News / Asia

Even With Green Light, Foreign Universities May Not Rush to Build in India

U.S. Ambassador Timothy Roemer at Asian Corporate Conference, New Delhi, 18 Mar 2010
U.S. Ambassador Timothy Roemer at Asian Corporate Conference, New Delhi, 18 Mar 2010

Legislation that would allow foreign universities to set up in India may not create a rush among top-flight colleges to establish campuses in the world's second most populous nation.

India's Cabinet has given its nod to allowing accredited universities from abroad to set up in the country. That might help keep some of the India's brightest at home and allow others, who cannot get seats in existing schools, to obtain a top-quality global-level education.

At present, about 160,000 Indians are studying overseas, spending an estimated $4 billion annually.

The bill is expected to be sent to the Parliament within weeks.

Some academic experts predict America's Ivy League and other elite universities will not, however, rush to India. Many schools have suffered setbacks amid the global economic downturn after establishing campuses in the United Arab Emirates and elsewhere in the Middle East in the 1990s.

During an appearance at the Asian Corporate Conference in New Delhi, U.S. Ambassador Timothy Roemer agreed that might give American colleges pause about further overseas expansion.

"Maybe instead of building campuses, maybe they're going to start by partnering with India, which India has considered very carefully in this bill, which is a good thing," he said. "Maybe instead of bricks and mortars they're going to do distance learning and use technology."

Media reports here say another aspect of the proposed legislation that could severely limit the number of foreign colleges in India is fees and other mandated costs totaling more than $70 million for each foreign school wanting to have a physical presence in the country.

Some critics contend the educational sector where India most critically needs international cooperation is at the primary and secondary level.

To that end, the World Bank has announced it is providing a $1 billion soft loan to India for education. The money, specifically, is to be used to increase the number of children enrolling in and graduating from elementary school. About one-third of the loan is to be used to improve the quality of engineering education.

Under a 2002 constitutional amendment, every Indian child has a fundamental right to education. The reality is that millions of children in the country do not go to school. And many classrooms are that in name only. Some have no teachers or lack even the most basic supplies.

World Bank officials say the billion-dollar loan will help by focusing on teacher training, as well as providing free textbooks and other learning materials.

India's economy is booming and its infrastructure is being rapidly upgraded but the country suffers from a severe skills shortage, especially with infrastructure development and information technology.

The World Bank money devoted to technical education is meant to support 200 engineering institutions and improve research and development at those schools.

Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

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