According to the Union Education Ministry’s report of April 2023, in the last nine years, the number of universities in India has gone up from 723 to 1,113. During the same period, 5,298 colleges have been built, thereby raising the number of colleges from 38,498 in 2014 to 43,796 in 2023. 43% of universities and 61.4 per cent of colleges are in rural areas.7 IITs and 7 IIMs were also built in the last nine years. Institutes of National Importance (INIs) increased from 75 in 2014-15 to 149 in 2020-21.
Despite such massive thrust in the educational sector, Australia is on track for its biggest-ever annual intake of Indian students, topping 2019’s high watermark of 75,000. Prime Minister Anthony Albanese visited India, in part to celebrate Australia’s education links and announce a new agreement with Australia’s universities and colleges that would, he said, herald “the most comprehensive and ambitious arrangement agreed to by India with any country”. Significantly, the agreement included a “mutual recognition of qualifications between Australia and India”, which will make travelling to either country for university study easier.
Not to be outdone, the British High Commission revealed recently that it granted 1.27 lakh student visas to Indians in the year ending September 2022, an increase of 273 per cent over the same period in 2019. India surpassed China to become the largest source of students for the UK with 161,000 students, including 33,240 dependents, coming to the UK in 2022.
To attract more students the British Council has launched ‘The UK Quality Agent Framework’ – to provide training, promote a code of conduct and “engage” with high-quality agents to enable students to make “more informed choices”.
The program offers a one-stop-shop for agents, counsellors and education advisers to better understand the UK as a study destination. A ‘graduate visa’, previously known as the post-study visa, lets international students stay in the UK for at least two years after successfully completing a course from a British university. This visa is also being silently marketed through agents to lure Indian students with offers of allowing them to bring their families with them to the country. There are offers assuring a “full-time job” for a spouse as well as a two-year “stay” in the country. The dark lining is that international students in the UK have to give almost triple the fees as compared to the local students.
The ‘Open Doors Report 2022’ released by the Institute of International Education (IIE) reveals that almost 2 Lakh Indian students have enrolled in the universities of the US for the academic session 2021-22 which marks an increase of 19% over the previous year. A record number of 82,000 student visas have been issued to Indian students in 2022. The setting up of Education-USA advisory centers in Indian cities like Delhi, Chennai, Kolkata, Bangalore, Ahmedabad, Mumbai and Hyderabad, has enabled students to get free of-cost advisory services regarding information about the scope of studying options in the US.
According to Canada’s Immigration Refugee and Citizenship data, the number of Indian students studying in the country has increased by a whopping 350 per cent between the 2015-16 and 2019-20 academic years. Canada’s Post-Graduation Work Permit Program (PGWPP), America’s Optional Training Program (OPT) and Britain’s New Graduate Pathway (GR) offer opportunities for good placements after postgraduation which are a major attraction among Indian students to advance their career.
According to data released by the Ministry of External Affairs in Parliament in August 2022, Indians who travelled abroad for education between 2019 and 2022 ended up in 228 countries/dependent islands. While a majority of students from India continue to go to the developed world, a few of them are even going to countries that are less developed than India, like Afghanistan (at least 60), Mozambique (15) and Somalia (one) in Africa, and Nauru (seven), an island country in Oceania. The number of Indian students going abroad for higher studies increased by 68.79 per cent in 2022, as revealed in Parliament. The number of Indians enrolled in foreign varsities increased from 4.44 lakh in 2021 to 7.5 lakh in 2022.
Curiously, the Bureau of Immigration and Ministry of Home Affairs maintains departure and arrival data of Indians, but there is no index for capturing the category of Indians going abroad for higher education. Apart from the hot favourite destinations, Indian students were also flocking to New Zealand, Germany, Singapore and France.
The implications are that all Indian universities failed to attract 7.5 lakh brilliant and rich students. Why is it that our universities are not attracting quality Indian students nor even a respectable number of foreign students? The most glaring deficiency is that a vast majority of Indian private universities have no marketing plans or strategies to attract even Indian students, leave aside international students. Government universities and colleges have not even heard of any marketing strategy. While universities from US/UK/Canada and Australia are on a marketing blitz, collectively across the length and breadth of the country, conducting student fairs, student-focussed marketing, and branding exercises, there is no such initiatives from Indian universities. They are contending to merely displaying their National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) and National Institute Ranking Framework (NIRF) rating, which have very limited appeal for the student community. These days marketing strategies are important for every sector and universities whether private or government cannot escape from this. Indian students know more about foreign universities than Indian universities. This is because they actively promote social media engagement, use marketing automation, optimizing email engagement, using machine learning, digital friendly branding, live streaming using Instagram Stories, Youtube Live, Twitch Stream, and TikTok Live. A 2019 April report in The Guardian newspaper revealed that universities in UK are spending millions of pounds on marketing in a battle to recruit students as competition intensifies in the higher education sector. Universities spend hundreds of thousands of pounds on digital advertising and social media in a direct appeal to 18-year-olds, as well as adverts on billboards, buses and the London underground. The highest spending institution was the University of East London, which invested more than £1.3m on marketing and advertising, not including expenditure on open days and publications.
The Government of India needs to take the initiative to institute a higher education marketing program. The first step would be to set up a unique cluster of world-class, research-intensive universities, like the Russell Group of UK, and the Ivy League of USA.
Russell Group universities have huge social, economic and cultural impacts locally, across the UK and around the globe:
They produce more than two-thirds of world-leading research.
Garner nearly £87 billion into the national economy every year.
In 2018-19, 446,450 undergraduates and 155,655 postgraduates were studying at a Russell Group university.
The Ivy League group of universities in USA comprising of eight private universities, all based in the Northeast, have earned global reputation because of their acclaimed academic distinctions, large endowments in the form of donations and assets. Colleges use these endowments to build facilities, hire prestigious faculty members, and support students through grants and scholarships. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), Harvard held endowments totalling $42 billion at the end of the 2020 fiscal year, which ranked as the largest endowment in U.S. higher education. Over a third of US Presidents attended an Ivy League school, and collectively they have an impressive share of Nobel laureates.
Europe has developed its own 12 member League of European Research Universities. The League wants to operate as a promotional organization of common interests for research-intensive universities at both European and national levels. It wants to emphasize the paramount importance of fundamental research for the whole of Europe.
China has established its own C9 elite public research universities, comprising of 9 leading universities. According to the agreement, the nine universities (“C9”) will take advantage of each other’s strengths and share their education resources. Building up China’s “Ivy League” has been what top Chinese universities have been longing for. Through cooperation and communication, the institutions can not only complement each other with their academic strengths and distinctive styles, but also enhance their capacity for independent innovation.
Even Australia has established its own Group of Eight (Go8) top ranking universities. The group has a strong research focus, with almost 70 per cent of Australia’s research conducted by these universities. Impressively, every Australian Nobel Prize winner so far has been associated with one of the Go8 universities! All eight members are ranked in the world’s top 150 universities, with seven of the members featuring in the top 100.
Japan’s equivalent of the Ivy League is the National Seven Universities, a group of institutions founded and maintained by the Empire of Japan until the end of World War II. They are also known as Imperial Universities. The National Seven Universities rank in the top 10 percent for their resources – income, research output and students’ scores in the national mock university entrance exam, and reputation among academics and employers. Japanese corporate culture trickles down to university classrooms, too. Though not having an international outlook Japan’s higher education system is a perfectly tailor made for producing educated and obedient workers for Japan Inc.
It is high time the government of India takes steps to establish India’s own select cluster of universities, which can be developed on the lines of the Ivy League and Russell Group, with the predominant goal of retaining the brilliant in the country. There was a proposal for establishing ‘Navratna Universities’ in 2011 on the lines of the Ivy League but it did not materialize. The other issue is that Indians spend large sums to study abroad. It is estimated that the spending would be upward of US$10 billion. All this wealth is enriching Western countries. If we can set up our own world-class universities, it will be a great boon for coming generations. Retaining the brilliant, and molding the intelligent, within the country, should be the motto of the government.
Though the government has invited foreign universities to set up campuses in India, that cannot be equated with the development of our own Ivy League standard of universities. We have the demonstrated capability as evidenced by the fact that in the QS World University Rankings 2023, the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore (155th globally), followed by IIT Bombay (172) and IIT Delhi (174) are the trio in the top 200. However, not a single Indian university figures in the top 100, despite India having 1,113 universities!
Another important reason why we need our own Ivy League set up, is the disturbing fact, that many universities in USA, UK and Canada are stage-managing anti-India campaigns with flagrant political overtones. No other country is facing such a predicament. Students avail precious bank loans on interest to fatten these universities and they in turn use them to defame and ridicule the country. To put an end to this dubious manipulation of young minds, it is essential that government makes it mandatory that every university desirous of admitting Indian students, should sign a Memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the government of India, that Indian students will be treated with due respect, the university campus will not be allowed to be utilized for any anti-India tirade or campaign or profaning the religions of this country in any manner. No teaching, non-teaching staff of the university organising or participating in anti-India events should be allowed to remain on the rolls of the university. Any institution violating these conditions should be instantly derecognized and made ineligible for those students seeking educational loans, to prosecute studies there. When the shoe pinches, these maverick universities and their delinquent employees, will automatically straighten.
To steer forward 09 select Indian universities into the top echelons of world universities, government should act to set up a Commission for Higher Education Systems & Institutions. Already the QS World University Rankings 2023 is available in which the top 09 universities are identified and ranked. They just need to be grouped, groomed and nurtured to become India’s Ivy League.
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