Shri Amit Khare, Joint Secretary, Bureau of BP & CR Education Policy UNESCO, INC & ICC, Department of Higher Education, Government of India, in conversation with Sheena Joseph provides updates on the latest buzz in the higher education sector
What are the areas in which your department has been focusing on, with specific reference to international partnership in the field of higher education?
In the field of international partnership, we are looking at the mobility of faculty as well as students in both directions. When people largely talk about the entry of foreign educational institutions in India, what is not being talked about is that we have our own efforts in spreading education abroad. Some of our private universities have already opened campuses abroad. We are also receiving requests from some countries for opening our Institutions like IITs in their country. In Africa, another initiative has been announced by the Honorable Prime Minister covering two institutions; one is the African Institute for Education Planning and second would be the African Institute of Information Technology. Given our strength in IT, a project has also been approved by the government for an Indo-East Africa Virtual University, which will be anchored by IGNOU. So, while it is true that more than scores of Indian students go to the U.S., Australia, UK and other places for education, we can also affirm that more than 40 thousand students come to India. We are looking at both these developments. We are trying to internationalise our universities and institutions so that the students could get international experience. At the same time these exchanges are very crucial for research collaborations and for faculty development. Some of the important collaborations, which we already have are the UK-India Education Research Initiative (UKIERI), Obama-Singh Knowledge Initiative with USA. Also we have collaborations with Australia and New Zealand in terms of higher education and vocational education. In addition, we have 33 bilateral and multi-lateral agreements with different countries. While we want to benefit from the experiences of other countries, at the same time, we want to share our tremendous expertise particularly in ICT with rest of the world.
In terms of different collaborations like UKIERI and Obama-Singh Knowledge Initiative, what are the implications of these for universities, students and teachers in India and abroad?
The collaborations include different components. Setting up of foreign university campuses will be one of the components. Other elements, for example, include that of student mobility and recognition of international degrees. Similarly, quality assurance is another component which is to be considered so that the standard of education is benchmarked and it can match up to international standards. Innovative projects and joint degree programs have also been covered in different phases and it all depends from country to country. Some countries are more focused on higher education while some other countries are looking for collaboration in the area of school education.
How significant has international collaborations been in school education?
Some of the countries are actually quite keen to develop their curriculum in the area of science and mathematics based on the India curriculum framework. There may be several differences in Social Science subjects between countries but as far as Science and Mathematics are concerned, the fundamentals are common all over the world and particularly the Indian expertise and the quality of textbooks of NCERT are well appreciated. These countries are looking forward to curriculum development, textbook development and also training of their teachers as master trainers in India.
If foreign universities are allowed to set campuses in India, how can we ensure that the quality in education is maintained?
A Foreign Education Institutions Bill has sufficient safeguards so that the detrimental variety of institutions is not allowed to enter. Secondly, all institutions will have to be accredited, which will put a big break and it will be a stopper to ensure that the Institutions which are not of requisite quality are not able to enter India. AICTE, UGC, and NAAC have a major role to play in order to ensure due quality processed and accreditation is maintained. We want quality not only of the foreign institutions in India but also Indian institutions in India.
Recently we had controversies regarding IITs and IIMs not coming up to the standards. What are your views in regard to that?
I cannot make any political comment but the very fact that three countries have requested us formally through their education ministers to have an IIT like institution set up in their country. This itself is a proof that our institutions are regarded world over otherwise I don’t think these countries would have requested us to open such institutions in their countries.
In terms of enrollment, India has among the largest number of students in the higher education institutions but the Gross Enrollment Ration is much less as compared to global standards. Do you think that international universities coming in are going to increase the percentage?
It may not increase the Gross Enrollment Ratio (GER) to a large extent because the numbers would be very small. Their major contribution will be more on the quality side and new type of questions they will bring in to India. Secondly, many students who are going to other countries and rough estimate shows that approximately US $5-6 billion are spent by Indian students abroad. Entry of foreign educational institutes will help us retain our talent and wealth in India.
What are your views on open and distance learning education in the field of higher education and international collaborations?
Open and distance learning education will be an important tool for improving the gross enrolment ratio in India. Now different countries are in different stages of development. Perhaps the western countries may not require distance learning to that extent because they have well developed infrastructure in the conventional system but countries like ours where expansion in conventional system will be very costly, distance education will provide not only access in remote areas but also access to quality education.
The quality which is available in the IITs and central universities, the same content can be transmitted to the rural areas. So, that’s why distance education offers a lot of scope and secondly after few years although is not very predominant in India but in some years time there will be a trend of ‘relearning at the middle level’. The changing technologies and changing markets have created a situation where a person may have to relearn or retrain himself as a ‘mid-course or mid-career’ option. So, there again it will be distance education which will provide these free learning opportunity. Therefore, distance learning is bound to play a very important role in India.
Shri Amit Khare got selected for the IAS in 1985 Batch (Jharkhand Cadre). He has over 24 years of experience in Government including HRD, Revenue, Finance and General Administration, some of them being Principal Secretary to Governor, Jharkhand, Secretary HRD, Government of Jharkhand, Addl. Finance Commissioner,Government of Jharkhand.