Hectic lobbying on for NRI university

April 10th, 2008 - 12:20 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh
By Kul Bhushan
In another three months, some NRIs may be thinking of sending their children for higher education in India. NRIs in different countries have different reasons for preferring Indian higher education. In some countries of Africa, Southeast Asia and the Middle East, NRI children cannot get admissions as these countries do not have enough seats for them and prefer sons of the soil to NRIs. In Western countries, the excellence and financial success of Indian professionals in IT, engineering and management make learning at Indian universities and institutes very desirable. The Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and the Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) are two groups of centres for higher learning that are the touchstone for excellence. In some cases, the NRI parents would like the Indian ‘dimension’ in the education for their children so that they have strong roots to grow high.

Finally, in humanities subjects like Indian languages, and fine arts like classical music and dancing, Indian universities impart more authentic learning in the right cultural ambience than similar courses in the West.

At present, while NRIs have a small quota in internationally reputed Indian institutes although they pay higher fees than Indian students. The problem is the shortage of seats. The situation in India is very critical as more and more Indians seek seats in the very same universities and there are not enough of them. Starting with 20 universities at the time of independence in 1947, India has 367 universities today, of which about 100 are private institutions.

“India needs to revamp the education system,” said Sam Pitroda, chairman of the National Knowledge Commission and an NRI himself, while presenting its annual report to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in January this year. The Commission has recommended increasing the number of universities to 1,500 in the next eight years.

The Commission parades some startling figures. Of the 17,700 colleges in India, only 4,300 are government-run. Of the rest, 7,650 are under unaided private managements and 5,750 under aided private managements.

Significantly, private professional colleges account for the majority of the students who have entered the portals of higher learning in the last 10 years. A substantial number of these private institutions bother very little about the quality of education they offer at exorbitant prices.

This crass commercialisation makes higher education the preserve of the rich, creates an imbalance in the courses offered and leads to a fall in standards. NRIs fall victims to these shortcomings in private colleges that charge exorbitant fees for admission.

Thus, no wonder they pressed for an exclusive NRI University in India and the government agreed to it at the annual Pravasi Bharatiya Divas in 2007.

“Our aspiration would be to impart quality education at par with the best universities in the world,” declared Manmohan Singh.

The Indian cabinet approved the policy framework for a Non-Resident Indian/Person of Indian Origin (NRI/PIO) university in India. Under the Indira Gandhi National University, it would draw on the expertise of the NRI doctors, engineers, and many qualified professionals.

Located in an Education Special Economic Zone in a Special Economic Zone under the University Grants Commission Act, it would be set up by overseas Indian trusts or societies with credibility and experience in education under the overall supervision of the government. Tenders were floated to invite suitable overseas trusts.

Any state that gets to establish the NRI University will reap considerable economic benefits. Construction of the campus over hundreds of acres will bring in massive capital investment to boost the construction industry. Equipment for the university will generate more investment equal to - if not greater than - the construction costs.

The influx of hundreds of faculty, support staff and thousands of students will generate more income for the local people in providing them with goods and services. Growth of local trade and services around the campus and in the city would be impressive. Increased overseas visitors - NRIs and their children - will pump more cash in foreign exchange into the local economy.

Thus, many states were very quick to bid for hosting the NRI University. Gujarat and Kerala were the early contenders. Manipal has a popular university and the northeast region needs economic growth. Gujarat, with its wealthy NRIs, can contribute more to the university while Kerala with its high NRI population in the Middle East has a credible claim.

Similar claims can be made by Karnataka as the centre for IT and a moderate climate. Then there is Punjab with its affluent NRI population worldwide that offers good prospects. Why not Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai or Kolkata with their long traditions of excellence in higher learning and global access?

Thus, heavy lobbying is going on behind the scenes to clinch this multi-million dollar project. The final announcement is awaited any time. Stay tuned.

(Kul Bhushan previously worked abroad as a newspaper editor in Kenya and has travelled to over 55 countries. He lives in New Delhi and can be contacted at kulbhushan2040@gmail.com.)

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