Developing India as a Vibrant International Education Hub
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On 1st March 2023, Vivekananda International Foundation hosted a round-table discussion on 'Developing India as a Vibrant International Education Hub'. The event was organised and coordinated by Prof. K. K. Aggarwal, Former Chairman, National Board of Accreditation. The keynote speakers of the event were:-

  1. Dr. Pankaj Mittal, Secretary General, Association of Indian Universities (AIU)
  2. Prof. C. Rajkumar, Vice-Chancellor, Jindal Global University
  3. Prof. S Vaidhyasubramaniam, Vice-Chancellor, SASTRA University
  4. Prof. Sandeep Sancheti, Vice-Chancellor, Marwadi University

Apart from the keynote speakers, the discussion was also attended by several invitees, who represented their respective universities, such as Prof. Prabhat Ranjan, Vice-Chancellor, DY Patil International University, Prof. Raju C.H V. Voleti, Sharda University, Prof. Sunil Rai, Chancellor, University of Petroleum and Energy Studies, Prof. Kannan Iyer, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Jammu, Prof. Avinash C. Sharma, Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University. Some representatives, who attended the discussion online were, Prof. Arun Kumar Verma, IIT Jammu and Prof. Koushik Sarathy Sridhara, IIT Hyderabad.

In the light of UGC NEP’s clause 12.8, that states its vision of promoting India as a global study destination providing premier education at affordable cost, the round table discussion intended to take the first step to brainstorm, discuss, and gather suggestions to implement the vision mentioned in the NEP. By clarifying the meeting agenda, Dr. Arvind Gupta, Director, VIF also added that, people who come to India for higher education also carry back the memories of India and the experiences they had here forever. So to develop a positive impression of India among the international community, focussing on International education is very important. Raghvendra Singh, Senior Fellow, VIF mentioned some of the experiments that were initiated while he was heading the National Museum to get international attention. He raised the important point that while discussing, we must be introspective and see whether we are ready for it or not. He clarified that this meeting is intended to sow the first seed for the initiative under the guidance of Prof. K.K Aggarwal.

Prof. Aggarwal began by mentioning that education is important for many other concerns including national security and international relations. Any initiative to internationalise must end in raising the standards of India’s institutions. Permitting foreign universities in India cannot mean giving them a parking space, but the outcome should be the improvement in the quality of India’s educational institutions and ecosystem. However, he mentioned that giving enough autonomy to foreign institutions while chaining the domestic universities would lead to imbalances. Since, quality and autonomy are linked we shouldn’t create situations where imbalances in opportunities would emerge between foreign and Indian universities. He added that despite having some good quality institutions, faculties and students, India has not been able to market them at the global stage. He framed the broader question for the discussion in the following way: How can we become institutions that attract foreign students and how can the government facilitate this to happen? To begin with, we can start by bringing international students for at least a semester or so, as part of their module, even if not for a whole programme.

Keynote Speakers
Pankaj Mittal, Secretary General, Association of Indian Universities (AIU):
  • The difference between the number of foreign students coming to India (around 48,000) and the number of Indian students going abroad (around 8-10 Lakhs) is very huge.
  • India doesn’t have a network of international higher educators. AIU has begun to work on creating one to guide educational institutions that want to internationalise and collaborate.
  • Countries like the U.S. and Europe have scholarship programmes by which students from all over the world can come for higher education and become the brand ambassadors of the Indian higher education system. India should also have respectable similar scholarships.
  • At times we miss to market and showcase our higher education system. G20 is an opportunity for this and there should be platforms where VCs from our universities and the universities of G20 countries can have discussions and brainstorming sessions.
Prof. C Rajkumar, Vice-Chancellor, Jindal Global University
  • It is important to acknowledge that we are not yet a significant educational hub.
  • The International students who come to India are very small in numbers and are also limited to areas like STEM and medicine and not widely spread across disciplines, like humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, etc.
  • It is important to develop capacities as a whole apart from institutional capacity. Students come not only for the university but also for the overall educational ecosystem in that country or region.
  • Countries that are top international education hubs already have education as a priority in their budget, foreign policy, etc.
  • We should create a sense that if a foreign student is coming to India, they should be a part of the wider international ecosystem.
  • Build a research ecosystem where students get the opportunity to expose themselves to transformative, compelling ideas and they can contribute to the research.
  • Infrastructure facilities and improvement in the quality of faculties, working to cater security risks, dealing with issues like discrimination, etc, can together make India a welcoming destination for education.
  • We should re-imagine the visa regimes, unnecessary delays in FRO registrations and processes that make the arrival of foreign students complex.
  • Indian embassies should focus on education as a critical component.
  • It's rare to see Indian ministers, government representatives, and the Secretary of Education taking part in International conferences, which they must participate more actively in.
  • We need to focus on International Rankings, if we want to become international players.
  • Universities must receive more autonomy; regulations must be lean and thin.
Prof. Vaidhyasubhramaniam, Vice-Chancellor, SASTRA University :
  • Countries like Australia bring huge investment and attention to education because 35% of the student population in Australia is international. They simply cannot afford to ignore it unlike India.
  • We have to remove disparities between government and private institutions, since there are good and bad on both sides.
  • Even 50,000 (approx.) foreign students India has at present, come from a specific set of countries. We need to diversify our geographies. To diversify, more autonomy should be given to institutions.
  • Unless there is autonomy, we cannot prepare any institutions for internationalisation.
  • Autonomy should be given as:
    1. Financial autonomy
    2. Administrative autonomy
    3. Academic autonomy
  • We have better schools for non-STEM areas that can actually attract the global student community.
  • Owner led enterprises work better than ownerless enterprises - somehow, we feel owners should be distanced from the institutions as these are professional areas. But our experience shows that ownerless enterprises have failed more often.
Prof. Sandeep Sancheti, Vice-Chancellor, Marwadi University
  • Foreign students can be for short-term, full-term programmes or even familiarisation programmes.
  • Fees for international students must be closer to the fee of national students. The gap should be reduced. This experiment was done at Marwadi University.
  • More of a partnership model, collaboration with foreign institutions required rather than outsourcing to foreign partners.
After the keynote address the floor was open to the invitees to share their views:
  • Prof. Raju C.H.V Voleti, Sharda University said that there should be collaboration with private partners to have internship projects for foreign students along with their studies.
  • Prof. Avinash C. Sharma warned about collaboration as there could be risk factors, where India ends up giving only data providers in such collaborations. Hence, he highlighted the need of strengthening ourselves before any collaboration. He also mentioned that foreign models can only be adopted according to our local conditions.
  • Prof. Kannan Iyer of IIT Jammu and Prof. Prabhat Ranjan, VC, DY Patil International University highlighted that many students go abroad from India not merely for educational purposes, rather education is only an entry point to get a job and settle there. Education cannot be isolated from the overall economic structure of the country.
  • Prof. Prabhat also pointed out that students from the Indian diaspora, who are even the 10th generation to be there, who want to make a comeback could be targeted.
  • Prof. Sunil Rai, Chancellor of UPES said that we shouldn’t be over defensive about our lack of infrastructure. Sometimes they could be marketed as Indian ways of sustainable engineering, minimal consumption, and simple way of life - if approached creatively. This is to sell an Indian experience.
  • Prof. Rai also mentioned that we should strategise which category of students from which country should be attracted. For instance, even the second notch students from Europe could be attracted to India. Likewise, for each country or region, there should be different strategies to attract various kinds of students.
The session also had a few online participants.
  • Prof. KK Aggarwal in his final remarks mentioned that there is a need for India to go beyond STEM in this regard, as for India to become top in areas, like Ayurveda is easier than STEM. It is all about finding our own strong areas to market abroad. While talking about collaboration he said, it can be only done when both the parties have something to give and take from each other. He mentioned that universities should receive more autonomy to become flexible so that they can create their own unique models.
  • Dr. Arvind Gupta, Director, VIF said that a taskforce or a group of experts should be set up by the government to involve in the global affairs of education. One of their aims could be to market Indian education abroad. He also added that we need to study what the students from abroad would expect from India. He observed that there is a demand for knowing various aspects of Indian culture, and our universities must actively cater to that demand by giving quality education on even subjects, like management, business in relation to Indian culture. Dr. Gupta said that India should have differentiated strategies of attracting students from other countries, rather than one strategy for all countries. Such initiatives should be done very carefully as even a single case of discrimination of a foreign student in India can lead to a massive response internationally. A global affairs office for international universities could be set up. It is important to further discuss what functions such an office would perform. Both Dr. Gupta and Prof. Aggarwal mentioned the importance of regulatory bodies and need for the universities to abide by that, even as they receive more autonomy.
Finally, a summary of the outcomes of the discussion are:
  1. So far, the NEP 2020 has remained a vision and a dream. Not much has happened by way of implementation.
  2. Only about 40 to 50 thousand foreign students come to India from abroad while 8 -10 lakh Indian students leave the country for higher education.
  3. India has to work hard to become a global hub of education. This will require building a wider educational ecosystem of global standards.
  4. Whether one likes it or not, foreign students are attracted by international rankings of institutions.
  5. Autonomy is at the heart of implementation of NEP. The Indian Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) need to be given greater academic autonomy (financial, administrative, and regulatory). Despite the promise made in the NEP, this has not happened. The UGC remains overbearing. Universities are over regulated. This must change.
  6. India needs an alternative model of funding higher education in the country. Lending for education infrastructure should be treated as ‘priority’ sector lending.
  7. Indian universities should be allowed to build financial corpuses and not be taxed for five years. It takes time to build a reasonable corpus.
  8. India has a lot to offer but it needs strong marketing effort in the area of higher education. Indian missions abroad should play an active role in promoting India as an education hub. The examples of Australia, UK, USA etc are worth studying.
  9. Indian universities should hold education fees abroad. Association of Indian Universities (AIU) can play the role of a facilitator.
  10. Majority of Indian institutions are not yet ready to receive foreign students. The state of educational infrastructure in India needs to be improved vastly.
  11. Indian universities need to develop durable partnerships with foreign universities offer a variety of courses in different settings. This will attract foreign students and also bring down costs.
  12. Competent, sympathetic and dedicated faculty is essential to attract foreign students. Great attention should be paid to the recruitment of quality faculty. Foreign faculty should be allowed to teach in the Indian Institutions in greater numbers.
  13. We really need to have a Residential International Faculty in addition to the Visiting or Guest Faculty, etc.
  14. The Indian government has not yet realised that foreign investors are willing to invest in the Indian educational ecosystem. Suitable incentives to investors, including taxation relief etc, should be provided to attract foreign students in this area.
  15. India should institute some prestigious Fellowships for international students, who will ultimately become our brand ambassadors.
  16. Non-STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics) areas like Ayurveda, Yoga, Sanskrit, languages, Indic studies, history, culture, art, philosophy etc should be given special focus to attract foreign students as There is a great deal of interest abroad in these fields.
  17. Foreigner face a lot of problems with the FRRO when it comes to extension of visas, regularisation etc. Visa regime needs to overall completely to make it easy for foreign students to study in India. Work permits should be made available more easily.
  18. Role of Institutions like Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR) & EdCIL has to increase significantly.
  19. While the best students from other country may not prefer India, we should not hesitate to attract the second tier students to our institutions. As our standard improves, better students will come.
  20. The government should consider setting up a task force of experts from different backgrounds to look into these issues and give practical suggestions. This should be done on an urgent basis.
    • Event Date 
      March 1, 2023

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