In higher education, IITs are widely seen as crown jewels of India. So, IITs being in talks to open up outposts in Britain makes sense: A top Indian education brand pursuing international expansion. The question is whether everything is top class as far as IITs are concerned. Can they offer a competitive education product in a foreign and more advanced market? A significant part of IITs’ success at home is built on the fact that some of the smartest of students prep for months to get in, via a ferociously competitive examination. These students are likely to shine thanks to their own merit. How much of their success is due to pedagogy and research quality in IITs, including in the older institutions, is the key question.

As for the new ones, a 2019 CAG audit of eight IITs set up between 2008-09 found them in deplorable conditions. States haven’t provisioned land properly, labs are inadequate, little research is sponsored by non-government sources, and most telling of all, over a five-year period these IITs obtained zero patents. The audit strongly indicts the governing bodies for poor stewardship. Therefore, much thought and action should precede foreign expansion.

What about foreign universities setting up campuses in India? Around 2010, when a Union Cabinet first approved a proposal to allow foreign universities to set up branches here, IIT Bombay started work on opening an applied science campus in New York City. Sadly, neither project has borne fruit. More recently, National Education Policy 2020 indicates a red carpet for top foreign universities and Budget 2022 suggests they will soon have a pathway to operate in Gujarat’s GIFT city without having to follow restrictive domestic rules. There was also the GoI proposal of creating institutions of excellence. India’s young, those who don’t make it to IITs, or get admissions in foreign universities, await fruition of these big promises.

The broader issue is the rot in most of higher education. NEP has proposed a reformed higher education regulator, and when it happens this can be the first step in university reform. GoI and states must acknowledge that for-profit private investment in an environment that encourages enterprise is the best bet to increase quality. Good faculty, good labs, good libraries, a good campus, all of this costs money. Deserving students who can’t pay should get government scholarships. Minus radical reform, most of higher education will remain, as it is now, meaningless.


This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.



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