[lg policy] India Struggles to Become a Destination for Foreign Students
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Tue Jul 7 15:16:49 UTC 2009
>>From the issue dated July 10, 2009
India Struggles to Become a Destination for Foreign Students
New government efforts may help, but only a handful of institutions
have had success so far
By SHAILAJA NEELAKANTAN
When Chen Jing and her classmates arrived in India two years ago they
were shocked to discover that their university served meat only twice
a week. "In China we eat meat daily," says Ms. Chen, who in May
completed a bachelor's degree program run jointly by Wuhan University,
in China, and the Vellore Institute of Technology. After a number of
students complained, the Vellore institute not only began serving meat
daily, but also flew chefs in from China to cook for the students.
"Now we get meat every day. Chicken, beef, pork, fish, everything,"
says Ms. Chen, smiling.
Not so long ago, Ms. Chen and her friends might have been told to lump
it. Indian universities had not historically done much to recruit
foreign students, or to help the few that they had adjust to life in
India. But in recent years, that has begun to change — if slowly. A
handful of Indian institutions, like Vellore, are making an effort to
welcome international students to their campuses. And the government
of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, a former professor, has begun to
apply India's first comprehensive strategy to woo foreign students. It
is part of Mr. Singh's vision to make India a global knowledge hub.
Yet academics and policy makers alike agree that India has a long way
to go to achieve that goal. Fewer than 22,000 degree-seeking foreign
students enrolled in Indian universities in 2007-8, according to the
Association of Indian Universities. By contrast, China attracts more
than 200,000 foreign students each year, most on short-term
study-abroad programs. And the United States enrolls more than 600,000
foreign students in its higher-education institutions.
India's official numbers are somewhat misleading in that the
university association does not track short-term study-abroad students
in India. Even so, academics here say that the country must make some
changes if it hopes to significantly increase the number of
international students coming to India. They include, most
importantly, improving the quality of higher education, promoting the
country's academic programs abroad more professionally, and creating
more short-term immersion courses on Indian culture, as Chinese
universities have done with their own culture.
Capitalizing on Strengths
As the Vellore Institute of Technology demonstrates, strategic
planning and a welcoming attitude can also go a long way to helping
internationalize a campus. This fall the institute will enroll about
700 students from China.
G. Viswanathan, founder and chancellor of the Vellore institute, a
private engineering college that is highly regarded by Indian
industry, is an ardent believer in the benefits of international
education and has been one of the driving forces behind his campuses'
links with China.
"Their youngsters must now have interactions with our youngsters
because both our countries form a quarter of world," he says. "We can
share a lot. We are strong in software, and they are strong in
hardware. If we put our energies together, there is a synergy, and we
can dominate the world."
Mr. Viswanathan was approached in late 2003 by Sathya Moorthy,
chairman of the Sino-India Education & Technology Alliance, with a
proposal to start a joint degree program in which Chinese students
would study for two years in China and two years in India.
The alliance — a quasi-governmental body promoted by the Chinese
government — has cemented similar arrangements between 12 universities
in India and 18 Chinese universities. Beginning with about 200 Chinese
students in 2004, the program now brings about 2,500 Chinese students
to India each year.
"By 2010 we expect more than 5,000 Chinese students to be studying in
India," says Mr. Moorthy, who is Indian by birth but has spent the
past 21 years in China. "It could be an even bigger explosion than
Other foreign students at Indian universities come mainly from Iran,
the United Arab Emirates, Nepal, Ethiopia, and Saudi Arabia. Most of
the Chinese students in India enroll in computer-science or
English-language programs, two major Indian strengths that prompt many
academics to believe that India could eventually become a global
"I was very interested in computers, and India is famous for its
information-technology industry, and also English is official
language," says Jiaqi Huang, a Chinese student, explaining why he
chose to enroll at Vellore. "My English has improved a lot now."
A Failure of Leadership
That India is not already a major destination for international
students, academics say, is a failure of the national government.
"We are not selling ourselves as a high-quality education hub," said
Nayanjot Lahiri, dean of colleges and a professor of history at the
University of Delhi.
A number of academics point to China's success in recruiting foreign
students as an example of what a country can do when political leaders
make internationalization a priority.
Following its entry into the World Trade Organization in 2001, China
laid out ambitious plans to recruit more international students and
succeeded in reaching its goals. It now aims to bring in half a
million foreign students each year by 2020.
"There is a very concerted effort by the Chinese government to attract
international students," said Pawan Agarwal, who wrote Indian Higher
Education: Envisioning the Future, and has worked at India's
university regulator, the University Grants Commission.
Some of India's indifference toward foreign students is due to a
simple lack of capacity. Only about 10 percent of Indian 18to
24-year-olds even make it to college, and the government has been
expending a great deal of energy and money on expanding the
higher-education system to better serve its own citizens.
"We are already saturated with students," said S.K. Vij, dean of
student affairs at the University of Delhi. "If we were to make an
effort to attract more foreign students, we would have no problem
getting them. As it is, we are inundated with applications from
Yet some institutions have been able to expand their foreign-student
enrollments in ways that help, not hurt, their domestic programs.
The University of Pune, which is supported by the government of the
western Indian state of Maharashtra, enrolls 4,000 foreign students
across hundreds of affiliated colleges and institutes. When foreign
students enrolled in short-term courses are included, that figure
rises to 15,000. They hail from more than 102 countries.
Attracting foreign students has been a major focus of the university's
vice chancellor, Narendra Jadhav, a noted economist who has served as
adviser to an executive director of the International Monetary Fund.
The university has spent a lot of money to build a separate
international-students building for administrative affairs, construct
several dormitories for foreign students, and expand its programs and
course offerings to attract more foreign students.
And yet, "we are not just breaking even but making money," says
Vasudha Garde, director of the university's International Students
At Pune, foreign students are charged higher tuition than Indian
students are. The additional revenue has helped the university
increase the number of courses offered to all students.
Some academics say the best way to raise India's international profile
is to start small, with short-term cultural-immersion courses. While
some universities offer Indian-language programs for foreign students,
few provide courses on the country's economy, politics, culture,
history, and geography.
"Students from the U.S. and Europe want to come here for exposure at
the undergraduate level, so they want to come for short courses for
four to six weeks," said Anitha Kurup, an associate professor at the
National Institute of Advanced Studies, in Bangalore. "They don't want
to come for full degrees. If we developed short modular courses, we
could serve them much better."
The University of Hyderabad, a graduate institution, adopted this
approach in the late 1980s.
"We felt that it was time to internationalize as the interest in India
had begun to grow," said Prakash C. Sarangi, the university's director
of international affairs.
Hyderabad was the first university in India to start a comprehensive
program for foreign students looking for short-term study options.
This past spring semester, 63 students from American and European
colleges enrolled in the university's short-term courses. The
university enrolls another 58 foreign students in its master's and
Hyderabad tries to attract students by attending international
higher-education fairs. "But we have not really done full-scale
marketing," Mr. Sarangi admits.
Getting the Word Out
Marketing is, in fact, a big problem for Indian universities. Few do
it, or do it well, and until recently the government has provided
little support for international-recruitment activities.
Tellingly, not a single Indian university was represented in the
exhibit halls of the annual conference of Nafsa: Association of
International Educators, which was held in May in Los Angeles. The
conference, which drew about 7,000 attendees, is considered one of the
best venues through which foreign universities can promote themselves
as study-abroad destinations. Universities from China, South Korea,
Taiwan, Singapore, and other Asian countries all had a significant
The main body through which India promotes its universities overseas
is the University Grants Commission, but it has done little to spread
the word, higher-education experts say.
No other country competing for foreign students leaves recruitment up
to a government regulatory agency, says Mr. Agarwal. India needs to
outsource that responsibility to a semi-independent professional
agency, he says.
"In other countries, either a network of institutions or a third party
is given the task," he says. "In Singapore, it is the Singapore
Tourism Board that handles foreign students' recruitment."
Mr. Agarwal says he thinks India has potential to become a destination
for cost-conscious families looking for undergraduate options. Even
though Indian universities charge foreign students five times what
they charge Indian students (tuition is slightly less for students
from the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation), it is
still less expensive than attending a university in the West.
At the Jawaharlal Nehru University, in New Delhi, a graduate
institution that attracts many students from developed countries,
students from the United States and Europe are charged $600 per
"I've got calls from friends in the U.S. wanting to send their
children to college in India for the first degree, which will be much
cheaper here," Mr. Agarwal says. "Then they can top it up with a more
expensive graduate degree in the U.S. Even if this starts as a
trickle, I have no reason to disbelieve that it won't pick up. Maybe
it will take five to 10 years."
But for India to become a serious competitor for international
students, academics agree, the country needs to improve the quality of
its higher-education offerings. A recent global evaluation of Asian
universities by QS Quacquarelli Symonds Ltd., which compiles the Times
Higher Education-QS World University Rankings, places only seven
Indian universities in the top 100. The rankings look at such criteria
as the research activity of the faculty, reputation among other
academics and employers, and faculty-student ratios.
Again, many academics in India say that China offers an example to follow.
"In the 1980s, China was way behind the rest of the world," says
Samuel Paul, a former director of the prestigious Indian Institute of
Management in Ahmedabad.
He recalls how surprised he was to find so many Chinese government
officials and academics at a management conference he attended in
China in 1987.
"I asked them why they came, and they said: 'We don't know anything.
We are so out of date, and we want to catch up with the rest of the
world.' There was a furious effort by the Chinese government from then
on to move forward," Mr. Paul says.
Mr. Singh, India's prime minister, has been trying to drive similar
higher-education reform here, with mixed success.
He has also taken steps to open Indian universities up to the rest of the world.
Last year the prime minister laid out a strategy for foreign-student
recruitment that involves both universities and governments. He has
directed all Indian embassies and universities to provide detailed and
factual information about India's educational system, the courses its
universities provide, eligibility criteria for foreign students, and
details of all documentation required to apply for admission and for
As elemental as that might seem, such information was not previously
available to students unless someone specifically asked for it.
In late May, as part of the prime minister's directive, the University
Grants Commission ordered all public universities to establish
international-student centers that will help foreign students set up
bank accounts, find apartments, and otherwise get settled.
According to Mr. Singh's directives, universities should also offer
six-month English-language-proficiency courses for foreign students
who need the help before they start their regular courses.
Mr. Singh's government was re-elected by a significant majority in
national elections this spring. And many academics feel the government
may make good on this strategy.
http://chronicle.com Section: International Volume 55, Issue 41, Page A20
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