The National Education Policy 2020 (NEP), announced by the government in the last week of July, is a product of prolonged consultations and deliberations. The debates and discussions on the policy are likely to be much richer. In the coming weeks and months, the section on the internationalisation of higher education in India could be the focus of much scholarly attention. For good reasons. With more than 1.5 million schools, over 40,000 colleges and close to 720 universities, India has the second-largest education system in the world after China. India has entered into the stage of massification of higher education with a gross enrollment ratio of 26.3 per cent, which is fast increasing. This could make it a lucrative destination for foreign universities.
The idea of internationalisation of higher education is based on the mobility of students, faculty members, programmes, and institutions across countries. Before the NEP, two types of mobility were in vogue, that of faculty members and students. This movement of students and faculty has informed the NEP’s section on internationalisation. The attempt to attract foreign universities can also be seen in the context of earlier collaborations with institutions outside the country. In 2015, the Ministry of Human Resource Development implemented the Global Initiative of Academic Network (GIAN) to enable the country’s higher education institutions to invite world-class scholars, scientists and researchers. More than 1,500 courses have been completed at Indian higher education institutions in collaboration with international faculty members. In 2018, the Scheme for Promotion of Academic and Research Collaboration was launched to promote joint research and collaboration with top 500 QS (Quacquarelli Symonds) ranking institutions. The same year, the Study in India programme identified 30 Asian and African countries (now 42) from where meritorious students would be drawn to study in top 100 NIRF ranked institutions.
The NEP aims to attract top 100 QS World Ranking universities to open offshore campuses in India. The foreign universities would bring in programme and institution mobility. There are two views on opening foreign campuses in India. Those in favour argue that first, it would reduce the migration of Indian students and give those who cannot afford to go abroad an opportunity to study in foreign universities at home. Second, foreign campuses would bring knowledge, technology and innovative pedagogy to the country and set new standards in higher education, spurring Indian institutions to improve. Those cautious about the move argue that it would increase the cost of education and widen the already existing disparities in matters of accessing quality and affordable higher education. This, in turn, could accentuate the existing hierarchies in the country, and have a bearing on the diversity on campuses. There could be a scramble for meritorious students with the lion’s share going to foreign campuses.
There is, however, a need to look beyond these binaries. There is no doubt that the increase in the gross enrolment ratio in higher education institutions calls for more such institutions. The invitation to foreign universities in the top 100 QS world rankings could ensure the entry of quality institutions to meet this demand. The collaboration between Indian and foreign higher educational institutions would enhance India’s exposure to global intellectual resources. Nearly 30 years after the move to open up the economy, a policy to attract foreign universities in the country was, perhaps, inevitable. Moreover, some Indian higher education institutions do have offshore campuses in places such as Dubai.
However, the ideas outlined in the NEP require fine-tuning. The first challenge will be to widen the scope of internationalisation. Several world-class institutions such as the Max Planck Institute could fall through the policy’s cracks because they do not participate in any world rankings, let alone the QS World Ranking. Second, there is a growing body of literature critiquing the world rankings. Third, STEM and professional courses have greater market value compared to social sciences and humanities. There is thus a possibility of foreign campuses turning their back on disciplines in these streams.
Fourth, vocational and skill education — on which the NEP lays much importance — cannot be internationalised in the same manner as academic education. Finally, we do not know if the foreign varsities actually agree with the overall vision of NEP.
This article appeared in the print edition on September 4, 2020 under the title ‘Open campus challenge’. The writer is Deputy Adviser, Unit for International Cooperation, National Institute of Educational Planning and Administration, Delhi. Views are personal.