Entry of foreign varsities: most welcome, though some call it ‘elitist’

October 28th, 2008 - 12:02 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Oct 28 (IANS) Should foreign universities be allowed entry into India as Congress party general secretary Rahul Gandhi has suggested? While most academics and others have welcomed the idea, saying it would bring an end to “academic landlordism”, some feel it would lead to “elitism” in education.The Congress MP, during his tour of Uttarakhand, had said Oct 21 that “they (foreign universities) should be allowed. There is no reason why they shouldn’t. I am myself working on it. I will work on the idea and take it forward”.

The Congress, the main partner in the ruling coalition at the centre, says the main bottleneck in the entry of foreign universities is the opposition of the Left parties.

“The matter has been discussed in parliament. The opposition came mainly from the Left parties as they are opposed to the privatization of education. As soon as a consensus is reached, the decks will be cleared for their entry,” Tom Vadakkan, Congress party media coordinator, told IANS.

Abhishek, who goes by his first name, a research scholar in Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and an ad-hoc teacher in Delhi University, feels if foreign varsities are introduced, it would “bring an end to academic landlordism”.

“Today Indian academics function in lobbies,” he said referring to the two lobbies - pro-Left or anti-Left - in JNU and Aligarh Muslim University. “Those who are not part of these lobbies don’t find a place in the academia. The coming of foreign universities will end this as they will only welcome talent, ignoring their ideological leanings. This will herald a new era in the Indian educational set up,” he said.

“This might also bring in the Henry Fordist law of ‘publish or perish’ which will enhance competition.” According to the Fordist law, an academician has to keep publishing research papers to show he/she is constantly improving on knowledge or else he/she should be removed. This, Abhishek feels, will keep the academics always on their toes.

Some scholars feel that the entry of foreign universities might “lead to the peril” of Indian universities and there should rather be a collaboration between the two for best results.

“Foreign universities are more market-oriented and are bigger brands; their entry might lead to the peril of our universities. To get the best results, the foreign universities should offer courses in collaboration with Indian universities,” Vinoj Abraham, associate professor at the Centre for Development Studies in Thiruvananthapuram, told IANS.

Burton Cleetus, fellow at Institut Français de Pondichéry, feels foreign universities should be allowed in India to counter the various hierarchies in society and facilitate those who can finance their education.

“In India, with varying degrees of social hierarchies, based on caste, the core values of our education system emerges from twin objectives - furthering the knowledge capital and widening its social base. Of late there has emerged a sizeable socio-economic elite who can finance their education. Entry of foreign universities would facilitate their aspirations for higher education,” said Cleetus.

A section of academics feels the entry of foreign universities will enhance the existing elitism in the arena.

“Most of the courses the foreign universities offer will be market- oriented for which the fee structure will be quite high, and this will reinforce the elitism already existing in such courses,” said Amir Ali, associate professor.

Students also feel that though the entry of foreign universities will enhance competition in the academic arena, it will have more of an elitist character.

“This will enhance competition in academic standards. More opportunities will open for the students and professors. But these institutions might be more elitist in character because of the high fees,” said Pradeep Kumar Singh, 28, a research scholar in Jawaharlal Nehru University.

Lalit Kumar, PhD in economics in JNU, shares the same views as does Sukhdeep Kaur, from IIT Delhi.

The Congress believes that rather than becoming elitist these universities will herald a new era in Indian academics based on competition.

“These universities will have a place for everyone who is competitive. As for the high fee structure, scholarships will be available along with a system of education loan,” said Vadakkan.

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