Over the past three decades, there have been three significant factors that have impacted the internationalization of higher education. Firstly, the high costs of education in developed countries have been prohibitive for many Indian students. For example, studying at prestigious universities such as Harvard, Yale, or Stanford costs approximately Rs 70 lakh per year, and studying at Oxford or Cambridge costs over Rs 55 lakh per year. These fees are 15 times more expensive than fees at Indian private universities and over 100 times more expensive than fees at most Indian public universities. These high costs would make it difficult for most people to afford studying at a foreign university. Additionally, it goes against the National Education Policy’s goal of equity and inclusion as it would only make education accessible to the super-rich.
Secondly, the cost of setting up top university campuses abroad makes the project unfeasible. The idea of maintaining consistent academic standards in both the primary and international campuses is admirable, but in reality, international campuses are often considered a second-best option, primarily accessible to those who couldn’t get into the main campus. The quality and excellence in teaching and research on overseas campuses cannot match those on the primary campus.
Thirdly, the global higher education landscape has changed drastically since the outbreak of Covid-19. The idea of physical international campuses has been replaced by solid partnerships, student and faculty mobility, exchange and immersion programs, collaborative teaching and research opportunities, conferences and publications, and the development of online and blended degree programs. The global perception of international collaborations has shifted.
India has an opportunity to be a destination for students worldwide. Instead of allowing the creation of international campuses of foreign universities, we should focus on becoming a global destination for higher education ourselves. We will not achieve our goal of becoming a global leader by inviting prestigious foreign universities to set up campuses in India. We must take the leadership role we had over 2,000 years ago, when universities such as Nalanda, Takshashila, Vallabhi and Vikramshila attracted faculty and students from around the world. We can be a world leader in providing high-quality education at an affordable cost and produce high-quality research at a relatively lower cost. For example, Indian scientists successfully completed a mission to Mars with a budget of $74 million, which is less than the production cost of a Hollywood film such as Gravity, which was $108 million.
To become a global leader in international education, India should do the following:
- Provide more autonomy to Indian universities, including Institutions of Eminence (IoE). Indian universities, both public and private, are heavily regulated and poorly governed. The habit of regulatory bodies dictating what universities should do must end. One of the more liberal, progressive, and even radical public policy initiatives has been the creation of IoE, but this policy has not been fully implemented to achieve its objectives. The government must pay more attention to the IoEs and expand their scope and scale so they become natural destinations for international students.
- Establish global universities in India led by the public and private sector to meet the needs and aspirations of international students. India’s Gross Enrollment Ratio (GER) is uneven. The national GER is around 22%, but some states, such as Tamil Nadu, have a GER of 52%. We must build more public and private universities across the country, with more autonomy, resources, and better governance structures, minimizing the role of regulatory bodies. All states should create Special Education Zones (SEZs) and host universities that are globally oriented and have a global outlook.
- Provide more resources to Indian universities and not only focus on selected centrally established institutions.