Should India provide scaffold to them? Foreign University Bill

IT is not a coincidence that the Cabinet has approved the Foreign Universities Bill around 100 years after the publication of the booklet on Hind Swaraj written by Mahatma Gandhi (it was written by him in 1908 on his return voyage from London and published serially in the columns of the Indian opinion edited by him). Then within a year it was published in a book form to be proscribed by the then Bombay government. In response to the Bombay government’s action, he published the English translation.

He says in that fascinating book:  “The English have not taken India; we have given it to them. They are not in India because of their strength but because we keep them. Hence it is truer to say that we gave India to the English than that India was lost.” (Mahatma Gandhi: Collected works Volume 10 August 5, 1909 to April 1910).

Human Resources Minister has claimed that the impact of the Foreign Universities Bill will be more revolutionising than the spectrum allocation and mobile phone. We only hope that he is talking about the outcome and not the scandals!

These institutions (which are expected to set up shop here) in the UK and the USA are broke and many departments are getting closed.

To quote from a recent article in The Economist: “No one should go broke because they chose to go to college,” Barack Obama said in January in his state-of-the-union speech. But American college students worry they might, thanks to recent fee increases at technical colleges and universities.

On March 4, students and disgruntled faculty staged protests at around 100 campuses in over 30 states, calling on state legislators and university administrators to put a halt to recent tuition fee hikes and funding cuts. In Oakland, California, student protesters marched on to a big highway and stopped the traffic. Elsewhere students carried coffins to symbolize the death of affordable education.

According to the Centre on Budget and Policy Priorities, a think tank, at least 39 states have decreased their funding for public colleges and universities or increased their tuition charges. In California some public universities have increased fees by more than 30 per cent. At the same time they are cutting back on their offerings.

Many have tried to save money by laying off staff, closing academic departments and reducing the number of classes offered. Some are admitting more out-of-state students who pay higher fees. Several institutions have also started to cut the number of students they enroll in order to save money. Britain is much worse. In the post- Thatcher era, the universities are struggling due to reduced state funding and inability to increase the fees. Recently, Cambridge announced that its doors will be thrown open to public during summer, of course, for a price.

Another important reason provided by the current ruling groups and the  spin master sepoys in  the media is that it will help lakhs of youngsters who are going abroad to pursue higher education and preserve precious foreign exchange and also prevent spurious institutions abroad luring our youngsters.

Let us analyze the different categories of youngsters and reasons for going abroad. The first is primarily to countries like Australia for skill related courses like beauticians and cake making hoping to get work permit in that country to settle down. That group is not going to join cake making courses in Eluru or Nasik or Dibrugarh or Batala even if offered by foreign universities unless residence/ work permit dreams are also provided in the convocation.

The second group is the highly qualified IIT/NIT engineers for higher education to the USA. The level of private corporate sponsorship is an attraction for students of science and engineering stream and the desire to get green card is deep-rooted.

The third category is the children of business people and bureaucrats and other “Delhi caucus” descendants who cannot get into institutions of higher learning in India due to stiff entrance criteria. They pay through their nose and get into any type of institutions like “Tall Mountain” or “Deep Sea” university and proudly come back and occupy important positions in our government.

There are two categories. One is those who are “educated” abroad and the other is “graduated” abroad. The former imply being thrown out after several attempts in that university and later somehow managing to pass. It is this group which feels threatened now due to spiraling cost of education abroad; the limited visa regimes of western countries and the threat from the ascendency of the “bankrupt classes” through the merit route of JETs and CATs.

We find that the discussion and debate in the media after the bill has been approved by the Cabinet is regarding education market, education business, returns on investment and the  “selling of the brand.” Unfortunately, nobody talks about learning, knowledge and academics. Education is not any more imbibing knowledge, the quest for attaining perfection or even professional development. It is up to our parliamentarians to decide what India wants and what they would like to leave for the future generations. One only wishes that some Gandhian institution will distribute copies of the original ‘Hind Swaraj’ to our parliamentarians to ensure that we do not measure the quality of our life by retail footfalls or soda consumption.

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