The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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PM cell for foreign varsities

New Delhi, Jan. 8: The National Knowledge Commission — Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s baby — has backed the commerce ministry’s call for a “conscious” effort to attract foreign students and universities to the country.

“It is time for us to make a conscious attempt to attract foreign students for higher education. This would enrich our academic milieu,” the commission said in a note to the Prime Minister.

The commission’s words will make the commerce ministry happy, but not the human resource development ministry, which believes education should not be used for “commercial” gain.

“We must formulate appropriate policies for the entry of foreign institutions and for the promotion of Indian institutions abroad,” the commission said in the note.

The commerce ministry has echoed the view, setting off a debate on the future direction of higher education.

It has even tried to persuade the HRD ministry to attract foreign universities to India.

The number of overseas students fell from 13,707 in 1993-94 to 5,323 in 1989 before rising to 8,145 in 2001-02. Most of them are from Nepal, Mauritius, Kenya, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

Not many students have come from developed countries like the US and the UK which host countless Indian students.

The HRD ministry, however, feels the commerce ministry should not use higher education as a bargaining chip in negotiations on international trade in services.

The HRD ministry and the commission, which had earlier opposed the other backward classes (OBC) quota in institutes of higher learning, also have other differences.

The knowledge panel is not in favour of government control on educational institutions. “Accountability of the universities must not be confused with control of the state,” it says.

The HRD ministry is looking for a bigger role, seeking to regulate fee structures and admission policies.

The commission feels students do not have much of a choice on universities. “When students have fewer choices, institutions have greater power over them,” it says, highlighting the need for greater competition to improve quality.

The HRD ministry says foreign providers wanting to extend activities to India have to abide by the rules of the country and will be eligible for “national treatment” and not “preferential treatment”.

The commission does not dispute the need for “appropriate policies”.

But the panel says: “Such policies must ensure there is an incentive for good institutions and a disincentive for sub-standard institutions to come to India.”

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