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Invading education

Invading education
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The Human Resource Development (HRD) ministry is all set to roll out a red carpet for cash-strapped western universities in the name of quality education in the country. The HRD ministry-headed by MM Pallam Raju and his two junior ministers — Shashi Tharoor and Jitin Prasada, has mooted a proposal for backdoor entry of foreign universities to tap the world’s largest market for higher education. The ministry is planning to bring in western varsities and educationists under the cover of the World Trade Organisation accords and the General Agreement on Trade in Services by using section 25 of the Companies Act.

It’s a matter of concern as to why the Central government preferred Companies Act rather than UGA Act to launch foreign universities in the country.

Replying to this, HRD secretary (higher education) Ashok Thakur says, ‘A bill of HRD ministry — Foreign Education Providers Bill — is pending in Parliament. On this matter, we have submitted the views of the UGC to the Law Ministry. Once the legislation will be cleared, the foreign universities would be authorised to open their campuses in the country and issue foreign degrees.’

On the query whether it will open a floodgate for western educationists, Thakur said, ‘No, it will not open any floodgate as we have added some safeguards with it like the interested university should be in the world ranking of 500 and need to deposit a corpus of Rs 25 core with the department.’
But, would it be justified to rely on the ranking establishments according to whom our premier institutions — IITs and IIMs — stand nowhere?

 The HRD secretary agrees that not a single university of the country figures in the top 200 ranking globally. But at the same time blame IITs and IIMs for not taking the ranking issue seriously despite the fact that most of the IITians and IIM passouts are recruited by western companies.

Disagreeing with the justification of Central government, former HRD minister for state Sanjay Paswan says, ‘It is not going to help in improving the quality of education in the country; rather it will diminish the value of learning.’

While advising Central government to focus on improving the infrastructe of the indigenous universities, Paswan said, ‘The HRD ministry should first improve the quality of education of our own universities, rather than opening doors for western universities.’

‘It will pose a major threat to our own education systems. The quality of education will at stake as foreign universities are expert in distributing degrees in lieu of huge money,’ the former HRD minister of state in NDA-ruled government said.

A shiver of apprehension is making its way through the somnolent groves of Indian academia, particularly through the nation’s 15,600 colleges and 311 universities which inject over two million far-from-industry-ready graduates annually into the bloodstream of the economy.

The government of India’s legal position under the WTO accords to which it is a signatory and GATS which is a subsidiary protocol under WTO, is a grey area. Several schools of opinion have differing interpretations of India’s obligations under GATS which governs reciprocal trade in 12 services including education. Some experts believe that under GATS, India is obliged to allow foreign education service providers free access into this country failing which countries denied access (e.g the US) can stymie Indian service exports (e.g software services) until the dispute is resolved by the WTO appellate tribunal. A second school of opinion believes that India is entitled to impose stiff conditions and requirements which would discourage foreign education institutions from offering their services in this country. And the dominant view is that under the WTO accords to which GATS is subsidiary, India is obliged to negotiate reasonable terms and conditions under which offshore educational institutions can enter the domestic education marketplace.

The debate on whether offshore education service providers, especially foreign universities should be freely allowed to establish subsidiaries and campuses in India gathers momentum, and the high-powered CNR Rao committee begins its deliberations, the ground zero reality is that over 130 foreign higher education service providers have already planted their flags on Indian soil via collaboration agreements with domestic institutions. They have entered into one or more of the seven types of collaboration agreements with indigenous education services providers — twinning, franchisee, study and examination centres, multiple collaborations, link programmes, programmetric collaboration and offshore campuses. Bibek Debroy, a well-known Delhi-based economist and acknowledged expert on foreign trade, is of the opinion that although India is not obliged under GATS to permit the entry of foreign education providers, it would be advisable to negotiate terms and conditions. ‘The entry of foreign universities will be good for Indian education for two compelling reasons. One, they will provide healthy competition to local institutions. And secondly, since some shady foreign institutes are already here in any case, we might as well make access for the more respectable and credible institutions easier so that the wheat can be separated from chaff. Moreover, it’s much better for foreign universities to come to India than for a growing number of Indian students to head overseas inflicting foreign exchange and brain drain losses upon the Indian economy,’ says Debroy.
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