The University Grants Commission’s decision to allow foreign universities such as Harvard, Yale, and Oxford to set up branch campuses in India has created considerable excitement in the education sector. Several lakh Indian students go abroad every year, which has led to foreign exchange outflows of billions of dollars. With this move, the UGC aims to provide Indian students with world-class education at affordable prices. Another goal could be exposing Indian educational institutions to higher competition in order to raise overall standards. What will be the impact of this decision? Some predictions follow.
Studying abroad is not only about academics but the overall experience of living in a different country with its distinct culture, and, in some cases, language too. The experience is very enriching, just as it would be for a foreigner studying in India. For this reason, the more well-to-do families may continue to send their children abroad for higher studies.
There are many developed countries such as Canada and the United States where foreign university graduates get work visas (or occupational and professional training permits) ranging from one to three years. Other countries, including some in Europe such as Germany provide employment opportunities for Indian graduates who study at their universities. East Asian countries such as Japan and South Korea are also opening up to Indian talent. Therefore, in many cases, foreign education is not an end in itself, but simply a door that can lead to a career outside India.
When we lament the massive outflow of foreign exchange, we should also remember that India receives approximately $100 billion every year in remittances from non-resident Indians (NRIs). A significant percentage of NRIs left India to study abroad and then decided to settle in their host countries. In fact, most Indians who have reached senior-most positions in multinational corporations — Satya Nadella, Sundar Pichai, Indra Nooyi, Shantanu Narayen, Vikram Pandit, to name a few — went to their host countries for studies. The same is true for some of the most accomplished academics of Indian origin based in the West. These NRIs have contributed and continue to add enormously to ‘Brand India’.
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Will Harvard India be cheap?
Despite the Indian government’s ambition to provide cheaper education, the best foreign universities will not charge significantly less. New York University (NYU) charges $57,544 per year for undergraduate courses at its Abu Dhabi and Shanghai campuses, which is not very different from what it charges in New York ($60,438). These universities will insist on having the same high-quality faculty and staff at their international campuses, which is expensive. The total cost of studying in New York (including living expenses and health insurance) could be approximately $80,000 to $85,000. To the extent that living expenses will be lower in India, families may be able to save $10,000 or so, but not much more.
Tier 2 and tier 3 foreign universities may set up shop in India and charge significantly less for tuition. Students who are not able to get into the top schools in India or abroad will opt for these universities. Indian graduates of these universities may enjoy the same alumni privileges as students in the home country campus.
But will they have immigration preference in the home countries of the universities if they study at the Indian campus? We do not know for sure, but my guess would be no. Having branch campuses in India may make it easier for the foreign university to offer 2+2 or 3+1 courses for undergraduate students or 1+1 courses for postgraduate students, where students spend the initial period in India and then go to the main campus to complete their studies.
India is already at par
The best Indian universities and colleges are at par with foreign universities in terms of quality of education. The older IITs (Indian Institute of Technology), NITs (National Institute of Technology), BITS (Birla Institute Of Technology And Science), and some others fall into this category. It is unlikely that students who have been admitted to these top Indian institutions would choose either to go abroad or study in a tier 2 or tier 3 foreign university in India.
Many newer Indian universities, particularly the private ones, are striving to provide world-class education to students in India. They include Ashoka University, Shiv Nadar University, O.P. Jindal University, Flame University, and Mahindra University, to name just a few. I hope that the regulatory environment in India becomes more conducive for excellence for Indian universities also, both public and private.
Having more high-quality educational institutions in India may make it more attractive for faculty members (both NRIs and foreigners) to come to India. Having multiple employment options back home is also less risky for returnees than having only one or two. Foreign students who see studying in India as a career-enhancing move will find it easier to do so if they can study in a globally reputed educational institution.
It is good to have high-quality competition, but the regulator must ensure that there is a level playing field.
The author is Professor and Dean, School of Management, Mahindra University. He was previously Chengwei Capital Professor of Entrepreneurship at the China Europe International Business School (Shanghai).
(Edited by Humra Laeeq)