The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Blueprint to open up higher education

New Delhi, Jan. 6: The National Institute of Education Planning and Administration (NIEPA) is busy putting together a blueprint of India’s strategy for General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (Gatt) negotiations on higher education.

“By March, we should come up with a response to the framework given by the Gatt on opening up the service sector,” said Professor G.D. Sharma, director, NIEPA.

After the establishment of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), which removed restrictions on the movement of tangible goods, negotiations are now on for a general agreement on trade in services.

“We do not know what shape higher education in India will take after the negotiations are clinched,” said Zakir Thomas of the copyright department, the human resources development ministry.

At present, the WTO signatory countries are exploring options best suited to each. “We are getting responses from other countries and also sending our responses to them,” Sharma said. A final response to the WTO’s terms of opening up the service sector is expected in March.

Each of the 12 service sectors to be opened up will have to identify its respective areas of strengths and weaknesses to strike a good deal.

The WTO has laid down the general framework for these negotiations. “There are two or three modes of exchanges, from an exchange of people to establishing commercial branches in each others’ countries,” Thomas said.

The human resource development ministry is keen on clinching an agreement that would allow Indian academics to teach in universities abroad, instead of just allowing foreign universities to set up branches in India.

“You have to bargain hard and intelligently so you can extract your pound of flesh, instead of allowing other countries to ride roughshod over you,” Sharma said.

For instance, India should zero in on its areas of strength such as art and culture, Ayurveda, yoga, management, certain areas of technology and engineering. “If we agree to export our management education, we should remember we will have to compete with the management institute of Harvard University,” Sharma said. Basically, the quality of education has to be excellent to withstand tough competition, he said.

At present, even without the WTO in the service sector. foreign universities are setting up branches all over India, but without any monitoring of quality. The way to the best deal is to do the homework well and, accordingly, make intelligent moves, Sharma said.

“As many as 144 countries will deal with each other, and each will try to extract the best possible deal for itself,” Sharma said. His institute is working in tandem with the All India Council of Technical Education and the Delhi School of Architecture. There is a feeling, however, that much time was lost before starting the groundwork.

As part of higher education reforms, the University Grants Commission has asked NIEPA to mould public opinion on its proposal to introduce contract-based appointment for teachers in colleges and universities. NIEPA has not yet decided its schedule for seminars to discuss the issue, Sharma said.

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