Out of the numerous challenges our country is facing, one problem with which most readers can relate themselves to is the issue of higher education. The quality of higher education is poor and equitable access to higher education is absent. No doubt, it is a disease which demands our attention and a cure at the earliest.
The Quack’s Cure
Utilising the services of highly educated Netas, the Indian government set about finding the cure. They finally found the problem:
- Lack of sufficient number of colleges
- Lack of infrastructure (both human and otherwise)
- Lack of quality education providers, viz., faculty
The Indian government, on identifying the problem, went to consult a quack (much like the three wise men of 300, but I am not sure about the oracle). The quack’s cure was simple and straightforward:
Do what I’ve been preaching since 1991. Chant the mantra of progress and reforms. Liberalise the education sector. Remove the restrictions on FDI.
The Netas turned into enlightened souls. They came back and hurriedly drafted a bill which allows for 100% Foreign Direct Investment in the education sector. You know the drill. The Netas next speak about the miracle cure they just found and how it is going to cure our curse:
- Foreign institutes would invest in the country’s education sector and thus the higher education sector would get expanded in India.
- Indian students will be able to get quality education at cheaper rates, and that too in their own country.
- With competition increasing, the overall level and quality of education would improve.
- Teachers in countries like the USA get as salary up to four times what the teachers in India get. Now, there are prospects of much better salaries accruing to Indian teachers as well.
- A considerable section of Indian students go abroad to get foreign degrees. Now, as they would have comparable institutes in India itself, their emigration would stop and the outflow of foreign exchange will stop or at least come down.
Ideally, I would have liked to go through each miracle and point out the fallacy. But I need to make sure my readers don’t runaway. I will try to be as brief as possible (you see, the important phrase is “as brief as possible” ;-)).
The ministry states that removing FDI caps will lead to the setting up of more than 800 universities and 35,000 colleges. It’s only a fool who relies purely on numbers to assess the quality of anything, forget education. You don’t argue that Sachin is the best simply because he scored more than 80 tons. Some things transcend numbers. Simply increasing the number of colleges WILL NOT RESULT IN EQUITABLE ACCESS. For example, almost one-third of engineering seats in Tamil Nadu were left unfilled because the fees were unaffordable. That is more than 31,000 seats.(Ref:http://www.indiastudychannel.com/resources/80883-VACANT-OF-ENGG-SEATS-IN-TN-s-PVT-COLLEGES.aspx)
The bill DOES NOT have any provisions to regulate the fees of these foreign guests. Nor does it have the power over the courses offered. Another illusion is with respect to quality itself. It has been the case with the Indian mindset that anything western is inherently of better quality. Simply importing the western education system into our country will not improve the quality. Education is something which represents the culture of the land as well. Education is something which is tailored to suit the needs of the society. One can’t wear a trouser stitched for somebody else.
The proposed bill also speaks of an increase in the salary to the teachers. Good news. And an even better news: We are going to kill the IITs/IIMs. The salaries paid to faculty in the foreign universities will lure away all (almost) the faculty from the prestigious institutions of our country. Who would want to work as a professor for a paltry 70,000/- when they are offered 2,00,000/- elsewhere?? (Hey, those figures are per month.) One could argue that the government might consider increasing the salary in IITs as well. Remember that this will mean the government will be forced to engage in a wage-war with MNCs using taxpayers’ money.
Now that the IITs/IIMs are killed off, let us proceed to the miracle of cheaper education. Taken at face value, this appears to be true. Look beneath. Cheaper? Yes. Compared to the cost of education in a foreign country. Cheaper compared to the cost of education in IIT ? Think for yourself. Let me quote the example of IIITs. IIIT is a world-class institute and on-par with the IITs. But the cost of education is roughly 10 times that of the IITs. Think of what a foreign university charges. Hey, you no longer have the IITs to study at, they have already been killed. So, you wanna study, you gimme what I demand. Yes, one can take loans. Every bank offers loan to a student who gets into those foreign universities. Looks like the Indian govt is working over-time to secure the interests of ICICI and others.
According to the National Knowledge Commission report, around 1,60,000 students are leaving the country every year for higher education. Will they stop if the foreign universities establish their colleges here? I don’t know the answer.
Let’s face it. Two decades after opening up the education sector, education has been commoditised and the sector has been turned into an industry. We have seen the case with deemed universities. The example of deemed universities and their catastrophic failure in increasing the quality and accessibility of education is so well documented that I need not go through it again. We all know the exorbitantly high fees charged by these education industries.
Let me sign-off by quoting Wall Street Journal:
Foreign universities have been lobbying for years to enter India unobstructed. Blair Sheppard, dean of Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business said he would establish master’s degree programs there “in a heartbeat” if the restrictions are lifted.
Given the U.S. economy and shrinking endowments, colleges may need incentives from the government of India to be able to afford to open.
Why were they lobbying for years?? Why are they afraid of the restrictions?? And what does the last quote mean?
It’s not the time to think. It’s the time to act.