For several reasons, I am very suspicious of the idea of foreign campuses in India, and am no longer indifferent or unconcerned about it.

Firstly doesn’t it strike you as more than strange that none of these “top universities” all private, with all their considerable experience has ever managed to set up a second campus anywhere else in the US?  Public universities are known to have multiple campuses for different purposes, to serve as feeders for the main campus, or to house new faculties, or to simply create new independent universities as with the University of California System or the many systems of the state of Texas.  Private universities more than public ones derive their vitality from their community and play a very important role in its development.  They are much more than centres of learning or research.  So then if we are going to pull a private university into India it can’t be but a knockoff of the real thing.  This is not to say that private universities aren’t setting up off-site campuses.  But they are meant more to tap into alumni networks. Several private universities are now in the game. Carnegie Mellon University has a full fledged research/extension campus in the Silicon Valley, and its unabashed fan Case Western Reserve University of Cleveland, Ohio, too is trying to set up a research centre in San Diego, respectively to tap into the vast numbers of alumni who work in the EE/CS and Life Sciences/Medicine fields in these places.

 Secondly even for one who believes university education should not be subsidised in India and should be charged in full and supported by special purpose loans, a high cost foreign university would cost way too much.  The chief value provided by universities in the US, is their social capital through the opportunity to network with the rich and powerful.  It does not matter if Mr. A did Communication Studies at the University of Pennsulvania and Ms. B studied Mechanical Engineering at the University of Illinois  Penn as a private university, and a member of the Ivy League, commands immense snob value, and will gain A access to a very powerful alumni network.  What snob value is a private US university campus in India going to provide its students, when they embark on a job search in India?  For the foreseeable future, the IITs/NITs/BITS, IISER/AIIMS/JIPMER/PGI etc., and the Stephens, Xaviers, Loyolas, Josephs, Elphinstone, Presidency, Sri Ram College, National College, etc., are going to be the tough UG institutions to enter.  Unless the foreign university in question wants to change its admission norms and terms, they are going to be a clear second best, and occupy the shelf in between the real colleges and the “donation colleges” – which as you would agree, is what just about any fancy private undergraduate institution in the US is for those who have the money.

 Thirdly why do we need foreign universities to create a culture of learning and enquiry?  Why can’t we reform our universities, ourselves?  Done right, we can create great institutions.  Don’t we have great examples like BHU, JNU, IISc, and Jadavpur?

 Fourthly why foreign universities, when today in India a good graduate science program is as good if not better than any foreign graduate program, except maybe at those schools that are at the very top?

 Some US universities are awash with funds, but sadly also with students!  The attrition rate in programs such as engineerg is staggering, partly because they admit a lot of students to keep the classes full, but also do not do a good job teaching them.  A supportive environment with good teaching is the exception at the undergrad level. As a rule unless the classes are compact with a maximum of 50 students, teaching is bad. Private undergrad programs get to be good because of small classes. Public undergraduate programs get better in the upper years. The freshman year tends to be a fun-filled experience for the student and little else. In many cases the student suddenly finds himself in his senior year (4th year) only to realise he hasn’t learnt anything. And then there is a mad scramble to learn something. Many do pull out of this dive, but this is in the US, an economy with many opportunities.

An unrealistic attitude towards financing education is what led to the mushrooming of donation colleges run by dubiously constituted trusts. Since these trusts operate almost entirely on black money, the true cost of a good college education has never been computed realistically. For a start the government should invite more responsible and proven business groups into the education sector and crowd out the racketeering trusts. The idea of inviting foreign university campuses in India, is a solution in search of a problem. We have enough problems to solve with respect to every level of education in India. Inviting foreign universities to set up campuses in India may perk up “investor sentiment” and not much else.

 (Image Courtesy- NRI.com)
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