The Indian government has shifted around its priorities, moving the topic of higher education from a peripheral concern to its key priority, reports The Chronicle last week. In part, this reprioritization is due to India's shift from a mostly agrarian economy to one that the international business world relies upon for supplying qualified workers. A highly skilled workforce requires a higher quality of education, and the Indian government knows that.
The transition from minor importance to main spotlight will not be an easy one, especially given the highly "centralized and burdensome" higher education government. "Indian higher education," explains The Chronicle, "is huge, complex, and full of contradictions…much like the country itself." With a huge pool of potential students, the country can only accommodate about 12% of eligible students. 12% may not seem like a lot, but in a country the size of India, that translates into 22,500 institutions of about 600 students each. 450,000 Indian students study abroad; the majority of Indian students stay on Indian home turf. Most of them study in the public system which has been neither motivated nor pressured to improve—that is, until now.
With the growth of private institutions in India and the growing role Indian graduates play in the global business economy, even small public universities and vocational schools are interested in moving away from a rather apathetic attitude to a more ambitious and improvement-oriented one. This change is especially true for information technology programs.
Educational reforms are in order and include:
- Implementing a "choice-based" curriculum.
- Creating and updating new and varied syllabi.
- Establishing an autonomous educational authority.
- Improving the anti-educational-malpractice system.
- Erecting an educational tribunal to fast-track conflict resolution.
- Implementing mandatory assessment practices.
- Ensuring proper accreditation practices.
Changes in Indian educational policy will help encourage American universities to begin setting up shop in India. India's education minister, Kapil Sibal, has been described as "reform-minded" and has "endorsed the entry of foreign universities into the country."
India will benefit from the foreign investment necessary to set up a university branch on Indian soil, but how will the international institutions benefit from establishing a base in India?
"A robust presence in overseas markets like India or China could enhance a college's academic standing, intellectual, prestige, and reputation," explains another Chronicle article. "A presence in a country brings access to power, people, and principal"—three strong pulls for a country like the United States.
Sibal has singled out Harvard (his alma mater), MIT, and Stanford as "desirable providers for India."
There are many questions that American institutions need to ask themselves before making this move: Will fewer Indians choose to study abroad at the American-based facilities if they can get the same education closer to home? Who will then fill those empty spots—will schools be lucky enough to find the right students (who can pay the high fees)? Will the international university be able to maintain all its own rules, policies, curricula, and tuition rates? Will American educational traditions mesh with India's culture and values? How will the move affect the U.S. partnership with India, not to mention its relationship with other countries and other schools?
There is a lot to gain, a lot to lose, and lots to consider.
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