Monday Motivation: Looking Beyond the Education Ecosystem

10,000,00 Indian students are studying in universities outside of India, while only 50,000 foreign students come to study in Indian universities! Doesn’t speak well, right?

However, there was a time when India was considered the Vishwaguru in the field of education, as 1500 years ago, when thousands of students from across the world came to study at Indian Universities such as Takshila and Nalanda.

Later, during the British rule in India, the British established three universities; the Madras University, the Bombay University and the Calcutta University. This was done primarily to create a labour force to serve the British. However, post-independence, the focus was on massification of education so as to make the Indian population literate and educated. During this period, the number of foreign students in India started to decrease as the Indian government was not focused on attracting foreign students to India. After 1991, during the liberalization, globalization and privatization movement, the focus shifted to internationalization of higher education. However, we did not pick the pace that the US or the UK did in aggressively marketing their higher education systems to the world!

Nonetheless, at the moment, we have students from 175 countries studying in India. Among these, the most significant number belonged to countries around India, such as Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Sudan, Tanzania, Maldives, Malaysia, Myanmar, Yemen, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia & Iran. India’s popularity as the Educational hub started growing in the Afro Asian region.

The poignant question is why then we did not see a phenomenal rise of foreign students in India? Why do we require foreign students in our classrooms? Is it just to increase the numbers because other developed countries have many foreign students, or is it something more? Such important questions bring forth the need for holistic education in our classrooms to create global citizenship and an education that prepares students to accept diversity and create inclusivity. It is not only what the professors teach in the classrooms but the conversations among diverse students that help shape the students’ mindsets.

I look forward to the times when India can once again attain the position of Vishwaguru, but I also see the need to take concrete steps to help achieve this goal. The Indian Ecosystem needs to incorporate specific changes:

1) liberalization of foreign student visas so that students from developing countries and developed countries can come to India.

2) Design and offer focused programs for foreign students from developed countries based on the Indian knowledge systems and Yoga, Ayurveda etc., likewise programmes in Agribusiness, Health sciences for African students.

3) Provision of post-study work visas, even if it is for a short period of 6 months to a year.

For all practical purposes, a student does not only pursue higher education to amass knowledge but also to experience the job market, more so the Indian corporate world which is so attractive for foreign students. It is quite the same for Indian students who travel to other countries for higher education. They do not study at the best universities but sometimes study in even lesser-known ones, but they want to study in US and UK so that they eventually get jobs in the global corporate world.

4) Acceptance of foreign students by the Indian community. As much as education is important, it is equally important to create a safe and inclusive environment for foreign students by the city or society that they study in. At times we see African students being discriminated against because of their colour or students from South Asian countries being discriminated against as they may not be able to speak English that fluently. Such non-academic factors also affect foreign students adversely.

All these factors eventually mean that the entire ecosystem in India needs to change to accept and attract foreign students. The ecosystem must be inclusive and accept students of different castes, religions and colours. The industry, too, has to change and be welcoming and open to giving internships or work for at least six months to a year. There needs to be policy changes and an inter-ministerial approach between Education Ministry, Home Ministry and Ministry of External Affairs.  If the entire ecosystem changes, I am sure there will be a floodgate of foreign students coming to India.

The Hon’ble Prime Minister has brought India global accolades, and India is being recognized internationally. Several international organizations such as Microsoft, Google and even the World Bank are being led by Indian leadership such as Satya Nadella, Sundar Pichai and Ajay Banga, respectively, which reposes the faith of millions of students across the globe, in the Indian education system.

As an educationist and a supporter of internationalization of higher education, I am sure that a change in the entire ecosystem will poise India once again at the pinnacle of educational success and earn us the title of Vishwaguru.