New Delhi, Jan. 22: Delhi law minister Somnath Bharti has dragged Africans into an unseemly controversy at a time students from the continent are rediscovering India after exploring China and others for over two decades.
Last year, Sudanese students in India formed the single largest such foreign group in the country after the Afghans. Totalling 4,759, the students from Sudan pulled past the Americans who had topped the list in 2011.
Over 10,400 students from seven African countries now study in India, accounting for a sizeable 13 per cent of the entire foreign student population.
It was not so in the 1980s and 1990s. Although India was a preferred destination in the heady days of the non-alignment movement, the flow thinned in the 1990s when other countries, particularly China, emerged as alternative destinations.
However, an aggressive drive to step up education collaboration in 2007 appears to have changed the tide.
Indian institutions have enhanced activities with African institutions in the last five years, projecting the country as an ideal destination for higher studies. The number of students from countries like Nigeria, Uganda, Sudan, Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia has increased in the past four years.
The cost-effective nature of Indian institutions and the lack of adequate opportunities in some of the African nations are said to be the prime factors behind the surge to India. For instance, Sudan, which has been sending the highest number of students from Africa to India in 2012, was in the grip of a civil war and the southern part ceded in 2011.
Ajay Kumar Dubey, a professor at the Centre of African Studies in Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), said cost played a key role. For instance, JNU charges international students $600 for every six-month semester (or $1,200 a year) while top universities in the US and the UK may be charging between $15,000 and $20,000 as tuition fees a year.
Among Indian institutions, the University of Pune gets the highest number of foreign students. Out of 76,000 foreign students pursuing higher studies in India, 18,000 are enrolled in the Pune varsity.
Vijay Khare, director of the international centre of the university, said students from Africa constituted a sizeable chunk. While several students come through the scholarship of the Indian Council of Cultural Relations (ICCR), most apply directly to the university.
“The foreign students face several types of discrimination. But they can directly complain to the police. We do not monitor such cases,” Khare said.
He said that the foreign students mainly prefer courses such as information technology, management, pharmacy, and subjects of humanities.
“We look at their eligibility. If they are qualified, we give them admission. After admission, they are sent to their respective colleges for pursuing studies. They do well in the examinations,” Khare said.
In 2007, India launched the Pan African e-Network Project, spending Rs 542.90 crore to provide tele-education and tele-medicine services to 53 African countries. The government also asked a few Indian institutions to set up campuses in Africa.
The National University of Educational Planning and Administration (NUEPA) will establish an Africa Institute of Educational Planning and Administration (AIEPA) in Burundi, while Educational Consultants India Limited (EdCIL) will set up an African Institute of Information Technology (AIIT) in Ghana. Certain IITs have collaborated with a few African institutions for joint research and students’ exchange.
“In the past few years, the education collaboration between Indian and African nations has increased. India is an English-speaking Commonwealth country and is seen as an ideal destination for higher studies,” Dubey said.
Pankaj Khare, former director of the international division at Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU), said that most of the African students came to India to pursue postgraduate courses as their countries did not have an adequate number of institutions. “Ethiopia, for example, has about 80 universities while only three or four universities offer PG courses. Similar is the situation in Uganda. Students keen on higher studies have to go abroad,” he said.