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Policy rethink to lure foreign students

New Delhi, Feb. 9: Concerned at the drastic fall in the number of foreign students coming to India, the human resources development ministry has called a meeting to consider a set of proposals by higher education experts.

The number of foreign students enrolling in Indian universities has fallen from 11,888 in 1995 to 6,988 in 2000 with a steady decline in the inflow from neighbouring countries like Bangladesh and Nepal. “The fall in numbers could be attributed to a slack in marketing educational opportunities by Indian universities abroad,” says a note prepared by the ministry.

Policymakers in the ministry are, however, waking up to the situation, as India will have to grapple with new challenges after the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade becomes effective in the service sector.

The recommendations for making India an “attractive destination” range from diversifying the curriculum to shifting to a single-window system for admission of students to creating a “hassle-free environment”.

Human resources development minister Murli Manohar Joshi, at a function of the University Grants Commission last month, had assured that the Centre will soon work out this system to help foreign post-graduate students and research scholars.

At present, foreign scholars have to seek clearance from the home ministry for doing research on “sensitive topics”. “Almost every topic is labelled sensitive which hardly leaves any scope for research,” says a ministry official. A note has already been sent to the home ministry to change the rules but there has been no response.

Although post-graduate students do not need clearance from the home ministry, they, too, have to contend with red-tape. The human resources development ministry has recommended that “the admission process should be streamlined” to remove all bureaucratic hurdles in the process of admission.

It has also recommended setting up institutes with programmes in management, information technology, media, agricultural research, medicine and food processing.

“The curriculum should be updated and diversified,” the ministry says. “There should be short-duration courses on India’s rich culture and tradition, history, folk arts, music, temple architecture and philosophy and these should be called Study India programmes.” Universities in Delhi, Hyderabad, Mysore, Hyderabad, Pune and Santiniketan have already adopted such courses.

Realising the existence of a large Indian diaspora abroad and the need to create awareness about the opportunities in India, the officials felt the Centre should revamp the higher education system before India opens up its education sector. “We will have to market our strong points to the best of our ability,” says Prof. G.D. Sharma of National Institute of Educational Planning and Administration.

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