India needs more investment and seats in higher education. Figures show the dismal gap between projections and the ground reality with regards to educational infrastructure. The chasms between expected outcomes and the actual productivity of academic pursuits presents an equally bleak picture. The employability of about 80 per cent of engineering graduates from Indian universities is suspect. This is made worse by the government’s move to lower qualifying criteria. So, the question whether we need to make the route for FDI in higher education easier and bring it under the General Agreement on Trade in Services is, in effect, a no-brainer.
For one, FDI will bring in the required capital and expertise. Since foreign universities cannot be expected to subsidise their education services and do not have charity on their mind, they will target the upper and middle strata of society. There is nothing wrong in this. For most Indians who can afford it, a foreign degree is far superior to a degree from a second-grade Indian institute. Foreign university affiliates or branches in India will help in redirecting part of the $ 4 billion that India contributes to the $ 30 billion overseas education sector. That apart, the calibre of graduates will also improve due to the catalyst of competition. But above all other reasons, FDI in higher education allows the State to redirect its funds towards the other priority area: primary education.
Worrying about ‘foreign influences’ is bunkum. The logic of supply-demand has made foreign-owned media cater to local needs and tastes. The same will be the case with FDI in education. The recommendations made by the Ministry of Commerce in its paper ‘Higher education in India and Gats’ has sent alarm bells ringing in the Education Ministry. While the Commerce Ministry allays fears over the logical parameters of including education services in the Gats, the Ministry of Education should set up, as recommended, a regulatory framework for higher education for both private and foreign players. Surely, this makes common sense.