More effort is needed to internationalise higher education

There are various ways that a country can internationalise its higher education system. There may, for instance, be a number of top-ranking universities in the country that have established a successful system for internationalising the education they provide.

The United States has the most ranked universities, followed by the United Kingdom and then Australia. Developed countries have not even had to compete much to be included in the rankings; instead, they have been flexible in promoting their education systems and have always demanded high quality education. They have been at the forefront of adopting best practices for their education systems.

India is lagging behind and, despite the stipulations of the National Education Policy 2020, there is much more that it could do on the internationalisation front.

Internationalisation methods

There are four main ways of internationalising higher education.

One is student mobility, both outbound and inbound. When it comes to mobility, students from the Global North tend to study in other developed countries. Indian students, however, go to developed countries which have higher expectations of their students, while India itself receives inbound students from developing or underdeveloped countries.

In India, the number of outbound students is much higher than the inbound number, with the ratio being approximately 1:10 over the last two decades.

The second way is through faculty mobility which is directly related to better employment opportunities. Indian faculty seek better facilities and higher pay in universities abroad so that they have better career options. And international faculty take into account the facilities and ranking of Indian universities when considering whether to work in India.

Private universities have dominated in India when it comes to being able to hire international faculty, although for the last few years, public universities have also been trying to attract international faculty.

The third way is programme mobility, which is also an important aspect as it enables universities to collaborate and join forces to provide some degree or certificate programmes transnationally.

In India, there are only a few short-term courses run by higher education institutions like the Indian Institutes of Technology which offer student and programme exchange. There are also some online programmes that are offered by international universities that Indian students can access at home. This is called internationalisation at home. Indian universities have not been able to offer this to international students as they only offer online courses to Indian students.

The fourth form of internationalisation is campus mobility. For a university to be international enough to set up branch campuses in different countries requires significant marketing resources that boost their chances of attracting local students and faculty in the countries where they are based. Branch campuses allow the host nation’s students to access international-level facilities.

In a recent study, it was found that out of 43 universities from 11 countries, only eight were willing to consider establishing a branch campus in India, with all eight underlining the importance of a liberal regulatory framework for improving the attractiveness of India as a place to set up a branch campus. Yet India doesn’t operate a liberal framework in its public sector.

Institutional performance in India

In general, private universities in India are performing better at internationalising higher education than public ones. They are providing the kind of facilities that meet the demands of the international higher education market.

These include providing scholarships for students which make their courses affordable. Public universities also provide scholarships, but these are in line with the stipulations of government organisations like the Indian Council for Cultural Relations.

It is mainly elite private universities such as Symbiosis International University in Pune, Ashoka University and Manipal Academy of Higher Education that are able to meet the demands of the international market in terms of well-resourced institutions.

Yet both elite private universities and public universities lack good statistics on labour market outcomes for students and faculty.

Internationalisation policy

The National Education Policy 2020 (NEP 2020) talks about various education reforms, including internationalisation. Analyses of its policy recommendations show that many of these are not practically implementable. Many educationists also argue that the NEP 2020 is considered to be more about defining an overarching philosophy of education, rather than about enforcing particular education reforms.

NEP 2020 talks about the education system regaining the status of ‘Vishwa Guru’ or ‘world teacher’ and how this can promote India’s soft power.

To regain this status there needs to be balanced student mobility in terms of inbound and outbound students. There should be more exchange programmes, more exchange of faculty and more branch campuses, an advanced curriculum that appeals to Indian students as well as international students and more collaboration in education in all senses.

If all of these are achieved, Indian higher education can compete on a global level and make progress in the global rankings.

In this context, Indian higher education also needs some reforms when it comes to its political economy. Since it lacks a marketable education system, it is lagging behind when it comes to enrolling more students and attracting faculty members and branch campuses from abroad.

Only private universities are taking the lead in internationalisation of higher education. That is because of the investment of private entities in infrastructural facilities, faculty training, staff development, programme structure and so forth.

Theoretically, there are enormous possibilities for improving India’s higher education. But as far as internationalisation is concerned, more effort is required.

Higher education requires advanced infrastructure, classrooms and teaching methods which include the use of convenient ICT (information and communications technology), an easy credit transfer system that can be used globally, an internationally recognised education system and attention to the international student experience.

Nitika Singh is a researcher at the National Institute of Educational Planning and Administration, New Delhi, India. E-mail: