If India wants to stop the exodus of its students to other countries and attract foreign students to its higher education institutions, its own institutions must improve quality and infrastructure and enable more opportunities for short-term exchanges to foreign institutions, according to eminent experts from Indian and global academia.
The experts are proposing a preliminary roadmap to prevent talent streaming out of the country and make India attractive to foreign students. The proposals were made at a two-day international webinar on “India: The global destination for higher education: Post-NEP 2020 scenario” – referring to the wide-reaching National Education Policy (NEP) 2020, released in July.
The webinar was organised by the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kharagpur and IIT Kharagpur Alumni Foundation, on 9 and 10 October.
India is second only to China in the number of students heading abroad for education. According to India’s Ministry of External Affairs, 753,000 Indian students were studying abroad in 2019, while just 48,000 foreign students come to India each year.
“There is no need for some of our students to enrol in foreign universities, spending dollars on admission,” said Education Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’ in remarks for the webinar.
“We have all the infrastructure and facilities. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has invited foreign universities to set up campuses in India and encouraged Indian universities to build overseas campuses so that students are motivated to stay in India and study in India,” the minister said.
“The credit bank system enables students to take a break from academic programmes, thus awarding certificates, diplomas and degrees,” he said.
He added that the recommendations of the NEP are in line with ‘global standards’.
Indian students spend US$16 billion on study abroad
Chairing the webinar, which examined policy recommendations by India’s Ministry of Education on the globalisation of Indian universities, VK Jaitly, a former president of IIT Kharagpur’s alumni association, said India had the potential to earn about US$20 billion annually from the education sector as Indian students were spending about US$16 billion annually on studies abroad. However, many of them end up in only ‘average’ universities in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and Australia.
Indian students spend 10 to 20 times more on universities abroad that are not top universities, which is “not acceptable” when compared with the “value for money” education they could get in India, he said.
“It is possible to reverse the flight of our students to some extent,” he added. One way was to make India a hub for education. “By improving the quality of higher education along with the packaging and branding of our educational programmes to global students we can make India a global education hub.
“We will have to conduct outreach programmes all over the world to attract more and more foreign students,” he said. But he noted that the quality of faculty and higher education infrastructure would have to rise to global standards in order to attract foreign students.
India already has a number of education clusters of institutions in certain key cities, where some institutions have expensive facilities including well-equipped laboratories, although others do not. To develop them into education hubs, “they need to pool resources”, Jaitley said.
He suggested establishing a task force at national level with units in all higher education institutions to attract students from all over the world. Institutions should set their goals and the task force can play a supporting role in achieving those goals through appropriate funding, creating consortiums and conducting outreach programmes in different parts of the world to lure foreign students.
Amit Khare, secretary of human resource development for higher education in the ministry of education, said NEP 2020 envisaged arrangements between different institutions located near each other, and pointed to cities such as Tirupati in Andhra Pradesh, Pune in Maharashtra and Chandigarh in Punjab where clusters of institutions could offer courses whose credits can be exchanged and laboratory facilities could be shared.
Khare said higher education internationalisation under NEP 2020 was aimed at improving the quality of higher education in the country, and also to encourage Indian institutions to go abroad.
International offices in institutions
But, to attract foreign students within India, the government was pushing for international offices in institutions to attract large numbers of foreign students. “We are starting with 20 institutions within this current financial year,” Khare said, “and we will expand it further.”
Student and faculty exchange that used to happen on an ad hoc basis “is being institutionalised”, Khare said, to promote exchanges and academic collaboration between countries, with 22 countries already identified by the ministry. The next step is to encourage arrangements for students and faculty to do a semester abroad and attract foreign students and faculty for a semester in India.
Many foreign students “would like to have one or two semesters and then go back to their own country for the other semesters”, Khare said. That flexibility is written into NEP 2020 with multiple entry-exit options in the course of a degree, and an academic bank of credit. Twinning arrangements will follow.
Khare welcomed the idea of a task force outlined by Jaitly. He said that, if credits were to be shared, for example, between IIT Kharagpur and institutions, say, in Singapore, task forces would be able to work out what could be shared or equivalent arrangements made.
Semester abroad and credit transfer
Virendra Kumar Tewari, director at IIT Kharagpur, underlined that “NEP 2020 encourages internationalisation both inbound and outbound, through semester away and credit transfer programmes”.
He noted that IITs like Kharagpur were not able to take foreign students at undergraduate level outside the highly competitive Joint Entrance Exam (JEE) system for the country’s 23 IITs. “We have a certain level of people from all sections of society, so we cannot take anyone from outside at the BTech level,” he said.
But IITs are making arrangements so that students can spend a semester abroad and foreign students can come to India. IIT Kharagpur was about to receive students from Kyoto, Japan to spend a semester at the institution, he said but added that “we need to do something better”, including opening up channels for international exchanges for masters and PhD students.
IIT Kharagpur “has created an NEP 2020 implementation committee and programme to attract foreign researchers to our labs,” he said.
Tewari noted that, with the need to rise to global standards and attract foreign researchers, at his institution “each department is benchmarking itself with the corresponding department in the world” as to what their position is globally, and looking at parameters to work on.
“We have to seek excellence and then only can [we] be within the top 10 or 20 in the world,” he said.
Rishikesha T Krishnan, director of the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Bangalore, favoured redesigning courses to make them more appealing to foreign students as they often opt for short-term courses instead of long commitments.
Krishnan said: “The biggest challenge for Indian institutes is more in terms of getting the quality of students.”
T G Sitharam, director of IIT Guwahati, said availability of internships and job opportunities would help foreign students to recoup their investments.
Prabhat Hajela, provost of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, said Indian higher education institutions must focus on developing curricula to attract foreign students.
Pradeep Khosla, chancellor of the University of California San Diego, also pointed out that Indian students were going abroad “not only for studies but also for opportunities that go past education, for example, employment opportunities or living in the country”.
“There is a large, pent-up demand in India which the existing supply cannot provide,” he added. While he described the NEP document as visionary, he noted that “what is missing is a vision for removing the bureaucracy”.
S Vaidhyasubramaniam, vice-chancellor of Sastra Deemed University, said India had the potential to attract foreign students from neighbouring countries, including South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) nations (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka).
Study in India is one of the most ambitious schemes of the government, which aims to quadruple the country’s foreign student numbers to 200,000 by 2023. The government has announced a slew of measures to attract foreign students and also pumped in INR1,500 million (about US$22 million) into schemes to help internationalise India’s higher education.
It aims to make India a favoured education destination for foreign students and enhance the soft power of the country with special focus on neighbouring countries. The Study in India scheme envisages participation of select renowned Indian institutions offering seats to foreign students at affordable rates, along with fee waivers to meritorious foreign students ranging from 25% to 100%