New class: Editorial on decision to invite foreign varsities to India
Change is the only constant. The Bharatiya Janata Party had opposed the United Progressive Alliance’s plans to invite overseas higher educational institutions to set up branches in India, but just a few years later, the National Education Policy found nothing wrong in it. This has prompted the University Grants Commission to formulate draft guidelines for the setting up of campuses by foreign universities. It obviously does not matter that the NEP also visualised the dismantling of the UGC, because expediency is all. The project would give some students broader academic opportunities at home, even though education abroad means learning also through the exposure to different countries and peoples, a fullness of development beyond academics. The regulations demand that the quality of education and the value of the degree should be at par with those of the parent institution, but how would the UGC ensure it? The new entrants would be granted autonomy in the crucial areas of admission process and fee structures, although the latter must be ‘transparent and reasonable’. Reasonableness here is subjective — high standards of teaching and the best educational facilities cannot come cheap. Besides, the universities will repatriate their earnings; they will not be here for charity. The entry of foreign universities may bring advantages to a few — not many students will be able to afford them — and critics of the Narendra Modi government’s policies find it part of the general tilt towards privatisation in education.
A thorough discussion was necessary regarding the need for the move and its possible advantages, but the Bharatiya Janata Party dislikes discussion. In spite of sounding strict in the draft, the UGC undermines its own authority by giving overseas institutions a free hand in important aspects. Foreign campuses would undeniably represent a major change in the higher education system; at the very least, they could invite teachers in public universities to join the faculty. This would deepen inequalities in education and put State-funded and regional private universities at a serious disadvantage. Strangest is the draft’s warning against hurting ‘national interest’. A government that blocks students from underprivileged backgrounds from overseas study if they work on Indian culture and society has a funny view of that. Perhaps this is just a formality: underprivileged households would not be able to afford foreign universities for their children anyway.