Nuclear deal to retail reform, the BJP and the Left have been on the same obstructionist page on several key issues. So it’s no surprise they have also matched decibels bashing the idea of letting foreign educational institutions establish campuses in India, as proposed in the Foreign Educational Institutions (Regulation of Entry and Operation) Bill 2010 that’s now being discussed. Expectedly, objections have also come from the SP, BSP and RJD, parties that rarely shy away from competitive populism. Disappointingly, JNU‘s newly appointed vice-chancellor has reportedly joined this chorus. The anti-Bill lobby argues that education will suffer if deep-pocketed overseas players come in. It’s contended the latter will upset prevailing systems of curricula and fees, while stealing away the best teachers from domestic institutes by offering better pay and facilities.
The fact, however, is that quality higher education suffers a demand-supply mismatch. Opening up will bring it within reach of greater numbers of Indians, at home and more affordably. With scholars accessing greater choice and better infrastructure and research facilities, brain drain can be reduced as also billions of dollars in funds outflow. Indian institutions will have to improve standards and services and so are likely to demand and wrest greater autonomy. We’ll also improve our poor student-teacher ratio. Courted on the job market, academia will get more professionalised. That means teaching will draw more talent and recruits. Finally, instead of belabouring higher education’s supposed ‘elitist’ bias, why not give more scholarships and loans to needy students? Recall the loud opposition in the past to exposing India’s economy to foreign competition. Yet IndiaInc didn’t do as well when politically coddled as after it took on the challenge. With increased efficiency, productivity and competitiveness, our industry today compares with the world’s best. Liberalise it, and higher education will soar as well.