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Learning the right lesson

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The manner in which the Regulation of Foreign University Entry and Operation Bill is shaping up, it will be a while before Indian students can avail world-class education at competitive rates in their home country. Till then, graduates — and increasingly, undergraduates — will have little option but to move out of India for higher studies. In the latest draft of the Bill, a new clause allows the government discretionary powers to exempt an institution from regulations of reservations, fee structure and salaries. This logic works on the premise that India is capable of attracting too many fly-by-night operators. This, when Stanford and Harvard, among several others, have already affiliated with various Indian institutes on courses and curricula. This clause will also be used to gloss over the crucial objection that the UGC, in its current avatar, should not be the nodal authority for foreign universities — or, for that matter, private Indian players. All foreign education providers will have to still comply with deemed-to-be-university strictures.

It is unfortunate that the government is still suffering from a double whammy of myopia and paranoia. UGC regulations haven’t prevented Indian fly-by-night operators from mushrooming across the land. Why else would a 2000 report on higher education, ‘Policy Framework for Reforms in Education’, conclude that of the 2.5 million graduates that India produces every year, 5 per cent are employable, 20 per cent trainable and recruitable and 80 per cent untrainable. This, despite ‘stringent’ UGC affiliations and monitoring. There is a crying need to open up the higher education sector to private players — domestic and foreign. This will ensure minimum State expenditure, quality infrastructure, better standards of instruction, all at competitive rates. There is a reason why despite India having allowed 100 per cent FDI in higher education in 2001, barely 150 foreign institutes have found it worth their while to open campuses here.

Undoubtedly, universal primary education goals need more funds and State administration. That, in itself, is as good a reason as any to engage more private players in the higher education sector. As of now, only about 8,000 students are enrolled in foreign institute campuses in Indian cities while more than 100,000 students move overseas annually. Instead of looking at foreign players through a prism of suspicion, policymakers will be better off welcoming them as partners to achieve equity.