The Foreign Education Institutions Bill is bound to be presented in Parliament sooner or later, this year. It will face some strident debate no doubt. The main Opposition parties, the BJP and its allies , as some observers say, may not be averse to the entry of foreign institutions per se; they may only want to be seen as nationalists and hence they will raise the decibel level of the debate.
The left front may not be nationalists ; they wouldn't mind if the foreign institutions were Chinese ones, but they do have a problem with western foreign institutions. So they will make some noise as well. But when all the noise settles down, the Cabinet nod will pass muster in all likelihood.
But there are some concerns bothering the Indian academic community. First, foreign universities with their large chest of funds will overwhelm their impoverished Indian cousins; second, the entry of the foreign universities may spell the doom of the Indian universities, because with their superior academic environment and much higher pay packages, foreign universities will cause the best of the Indian academics to migrate in droves to these foreign universities , leaving the Indian ones considerably impoverished in intellectual capital; third, the best of the students who can afford it, will move en masseto these universities. And fourth, it would be unfair to leave the Indian universities stuck with ridiculously low levels of fees while their foreign counterparts are allowed to charge much higher.
It would seem that barring the last of the above concerns, the rest of them are mostly academic. First, no foreign university with a large chest of fund is going to rush in to empty its coffers in India to build campuses. They are usually far too careful to do that. If they build campuses in India at all, they will probably look for some dedicated funds, or join hands with existing Indian universities.
In fact, foreign institutions typically concentrate on growing their corpuses, so that the interest earnings on these corpuses bridge their operating deficits. The highly efficient and cost-effective methods of working and putting scarce funds to good use is what Indian universities can hope to learn from their foreign counterparts. So, apprehensions on this score are clearly misplaced.
Will the Bill effect large-scale migration of Indian faculty to the foreign entrants? Unlikely again. Most foreign universities, for the reasons just mentioned, are more likely to come in piggy-backing on Indian institutions . Besides, those aspiring to a degree from a good university abroad and wanting a teaching career there, anyway go abroad and teach. In any case, largely it is this faculty abroad of Indian origin, keen on homecoming that will comprise the faculty backbone of the universities entering India.
What is more, no reputed foreign varsity that offers the same degrees in India as their degrees back home, will want to dilute on its faculty standards. So fears of large-scale migration of faculty from domestic universities to the foreign ones may be exaggerated.
Will the students migrate en masse to foreign varsities entering India? If the foreign universities join hand with the Indian institutions , this is unlikely, at least in the foreseeable future. If they come independently and if they are reputed institutions, they will be expensive and will tap students largely from the strata that would have gone abroad for studies any way. It is just that now the cost of a good overseas degree would become a little more affordable for those who wish to pursue such degrees.
There are bound to be some dubious foreign universities who may exploit this window of opportunity by poaching on some low-cost Indian faculty and exploiting a mass student base keen on a foreign degree — any foreign degree. But market forces should soon put such exploitation to rest.
A genuine concern of course will be the last point, namely the fee levels that may vary by two orders of magnitude between Indian and foreign varsities. Clearly this is a legitimate concern. It would be most unfair for Indian academia to be compared with their foreign counterparts, when the resource base of the Indian universities is woefully inadequate, with the government in no position to top up their coffers, and with a University Grants Commission having no grants to give.
But the answer to this concern is for the government to scale up the funding mechanism for the Indian universities and not to pull down the feel levels in the good foreign varsities.
While some short-term heartburns are bound to irk the Indian institutions, the fact is the proximity of good international institutions , with their more successful model of working, their emphasis on research, superior work-ethics , often more industry relevant curriculum, et al, should go a long way in making the Bill pull up the standards of the Indian universities and institutions to ahigher plane. On their part, the foreign institutions will be well advised to endear themselves in India by working out suitable cross-subsidy models for deserving, but poor Indian students.
(Fears of large-scale migration of faculty from domestic universities to the foreign ones may be exaggerated The cost of a good overseas degree will become a little more affordable for those who wish to pursue such degrees The proximity of good global institutions, will help in improving the standards of the Indian universities and institutions)