Just as the euphoria over the Women’s Reservation Bill settles down, another exciting announcement comes from the political corridors in New Delhi. After almost 15 years of debate, the Union Cabinet has unanimously approved a bill that will allow foreign universities to set up shop in India. Until now, an FDI of 100% is allowed in the education sector but international universities have not been allowed to have their own campuses in the country. They can only collaborate or have link programs with Indian universities. This bill proposes to change that and soon Indian students will be able to get a degree from a foreign university without having to actually go abroad.
This bill opens up a whole gamut of opportunities for foreign universities wanting to tap into the massive higher education market in India, at a time when government funding and budgets are being squeezed in countries like the UK because of the global financial crisis. There are already over 200 collaborations or joint programs up and running and given the enormous demand for quality education among India’s burgeoning middle classes, there is a big opportunity in the waiting. With a severe shortfall of good colleges and universities equipped to meet the current needs and demands of students, the wealthier lot often choose to go abroad because of issues like quotas and reservations. India faces an annual outflow of over $4 billion every year, not to mention the flight of talent who eventually choose to settle abroad causing what is often referred to as the ‘brain drain’.
This bill will hopefully arrest that, at the same time giving more students who cannot afford to study overseas a chance at getting a foreign degree at home. What’s more, this would hopefully be an incentive for Indian universities to get their act together as they are faced with more competition. On the other hand, it could also help draw more foreign students to the country and help India build its image as the next education hub. With its exotic appeal and cheap conversion rate it is foreseeable that many foreign students wanting a bit of adventure would come and spend a year doing a master’s program. Also, the English language gives India an added advantage.
There are worries, though, that if not properly regulated and overseen for quality and curriculum this could turn into a money-making racket. It wouldn’t be difficult for bogus colleges to pay off officials and get licenses given the huge corruption in the Indian bureaucracy. There are far too many private sector colleges (often run by politicians) engaging in dubious money-making activities, and it isn’t entirely impossible to envisage such a scenario with foreign players.
But on the whole, this is a big step forward in realizing India’s longstanding need for good higher education institutes and also a massive business opportunity for foreign universities. Of course, it remains to be seen how soon it is voted into law given the balancing act the government often has to do in coalition politics (it has already hit its first roadblock with the opposition objecting to it), but at least it is the first step in the right direction.