The National Education Policy-2020 (NEP-2020), the fourth since Independence, was rolled out in July 2020 and has led to intense discussion on school and higher education. The most challenging aspect of the policy is the implementation of even those aspects on which there is some sort of consensus. The earlier education policies (1968, 1986 and the 1986 revised in 1992) were lauded as documents with clear vision. However, these policies could not yield much due to faulty implementation.
There are many provisions in the policy for improving the quality of higher education. For the first time, internationalisation of higher education has been highlighted as an objective. One such provision is to invite the top 100 World Class Universities to open international branch campuses (IBCs) in India. The underlying assumption is to raise the standard of research and teaching to international levels and slow down the out-bound mobility of Indian students. The biggest challenge would be the inclination of top universities to establish a campus in India. Not many such universities have such policies in place. At the same time, many universities are yearning to turn truly global and hold institutional mobility as a prerequisite.
Internationalisation of higher education in India has a pre-history. Many top foreign universities collaborate with Indian higher education institutions such as IITs and central universities for research and knowledge transfer. The collaboration has been strengthened by government’s schemes such as GIAN and SPARC. Conventional wisdom dictates that the existing research and academic collaborations between foreign and Indian institutions would facilitate the entry of IBCs in India.
To explore the potential of the policy of branch campuses and gauge the mood of top universities’ interest in India, a series of conversations have been held with experts, academic administrators and global heads of foreign universities. The discussions throw up interesting points. Top foreign universities are willing to respond positively provided there is sufficient clarity in areas essential for operationalisation of branch campuses in India. Interestingly, such universities are not looking forward to state sponsored infrastructure of the kind that the Dubai Knowledge Hub has offered — ready to move in campus, office space, and other facilities. A closer look at the IBCs suggests that these campuses are driven by the desire to accumulate profit in the manner of business enterprises. This implies that India will have to allow IBCs to repatriate income. The outflow of the money may not necessarily be 100 per cent of what these universities earn in India, but it will have to be a significant amount. As of now, there does not seem to be a viable model to balance the ploughing back of the resources earned in India and cash remittances to the parent university.
A key issue in the internationalisation of higher education is the preference for subjects and the areas of research considered rewarding. Social sciences and humanities do not generally figure in the imagination of decision makers — they are not seen as profitable ventures. There does seem to be a heartening change in this respect. However, here, and in a much greater measure compared to the science and business-oriented courses, foreign institutions demand more autonomy in framing and changing curriculum, daily functioning of the institution, the freedom to say no to industries, and even in the manner the institution is branded. The favourably inclined foreign universities also expect to be treated on par with Indian institutions in matters of government funding and scholarships. In return, they are willing to implement the Indian policy of social inclusion in higher education in their IBCs.
A related aspect of internationalisation of higher education is India’s keen interest on increasing the inflow of foreign students. The Study in India programme was launched in April 2018 with generous scholarships. Top universities encourage their students to go abroad for a semester or a year. Exposure to multiple cultures, subjects and pedagogies is deemed to be an asset and part of cultural capital. India is no doubt a potential destination for such study abroad experiences although it must be admitted that it is not happening on a large scale. The establishment of IBCs in India would gel well with the Indian quest for the in-bound mobility of students and scholars. The international standards maintained by the IBCs would be attractive enough for international students to explore and experience Indian education and culture.
This article first appeared in the print edition on January 22, 2021 under the title ‘After the offer letter’. The writer is Deputy Adviser, Unit for International Cooperation, National Institute of Educational Planning and Administration, New Delhi. Views expressed are personal.