Does India have an international higher education strategy?

Across the world, the profile of higher education is changing. Globalisation has opened up global markets for employment and students are eager to grasp them. The need for students to become ‘global citizens’ is recognised by all education providers.

In some developed-country institutions, higher education is being recognised as a for-profit activity, with campuses being set up abroad, as part of the new economic domain. For some, enrolling international students is proving to be a source of revenue that helps to balance the dwindling budgets of institutions. The student is becoming the driving force for promoting international education.

In India, however, this is not how internationalisation of education is perceived. The country is still debating how to react to the process of internationalisation. A new scheme is being formulated in the latest Five-Year Plan for India’s development.

The role of international partnerships in India’s international strategy is constrained by domestic considerations. With growing demand for higher education and a low gross enrolment rate of about 19%, the national concern is to expand the available pool of higher education institutions. But the resources required are beyond available budgets.

Increasingly, the country is appealing to private and international higher education providers to add to national capacity. The market is economically attractive to private higher education providers. But the doors for entry of foreign higher education institutions are still not fully opened. It could be useful to look at all means of partnerships at the government level.

The experience with America

At this stage, it may be interesting to see how India has benefited from international partnerships in the past and whether some of those models are still relevant.

India’s experience with the United States – in selected areas of education, such as agriculture and science and technology – is a good example.

In the agriculture sector in the 1950s, the introduction of the ‘Green revolution’ in India can be traced back to Indo-US collaborations in agricultural sciences. This helped to sustain research and education in agriculture. Agriculture education in India greatly benefited from government-level collaboration in education through these colleges.

In the 1960s a consortium of American universities facilitated the establishment of educational institutions like the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, and the National Council of Educational Research and Training in New Delhi – both founded with academic partnerships under the umbrella of the two governments. Both institutions are now totally Indian in terms of faculty and governance.

Can one use this model to help the Indian government’s efforts to increase the number of colleges and universities through private and public initiatives? Can some of the new institutions be partnered by the two governments?

If the older models have proved effective, it is clear that government-level partnerships can be more effective than leaving the expansion programme totally in the hands of private initiatives. It is also possible that through mutual agreements, an education institution in India could be set up jointly by an Indian and an American university.

The new Five-Year Plan for higher education has hinted at a policy for internationalisation. Can the new policy make way for such government-level initiatives?

According to a report by the Association of Indian Universities, about 630 foreign higher education institutions were operating in India in 2010.

Almost all of them are unregulated and not recognised by the Indian government to offer degrees. Students obtaining degrees from these institutions are not in a position to get jobs in the public sector and-or cannot enrol in Indian graduate programmes.

The national legislation expected in future will necessarily demand that these institutions get registered with the Indian government. Their fate is uncertain. Such foreign education providers have, in a way, tarnished the image of internationalisation of higher education in India.

Collaboration for teaching faculty

Due to an overall shortage of good-quality lecturers, the Indian government has stepped in to consider internationalisation strategies in the new plan.

Government schemes have been announced and arrangements are being worked out with advanced countries to accept Indian faculty and train them to international standards of teaching and research.

While the initiative is useful, the basic problem still remains – filling the large number of vacant faculty positions in even good-quality Indian institutions, like the Indian institutes of technology.

Government policies do not support the regular appointment of foreign faculty at Indian institutions. Moreover, the salaries that can be offered would not be attractive to such faculty.

With no solution yet to filling vacant academic positions from within or outside the country, internationalising higher education merely through faculty training abroad is not going to be an effective strategy.

Offering joint degrees

The government is attempting to encourage Indian institutions to enter into partnerships with foreign universities and offer joint degrees to Indian students.

The foreign universities do not have to open campuses in India, but their faculty would teach approved courses in India. The student would spend part of the four-year bachelor degree programme in India and the remaining period at the foreign university.

This is an attractive approach to internationalisation, giving an opportunity for ‘global immersion’ to Indian students, who also get a foreign degree at a reduced cost. The academic quality, financial implications and administrative arrangements for recognising joint degrees have yet to be worked out between partnering institutions.

Yet even before institutions were able to explore this opportunity, the government has come up with a caveat over the choice of institutions with which private institutions in India can collaborate.

The government insists that Indian institutions can only select a ‘partner’ institution abroad that is in the top 500 of international rankings. As is well known, hardly any Indian institutions are ranked within the world’s top 500 institutions.

So are top-ranked foreign institutions expected to partner with non-ranked Indian institutions? This is not an attractive offer for a partnership. Unfortunately, this approach to internationalisation does not seem to be workable, either.

No focus on international students

The final area of an internationalisation strategy pertains to sending Indian students abroad and attracting foreign students to India.

The government has left it free for Indian students to study anywhere abroad. It has no plans – unlike Brazil – to provide scholarships for study in countries such as the United States.

There are also no plans to promote cultural understanding of other countries by supporting Indian students to study, for example, in China or Brazil. One has seen President Barack Obama’s ‘100,000 strong’ initiative supporting American students going to China.

India also has no major schemes to attract foreign students. The infrastructure required to host international students, in terms of good hostels, trained staff and adequate student advice services, does not exist in the majority of higher education institutions.

The numbers of international students – many from Africa in the early days – have reduced in recent years and India has not shown any interest in attracting them back. A student focus, in India’s internationalisation strategy, is totally missing.


India has fiddled with the various stakeholders of internationalisation – students, faculty and institutions – in a lackadaisical manner, using its administrative and regulatory framework.

In 2004, the government set up two academic committees under the aegis of its apex body, the University Grants Commission, to promote Indian higher education abroad and in 2009 prepared an Action Plan for the Internationalisation of Higher Education.

Unfortunately, the strategies recommended by both these committees have not been reflected in India’s internationalisation strategy.

The new plan proposes that a professional national agency, the India International Education Centre, be created to undertake internationalisation activities. It is expected to support selected institutions in establishing dedicated internationalisation units.

Hopefully, this proposed new agency will not become a non-starter in the bureaucratic maze that is the Indian higher education system.

* PJ Lavakare is a member of the board of governors at MITS University in Rajasthan, India. E-mail: This is an edited version of the article, “Does India have an International Strategy?”, published in the summer 2013 edition of International Higher Education.