Connect to share and comment
Parliament considers a controversial bill that could redefine higher education.
Sibal has rejected calls for tight controls over foreign institutions, and his influence has clearly shaped the bill. In recent years, many of the more controversial restrictions fell to the wayside — including tuition caps, quotas and government involvement in curricular design.
But political compromises are still a possibility if the Congress Party hopes to push the bill through this year, which now seems unlikely.
"Usually the minister does pay heed to recommended changes, because if he doesn't the issues will come up for debate in parliament by the same members anyway," said an official at the ministry in charge of higher education, who wasn't authorized to speak to the media and asked to remain anonymous. "The whole process takes seven to eight months, usually."
If the bill is passed, foreign universities interested in operating in India would still have to wade through a nearly year-long process of red tape. They would also need written endorsements from their embassies or high commissions in India.
Sibal and other officials have expressed concern over the possibility of letting in low-quality institutions, and the bill sets out penalties of up to about $119,000 for institutions that fail to offer the same quality of programs as on their home campuses. Institutions could be fined or forced to forfeit any financial gains made in India.
"A number of foreign educational institutions have been operating in the country, and some of them may be resorting to various malpractices to allure and attract students," Sibal wrote at the end of the draft bill, referring to insitutions already operating in-country illegally.
"Due to lack of policy or regulatory regime, it has been very difficult to make meaningful assessment of the operations of the foreign educational institutions, and absence of such meaningful assessment has given rise to chances of adoption of various unfair practices besides commercialization," he wrote.
How many American institutions actually want to enter India is open to debate. Many college delegations have traveled to India but few have followed up with concrete action.
"There are not a large number of universities that will set up campuses," said Edward Guiliano, president of the New York Institute of Technology, which has been interested in working in India. "I think universities will do joint ventures with Indian universities in the beginning."
Guiliano said institutions were likely to be concerned about the mandatory $11-million investment as well as the costs of building a campus abroad.
He also pointed out the difficulty in accomodating India's disadvantaged students. "In India the question ultimately will be: Will there be a class of students who won't be able to afford elite or foreign universities?" he asked.
Krishna Vedula, special assistant to the provost for international partnerships at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, agreed that collaborative programs are the way to go.
"I'm convinced that collaborative programs at the undergraduate and graduate level between faculty and students that benefit both sides are the best way to expand ties," he said.
Of his institution, Vedula said: "They were just curious about this fascinating country with great economic growth and a culture oriented toward education. ... They have decided it is not worth it."