Times of India Jaipur: Going International

By Shakti Baijal, Dean, Mody Institute of Technology and Science, Lakshmangarh  

Right from his freshman year, my son had started making plans of pursuing his masters’ degree from a foreign university. This would be the case with many parents across the country. Unlike the conventional practice of preparing for civil services or taking up a public sector job after college, a large number of students today aspire to go abroad and earn the ‘phoren’ tag. Not surprising enough, India ‘exports’ close to 1,00,000 students annually to the States alone (Source: Project Atlas, IIE) with total number of Indian students going abroad coming around 5,00,000. Disciplines like engineering, management, aviation, hospitality and fashion are highly in demand.

Foreign education lures people for a wide variety of reasons. For some, it is the international exposure that matters. Some believe it strengthens their resume while others are of the view that it opens doors to better job opportunities in the foreseeable future. Moreover, flexibility in curriculum and interdisciplinary nature of research are two major attractions of foreign education.

But studying abroad comes with a heavy price tag. Students rely on various forms of scholarships and bank loans to pay the heavy tuition and living costs. Many students earn through part-time jobs which helps them cover their pocket money. However, that doesn’t deter today’s generation. The fact that these many students go abroad every year (and the number is on rise) is a testament that people are willing to spend. The superior quality of education and better opportunities make paying for foreign education an immediate return on investment.

So much is the craze to study abroad that even undergraduates are carrying their college internships outside India. The host countries too have shown great interest. The DAAD’s Working Internship in Science and Engineering (WISE) and MITACS’ Globalink programs are worth mentioning in this regard. They specifically target bright Indian students from select universities for 2-3 months research internships in Germany and Canada respectively, providing them with full scholarship with an aim to attract them for higher studies. They see these students as their brand ambassadors, who would spread the word among their peers. It is a word-of-mouth publicity strategy. Universities see India as a big market and our students are in an unprecedented demand.

This brings us to the question: “What is India doing to attract the international student community; more importantly, what is India doing to retain its own talent?” It is astonishing to note that India, home to a number of colleges and universities, can’t boast of a single world class university. The QS rankings, ‘THE’ rankings, ARWU etc. are a clear indicator of that. It is well known that Indian professors are underpaid when compared to their foreign counterparts. This is one of the main reasons, among many others, why people do not want to return back to India.

The government should realize that international students contribute heavily to the nation’s economy, bringing prosperity and also strengthening cultural relations. India needs to promote herself as a knowledge economy and a global soft power. We need institutions matching the might of Harvard, MIT, Columbia, Oxbridge and Berkeley for that to happen. Our tertiary education sector needs a reform. HRD ministry’s ambitious project of establishing navaratna universities or an Indian ivy league is a welcome step in this direction. However, what is much needed is revamping the existing universities. We need to remove administrative glitches and reengineer the policies that are hampering to retain our own students. If our students can perform brilliantly abroad, they can repeat the same here; provided they are given incentives, topnotch facilities, excellent infrastructure and generous funding. Let us develop world class universities in India. Moreover, we need to build cultural centers and promote the Indian education brand in other countries. People identify India with Bollywood, cricket and the IT industry but seldom with education. Increasing the number of foreign faculty, a single entrance test (like the GRE or the GMAT), simple visa process, more autonomy to the universities and revised curriculum are some immediate measures that need to be implemented to lure international students. Inter university tie-ups would facilitate student and faculty exchange and would be mutually beneficial to the parent and the host country.