll, so it is impossible to determine how many drop out and for what reasons.
At present, DU has international students’ hostels and a dean of foreign students assigned to handle issues specific to foreigners. The university might soon approve a proposal to make foreign students eligible to receive basic DU-
provided health care free of charge.
Mohamad Faiz described living in one of DU’s international students’ hostels as a mixed blessing. Many foreign students, he said, hope to improve their English while in India, and the hostel helps in this respect because English is a common language for residents. But life in a hostel also limits the extent to which foreigners can interact with their Indian peers.
Existing support networks for foreign students have at times been inadequate, said DUSU President Amrita Bahri. “For instance, all foreign students can’t go to one foreign students’ adviser,” she said. In February, DUSU inaugurated a foreign students’ association as part of the effort to serve DU’s international population.
Chatunnop Attachakara, 25, a native of Bangkok, Thailand, has experienced life at both DU and Jawaharlal Nehru University in South Delhi. He completed a BCom(H) at Sri Venkateswara College in 2006 and then began a bachelor’s program in Japanese at JNU.
He said international students at DU are subjected to teasing and taunting on a regular basis and tend to be isolated from the broader campus community. “Being a foreign student [at JNU] is better. At DU, we are separated,” Attachakara said.
With a student population of only 5,000, JNU has a smaller number of international students to accommodate — a little under 200 in January 2007. In addition, foreign students at JNU benefit from well-established institutions such as a foreign students’ association that was founded in 1985.
Despite their complaints, both Faiz and Sangin said their experiences at DU have largely been positive. Ravi Agarwal, 24, an MBA aspirant from Nepal, said the competitive nature of Indian students facilitates a rigorous but rewarding academic environment replete with high-achievers. “The education level back in my country is not this good,” he said.
(With inputs from Kartikay Wadwha)