Alongside “Make in India,” the Modi government is now attempting to project India as an attractive destination for foreign students. The “Study in India” initiative was introduced by the Ministry of Human Resource Development with the goal of projecting India as a country that has affordable and high-quality education. The secretary of the Department of Higher Education, R. Subrahmanyam, explained the initiative as follows: “We are identifying the best 150 Indian institutions, including IITs, and will offer these to the foreign students to apply. After that, merit will prevail.” These institutions would include National Institutes of Technology (NITs) and institutions recognized by the National Institute Ranking Framework and National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC).
According to the All India Survey of Higher Education (2016-2017), there were approximately 48,000 students from foreign countries in India. The survey also reported that most of the students were from neighboring South Asian nations — 23.6 percent of foreign students were from Nepal, 9.3 percent from Afghanistan, and 4.8 percent from Bhutan — with an additional 4.4 percent each from Nigeria and Sudan. There was an increase in the number of foreign students from the last time the headcount was conducted in 2013-2014, when the number stood at approximately 31,000. A UNESCO Institute of Statistics Report (2014) has reported that “India is gradually emerging as preferred destination for foreign students, particularly from the South Asian region.”
However all these statistics fade in comparison when compared to the other facets of the issue. According to a report published by the All India Survey on Higher Education (2014-2015), there are 757 universities, 38,056 colleges and 11,922 stand-alone institutions. By 2025, India will have “the largest population of college aged students” (approximately 119 million) and as reported in 2017, there are approximately half a million Indian students pursuing higher studies in foreign nations. These statistics press home the facts that the number of foreign students studying in India, at under 50,000, is very insignificant.
Thus, the Indian government’s decision to pursue the Study in India initiative is a welcome move. The increase in the number of foreign students would have many benefits, chief among them being increased economic benefits in terms of a boost in foreign wealth and skills, an increase in soft power, and the development of cordial relations with neighboring countries. It would also give a huge boost to the India’s higher education sector, which in turn would benefit the domestic students in India.
However the primary question is whether India is ready for Study in India.
A careful analysis would reveal that the lack of higher quality and competitive educational programs is one of the primary reasons for the low number of students from different nations. The quality of educational institutions in India is lacking when compared to other nations. The Time Higher Education (THE) World University Ranking (2018) found the global ranking of Indian institution slipping, while the leading universities in neighboring countries such as China, Hong Kong, and Singapore are constantly rising. Thus the only edge India has in terms of attracting student from foreign nations is geographical proximity and economical educational opportunities. This fact is substantiated by the fact that most of the students pursuing education in India are from neighboring countries.
In addition, the lack of grant opportunities and research avenues dissuades most international students from pursuing education in India. It would be fair to note that the government of India does fund approximately 70 percent of the research in the country (compared to approximately 10 percent in the United States), but the gross mismanagement of allocated funds and the lack of review system means much is wasted. Industrial funding for targeted projects is limited, which creates fewer opportunities for domestic as well as international students.
The theoretical and one-dimensional nature of the Indian education system, when compared to the application-based system of competing neighboring countries such as China and Singapore is also one of the culprits for India being overlooked as a potential destination for education. Even HRD Minister Prakash Javadekar recently commented on the lack of innovation in the educational system when he said: “Why do we lack innovation in India? Because, we don’t allow questioning.”
There is also a certain lack of recognition of foreign qualifications and informational gap and a lack of central databases about Indian universities and the different courses offered. Such information is important as that would go a long way in helping international students to make an informed choice. As most of the premier institutions in India are operated by government, marketing strategies are needed to attract foreign students. A complex visa process and lethargic bureaucracy complicates the issue further.
Quality of life is also an important factor in consideration by international students while deciding where to pursue higher studies. A Quality of Life survey conducted by consulting firm Mercer in 2017 found that not one Indian city was in top 100 cities worldwide. Thus, a lack of quality of life combined with other factors such as a rough climate, really demotivates international student from coming to India. The job market has stagnated and a significant decrease in the number of high-paying jobs also contributes to a lack of interest in India
In recent days, a new factor has come into play, which is dissuading any potential candidate from pursuing education in India: the potential for violence against foreigners. News headlines such as “India mob strips Tanzanian student in Bangalore” in 2016 or “Attacks on Nigerian students shock India” highlight the security concerns about studying in India. The news of rampant discrimination, racism against students of African descent, and intolerance is also dampening the enthusiasm of any potential student considering to study in India.
The Study in India initiative is a perfect start and it does address a few of the shortcomings discussed above. However, India has to address all the issues discussed and more before it is ready to become an educational destination for foreign students.
Swaptik Chowdhury is a policy analyst with Swarajya and The Quint.