Merton in Mohali, Balliol in Bandra? | india | Hindustan Times
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Merton in Mohali, Balliol in Bandra?

We could have simultaneously attempted international joint ventures to rejuvenate our old institutions. What we’re doing is like abandoning an ancestral home with bad plumbing and moving to a Gurgaon apartment. It’s a smart choice, but perhaps not the wisest, writes Pratik Kanjilal.

india Updated: Mar 19, 2010 22:40 IST

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that Australian universities are eager to set up campuses in India, now that the Cabinet has approved foreign educational ventures. They’re really asking for it, aren’t they? Asking for their campus gates here to be mobbed every time there’s a racist incident Down Under. Maybe even asking for reprisal bashings. A hapless Aussie rector bashed here, an inoffensive keeper of muster rolls bashed there…

I trust that this horrible scenario will not come true and that we shall welcome Australian education more civilly than the Aussies embraced Indian students. But how shall we react to our best and brightest being educated on campuses run by the Australians, the Americans, the English and perhaps even the Chinese? Dodgy question, what? Any nationalists want to take it?

But actually, the loaded set will heave a sigh of relief. Home delivery of the prized foreign degree with no airfares or exorbitant living costs. Kids getting degrees without being estranged from Grandma’s nutritious gajar halwa, without having to wash dishes on foreign shores, and without forcing proud parents to indulge in petty hawala to keep them alive.

Meanwhile, the government can let citizens indulge their craze for foreign qualifications without having to contain a brain drain. And for teachers, it’s the jackpot. The bar on repatriating profits from foreign-operated campuses will force heavy investments in people and capital. Teachers poached from Indian universities will get the wages, equipment and resources they have been denied by our education system. It is truly shocking that even institutions like Delhi’s School of Planning and Architecture do not meet University Grants Commission criteria on basic services like internet access.

But will teachers who move get the intellectual community which enables creative work? The entry of foreign universities will leach the best teachers off Indian campuses but it takes decades or even centuries to create the atmosphere, the communities and the web of off-campus networks that are the hallmarks of great universities.

Students may not get the real thing, either. Can quality education be franchised? Training and certification are readily shipped out in kit form but education has a larger intellectual dimension. It is being globalised like other services, but can the intellectual climate of a campus be manufactured, branded and distributed like a market commodity?

Second-tier institutions like Australia’s Monash University have established a strong presence overseas. So have institutions which specialise in what amounts to training and certification, like the Chicago Business School. Scientific institutes go overseas in search of cheaper research facilities. But the big brands from the Ivy League or Oxbridge franchise only in dribs and drabs for fear of devaluing their exclusivity. Brands are about perceptions and if Mohali started offering full Oxford University courses, the perceived value of Balliol and Merton would dip somewhat.

India could be the laboratory where the franchising of education is put to the test. But we could have done the experiment without proposing to gut our own education system, in which we have invested since Independence. We could have simultaneously attempted international joint ventures to rejuvenate our old institutions. What we’re doing is like abandoning an ancestral home with bad plumbing and moving to a Gurgaon apartment. It’s a smart choice, but perhaps not the wisest.

Pratik Kanjilal is publisher of The Little Magazine

The views expressed by the author are personal