News / Asia

India Woos Foreign Colleges as Population Clock Ticks

FILE - Indian students study inside the Delhi University campus in New Delhi.
FILE - Indian students study inside the Delhi University campus in New Delhi.
When 19-year old Pavitra Singh, one of the 20 million students currently studying at India's many colleges and universities, gets her degree in two years' time, she fears it will not be enough to secure a job.
Indian employers tend to agree. Many say graduates from local universities are often unemployable because job seekers do not have the skills they want. This feeling is one of the reasons New Delhi is trying to fast-track legislation to allow foreign colleges, which have so far been largely shut out of India, to open their own campuses in the country.
On the cusp of a boom in its working-age population, India is racing against time to raise the quality of its education to prevent a demographic dividend from turning into a demographic curse.
“It is absolutely urgent,” said Tobias Linden, the World Bank's lead education specialist in India. “The people who will make up the youth bulge have already been born. This is not a hypothetical situation. They might just be one, or two, or three years old now, but taking action to help them when they become 18 - those moves have to start now.”
Over the next two decades, Asia's third-largest economy will add up to 300 million people to its workforce, an increase equivalent to almost the entire population of the United States.
That prospect offers hope that India, currently struggling with its weakest economic growth in a decade, can finally follow in the footsteps of the likes of China and the Asian Tigers.
A generation ago, these countries made good use of their growing workforces by training young people and putting them to work in export-orientated manufacturing, generating economic growth that was the envy of the world.
Best Chance
India's working-age population will not peak until 2035, in contrast to China, where the working-age population topped out this year, brokerage Espirito Santo Securities says. Labor forces in South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore will peak in the next five years.
Such demographic factors offer India “the most compelling conditions for economic growth the country will, we argue, ever have”, the brokerage said in a report. “Yet demographics are not destiny.”
Attracting foreign colleges to open campuses in India is one solution for a university system that India's planning commission says is “plagued by a shortage of well trained faculty, poor infrastructure and outdated and irrelevant curricula.”
Despite a surplus of workers, employers across sectors say local universities do a poor job of preparing graduates for working life. None of India's universities feature in the world's top 200, the 2013/14 rankings by the London-based education group Quacquarelli Symonds show, versus seven from China.
Furthermore, many Indian universities rely on rote-learning and fail to teach the “soft skills” that are increasingly important in India, where the services sector has driven the economic growth of the last two decades, recruiters and students say.
“We don't learn here - we are just taught to mug up, so it's hard for us when we go out to find jobs,” said Singh, an undergraduate at one of the country's largest private colleges, Amity University, referring to the teaching style employed across India.
“I'm worried that when I get to my first internship, I won't know how to do anything,” Singh continued.
Foreign universities have been largely shut out of India; they are only allowed to open research centers, teach non-academic courses or offer degree courses with a local partner.
Now, the government wants to offer them the more lucrative option of opening their own campuses.
India's Ministry of Human Resources and Development is trying to issue what is in effect an executive order, which would leapfrog a bill that has been stuck in parliament since 2010, just one of the casualties of a legislative logjam that has paralyzed Indian policymaking over the last two years.
Despite skepticism from many institutions that India will be able to change its game with elections looming by next May, some foreign universities are keen to push ahead with campuses.
“A campus in India has always been our vision and that is our plan,” said Guru Ghosh, the vice president for outreach and international affairs at Virginia Tech.
Virginia Tech plans to launch a research center near the southern Indian city of Chennai in spring 2014, and hopes to set up a campus within 3-5 years if the rules do in fact change, according to Ghosh.
Under the proposed rules, non-profit foreign universities that area among the top 400 worldwide would be able to open campuses. The rules need a final sign-off from the law ministry, which could take up to three months, according to R.P. Sisodia, joint secretary for higher education at the Ministry of Human Resources and Development.
While India has dithered, other Asian countries have moved ahead, with foreign universities in Malaysia and Singapore already attracting Indian students.
Spokespeople for Stanford University, the University of Chicago, Duke University and the U.K.'s University of Northampton told Reuters they had no plans for a campus in India, even though they all have or plan to have research centers or offer courses on a local campus.
“The environment has not been a welcoming one thus far and people have looked elsewhere,” said Vincenzo Raimo, the director of the international office at Britain's University of Nottingham, which has campuses in China and Malaysia. “Anyone who's going to open there [India] needs to be brave.”
Foreign colleges could enroll only a tiny portion of India's students, but their presence would put pressure on domestic counterparts to improve, higher education experts say.
India's planning commission has set a target of creating 10 million more university places in the next few years and boosting funds for the top domestic universities to try to elevate them to the ranks of the world's top 200 by 2017.
If India fails to harness its population boom over the next two decades, its demographics could be “a disaster - not a dividend”, Espirito Santo said.
“A major shortage of jobs in the economy, or a skills mismatch, would create a young, angry and frustrated population,” its report said.

You May Like

US Companies Pledge Action on Climate Change

Goals include reducing emissions by as much as 50 percent, reducing water usage by 80 percent, and buying 100 percent renewable energy

IMF Bets on China’s Resolve to Reform

IMF announcement already raising questions about just how much Beijing is committed to such reforms

UNICEF: Hidden Epidemic of HIV Among Adolescents

Researchers warn that Asia Pacific nations facing sharp rise in incidence of HIV among adolescents

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?i
Carol Pearson
November 29, 2015 1:23 PM
The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?

The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video Political Motives Seen Behind Cancelled Cambodian Water Festival

For the fourth time in the five years since more than 350 people were killed in a stampede at Cambodia’s annual water festival, authorities canceled the event this year. Officials blamed environmental reasons as the cause, but many see it as fallout from rising political tensions with a fresh wave of ruling party intimidation against the opposition. David Boyle and Kimlong Meng report from Phnom Penh.

Video African Circus Gives At-Risk Youth a 2nd Chance

Ethiopia hosted the first African Circus Arts Festival this past weekend with performers from seven different African countries. Most of the performers are youngsters coming form challenging backgrounds who say the circus gave them a second chance.

Video US Lawmakers Brace for End-of-Year Battles

U.S. lawmakers are returning to Washington for Congress’ final working weeks of the year. And, as VOA's Michael Bowman reports, a full slate of legislative business awaits them, from keeping the federal government open to resolving a battle with the White House over the admittance of Syrian refugees.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video After Terrorist Attacks, Support for Refugees Fades

The terrorists who killed and injured almost 500 people around Paris this month are mostly French or Belgian nationals. But at least two apparently took advantage of Europe’s migrant crisis to sneak into the region. The discovery has hardened views about legitimate refugees, including those fleeing the same extremist violence that hit the French capital. Lisa Bryant has this report for VOA from the Paris suburb of Cergy-Pontoise

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

As Thailand takes in the annual Loy Krathong festival, many ponder the country’s future and security. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs