Referring to India’s robust education system and quality research facilities, he invoked the PM’s invitation to foreign universities to set up campuses here and Indian varsities to create campuses overseas, to ensure students stay back and study in India.
Pokhriyal’s concerns are understandable when one considers the spending incurred by parents keen on giving their children education in a foreign varsity. A 2015 study by Assocham and Tata Institute of Social Sciences estimated that Indian students spend upwards of $7 bn (or Rs 45,000 cr) annually on foreign universities. The reason attributed to this – the substandard quality of higher education in India. The study noted that premier institutions like the IITs have an annual enrolment of 10,000 to 15,000 students which focusses only on the brightest students. But, they have been unable to produce a Nobel Laureate or a single substantial worldwide patent, the study said. Several reasons contributed to this dismal state of higher education here, like the funds set aside for education during the Budget. India’s public spending on education falls short of the average amount spent by developed nations. In member nations of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), 11 per cent of the total government spending went to education. But India’s contribution towards the same stood at 10.2 per cent in 2016-17. More telling was 3%, the percentage as part of the GDP that India spent on education in 2018-19, which comes to Rs 5.6 lakh cr.
Apart from spending less on education per student, and a high pupil-teacher ratio in primary and secondary education, other issues have led to a decades-long brain-drain that continues to this day. Like the indiscriminate proliferation of engineering, medical and self-financed colleges that have sprouted up across India. Due to the absence of quality infrastructure and top teaching faculty in such colleges, the stress of admissions grows tenfold in top-tier institutions, making them unnaturally competitive. Recently, Delhi University announced its first cut-off list, and Lady Shri Ram College set its cut off as 100 per cent for three major undergraduate courses - BA (Hons) in Economics, Political Science and Psychology.
There is also the concern of reservation, which critics argue has diluted the quality of intake in top institutes. Add to this, a shortage of funding for research projects, which compels meritorious scholars in STEM-related fields to turn westward for greener pastures. Many students are now pinning hopes not just on foreign education, but also on migrating for good. Nations like Canada offer students an opportunity to complete their education and acquire local work-experience after which they become eligible to apply for Permanent Residency in the country.
According to Indian Student’s Mobility Report 2020, over 48 pc of students who had planned on taking up higher education abroad are reconsidering their decisions, in the backdrop of the pandemic. It’s an opportunity for India to reverse its brain drain. Education in India is still pocket-friendly compared to crores that must be shelled out in a foreign varsity (which led to a student loan crisis in the US).
During last year’s Budget, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman spoke about increasing focus on research in education, for which a National Research Foundation (NRF) is planned to be set up. Also, the University Grants Commission is setting up the National Academic Credit Bank (NAC-Bank), that will enable non-science students (arts and commerce) to take up courses in science after completing a bridge course. Higher allocation towards education in the Budget would also go a long way in addressing such concerns.