Raising the bar

Entry of foreign educational providers must focus attention on what holds back India's universities.

With legislation to allow and regulate entry of foreign educational providers hanging in Parliament for three years, the government has used the executive route to permit and streamline their entry. Universities ranked high on one of three respected indices will now be allowed to register as non-profit companies (as per Section 25 of the Companies Act), set up campuses in the country and award degrees. With the HRD ministry sending the requisite proposal to the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion and the Department of Economic Affairs, the next step of formulating UGC rules for the universities to qualify as foreign educational providers, or FEPs, is likely to follow. In the past, many foreign universities had expressed interest in setting up campuses in India, and the executive order will clear their path. But the hope touched off by this move must encompass domestic educational providers too, by drawing attention by comparison to the grave problems that inhibit state funded universities from achieving their potential.

The objective of the order is obviously to allow Indian students to avail of quality education, in a way that augments local infrastructure and inducts pools of excellence into the domestic landscape. Various checks are proposed to keep the bar high, by requiring that an FEP be in the top 400 on the Times Higher Education, Quacquarelli Symonds or Shanghai Jiao Tong rankings, and that a sufficiently large corpus be maintained as a guarantee of good intent. Given the ever-increasing numbers of Indian students pushed overseas for higher education, for lack of comparable opportunities domestically, it will be welcomed by a growing demographic. It would be missing the wood for the trees, however, to fail to admit that local options are discounted by students not only on the basis of availability, but also on falling quality. For too long, the government has failed to act upon the infirmities in Indian institutions, in upgrading their curriculum, producing and recruiting the needed faculty and regulating admissions and allowing them enough autonomy to do so. One of the indices the government has adopted to regulate entry of FEPs, the QS rankings, was released this week. Only the IITs, no other Indian educational provider, are in the top 400.

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