Money-first Indian collaborations won’t pay off

If Western universities don’t respond to India’s opening up in the way envisaged, a clampdown could quickly follow, warns Peter Brady

May 20, 2022
Indian banknotes in a small shopping trolley
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It’s big news: as part of its recently published new National Educational Policy, India is to allow foreign universities to open campuses. News maybe – but hardly new.

In 2010, I wrote an article for Times Higher Education on the very same subject. Back then, The Foreign Educators Providers Bill had been working its slow way through India’s legislative process – it had been proposed as far back as 2004. The bill was intended to allow “top” foreign universities access to the Indian education system. But it failed because it was opposed by the BJP – the party which, having been in power since 2014, is now proposing something similar.

It didn’t really matter. Due to the nature of democratic processes in a coalition government, so many concessions had been made that it was unlikely foreign universities would have been interested anyway.

This time around, the regulations are bypassing parliament and should at least be finalised. But the nature of Indian politics has not changed; negotiations are never completely finished.

The National Educational Policy 2020 is considered a landmark, transformational initiative. A major aim is to make Indian higher education less inward-facing. Attracting foreign campuses are part of this, but the opening of a campus overseas is for the brave and rich few.

More importantly, India has simplified the regulations for joint and dual degree awards with foreign partners. It has decentralised them, allowing individual Indian universities the autonomy to pursue such partnerships. Not since 2003, when China opened up for joint degrees, has there been an opportunity with such potential.

It is not just that it will open up a new transnational education market for Western universities. It will also open up a home recruitment market. The new regulations for joint and dual awards insist that at least 30 per cent of any such qualification must be conducted in the foreign country.

It would be easy for Western universities to follow the same system as they first used in China: minimum effort and maximum profit. At home, they defined their relationship with Chinese Universities as articulations. But in China, they applied to the ministry for joint programmes.

UK universities developed 2+2 and 3+1, programmes, whereby in order to gain the UK award the students had to spend significant time in the UK. Quality issues and undue expense were avoided by the fact that the Chinese students simply articulated into existing programmes. Meanwhile, there was minimal input from (or costs accrued by) the UK partner in China.

By 2007, 210 out of 280 programmes approved operated this way. This all worked well for UK universities, but it was not what the ministry had planned. They wanted their in-country students to be able to gain international educational experience. So they tightened the regulations to ensure that the foreign university was actually providing its programme in-country.

Universities entering joint awards in China now have to commit to significant teaching in China. They have to allow a 4+0 option and, in an increasing number of cases, have to develop a joint college, over which the Chinese partner has the majority of control.

When developing a new India strategy, universities should keep this in mind. The Indian government is not looking for 4+0 options, but if it feels that Indian institutions are being used by foreign universities and that its aim of internationalising home students is being thwarted, new, tighter regulations could be enforced. These would probably require Western universities to invest significantly more resource in-country than their initial business models accounted for.

Moreover, it is not only the Indian government’s response that Western universities will have to consider when developing an India strategy. They also need to consider domestic political aspirations.

For instance, the introduction of the graduate visa routes in 2021 means that India must be seen as one of the most attractive recruitment targets in the world to UK universities. But they must be careful.

The largest number of students using the previous Post Study Work (PSW) scheme were from India, and when it was revoked in 2012, the number of Indian student studying in the UK shrank 70 per cent (from 51,000 to 15,000). The PSW visa was disbanded in part because a survey by the UK Border Agency found that less than 25 per cent of PSW holders were in posts designated as skilled work. It appeared that many Indian students were using the PSW simply as a means to pay back the money they had spent to get the degree in the first place, rather than pursue the kinds of graduate careers the government had anticipated, thus contributing to the economy. And universities were heavily discounting their programmes to encourage such lower-ambition students.

Most senior staff remember the hole in their finances that the revoking of PSW left. And, given the strength of anti-immigration feeling in the UK’s ruling Conservative Party, it is not unfeasible that if universities were seen to be using the new Graduate Visa scheme in the same way, that scheme could also find itself facing criticism, or even closure.

The message is plain. If Western universities develop a new India strategy where money comes first, it is likely to be short-term. Doing the right thing for India and Indian students is the most sensible approach, as well as the most ethical.

Peter Brady is director of the independent higher education consultancy J & P Brady.

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Reader's comments (1)

Having some experience of this, the article is spot on. What good universities in these countries are looking for is long term collaboration that works for both. You only need to look around the those on boards of many global companies to see how far these universities have come. If western universities think they are just after the name or see this as another way to get into the market to get more international students, think again. Many institutions in countries like India and China have the money and the human capital and are willing to invest in a long-term relationship, while many western collaborators are short term and motivated purely by money. That wont wash. Of course quality of institutions both in terms of governance and outputs vary quite a lot. So care in needed in deciding who collaborate with. There are many excellent insitutions outside the IIMs and IITs too, use the expertise of academics from those regions to make sure you are getting into the right relationships.


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