The Indian government has approved a budget of approximately $23m for its new Study in India initiative, in a bid to brand the country as a prime study destination and attempt to redress the balance between inbound and outbound students.
Traditionally a sending country – the second largest in traditional destinations such as the US and UK – India attracts only a fraction of the students it sends abroad.
The initiative will concentrate on attracting more international students into the country and doubling India’s market share of global education exports industry to 2%.
Among its other objectives, the initiative seeks to improve the overall quality of higher education and see international student spending increase.
The budget will cover brand promotion and activities until 2020.
The main focus will be on neighbouring countries, as, the government statement admits, more international students will increase India’s soft power and this can be used “as a tool in diplomacy”.
About 13 of 35 target countries are in West Asia, but the list includes ASEAN and SAARC countries together with Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia and China among others, according to reports
Ravi Lochan Singh, MD of Global Reach, believes this is a good approach.
“The targeted countries are those which have a reason to study in India. The cost of education and proximity to India has always been the attraction for Nepalese and Bhutanese students,” Lochan Singh told The PIE.
It must also be considered that India has bilateral agreements with SAARC countries, with university places reserved for their students with lower entry requirements, Singh said.
“This has been part of soft diplomacy that India has historically used as now many of the leaders in industry and politics of the neighbouring countries have received their education in India,” he explained.
According to the government statement, top students will be offered scholarships on the basis of their SAT scores. However, these will have to be provided directly by the hosting institutions.
Commenting on the news, Lakshmi Iyer, executive director and head of Education at market entry specialists Sannam S4, told The PIE that the program is “a step in the right direction” and needs to be considered in the broader context of India’s higher education policies shifting to internationalisation.
Iyer said this is evident in recent initiatives such as the Institutions of Eminence, a program to support 20 higher education institutions to climb global university rankings, but the push to internationalisation has been going on for several years.
Already in 2011, a five-year plan of the University Grants Commission of India acknowledged that diversity of staff and students help enhance the quality of the institution and since 2014 the government has initiated a shift to attract more international students working with the key national policy-making body NITI Aayog, Iyer explained.
“A careful analysis of all these changes show that the Federal government is very keen to attract international students to India through policy changes. This is a step in the right direction,” she told The PIE.
“As India wants to play a more engaged role in the international arena, opening the country to young people the world over should be seen in conjunction with all the recent initiatives around graded autonomy and institutions of eminence,” she added.
Alternative Study in India programs have existed over the years, but Iyer hopes that with the government stepping in, more and more institutions will join and see the benefit.
However, Iyer said there are areas for improvement if India wants to attract more students – especially around accommodation facilities, safety concerns and curricula.
For Singh, beyond support services, India needs to work on a framework for credit recognition and transfer of credits.
“India continues to not recognise pathway-led education and so it will be very difficult to transfer from overseas institutions to Indian institutions mid-way into a program,” he told The PIE.
Earlier in 2018, India and France signed a Memorandum of Understanding for mutual recognition of qualifications, while Indian universities are also targeting students from Africa with the promise lower fees and comparable standards to those of Europe and US.