Monday, May 14, 2018

Fee waivers bid to draw top students from Asia, Africa

Author :Shuriah Niazi Issue No:0

The government has begun a drive to attract more foreign students to India’s leading higher education institutions, allocating 15,000 places a year at the top 160 universities and colleges for at least two years and introducing a new system of fee waivers to attract top talent from Asian and African countries.

Currently around 8,000 foreign students are admitted each year, although not just at the top 160 institutions. The 15,000 places will be reserved for international students – and will not go to local students if they are not filled up – and are supported by a generous fee waiver scheme.

The aim is to make India a preferred destination, based on promoting the country as a “hub of affordable education for foreign students”, in the words of India’s Human Resource Development Minister Prakash Javadekar.

To this end the government announced that 55% of the total of 15,000 seats on offer at top universities and colleges will be supported by fee waivers at several different rates and will be allocated based on merit to students from Asia and Africa. The top 25% will get a complete fee waiver, the next 25% a 50% waiver, and the rest a 25% fee reduction. 

The government is aiming for a near four-fold increase in the number of foreign students in India, to 200,000 by 2023 from the current 45,000 which accounts for just 1% of global student mobility.

“The move will bring multiculturalism and diversity to Indian universities,” said Satya Pal Singh, minister of state (or junior minister) for higher education in the Human Resource Development Ministry, the lack of which has affected the country’s performance in international rankings.

Responding to fears that allocating seats to foreign students would push aside Indian students in some of the most highly competitive institutions such as the Indian Institutes of Technology, the number of seats available for Indian students will not change, officials said. According to the existing government regulations there is already provision for 10-15% extra seats for foreign students.

The initiative also intends to make the visa process hassle-free for foreign students. The Indian higher education sector often complains about restrictive rules, but now the government is making a conscious effort to liberalise it, Javadekar said. 

Around 39,000 visas were issued to foreign students and research scholars in 2017.

The government has allocated a budget of INR1.5 billion (US$22 million) for the programme over two years – 2018-19 and 2019-20 – mainly to promote the scheme overseas. 

Some 160 top universities and institutions across the country have been identified by the government, including Indian Institutes of Technology and Indian Institutes of Management, to set aside a total of 15,000 seats in the 2018-19 academic year for overseas students.

Javadekar said in a video message on the occasion of the scheme’s launch in New Delhi on 18 April that it would “open the gates” of premier educational institutions for students from abroad. 

Thirty countries targeted

He said the government will initially target 30 Asian, African and Middle East countries and also Commonwealth of Independent States countries of the former Soviet Union. These include Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Egypt, Kuwait, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Kazakhstan, Nigeria and Rwanda, among others. Ambassadors and representatives from these countries were present at the launch of the event, which is also being seen as a major soft power initiative. 

“With more students choosing countries like Australia and Singapore for higher studies, the number of students coming to India had become ‘stagnant’,” Javadekar said. But the new scheme would reverse the trend and boost enrolment of international students in Indian institutions. 

Javadekar pointed out that India had become a leading centre for affordable and quality education because of recent reforms in the education sector, with top institutions recently granted graded autonomy giving them more freedom in academic and administrative decision-making. 

These institutions can improve their programmes, launch new programmes, expand on their own, hire foreign faculty and enrol foreign students, he said.

Currently foreign students in India come mainly from neighbouring countries — Nepal accounts for just over 23%, Afghanistan almost 10% and Bhutan 5%. Students from Nigeria and Sudan comprise 4.4% each, followed by Malaysia with around 3.3%.

The Human Resource Development Ministry’s ‘Study in India’ portal was launched in New Delhi on 18 April by India’s Minister of External Affairs, Sushma Swaraj, in the presence of the Human Resource Development Ministry’s Singh, to provide information on Indian higher education and help foreign students select and apply for various programmes from the 160 institutions.

Swaraj said the portal creates a “single window” for overseas students. She said the Indian education system would be promoted abroad as an attractive choice, identifying quality institutions for international students. 

Under the auspices of the Ministry of External Affairs, two universities – Nalanda University and the South Asian University – are already open to foreign students. But Swaraj said the ‘Study in India’ scheme is different from what her ministry has offered so far. 

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