Last year, the Indian government called for a review into how to best reform its education system. The findings and recommendations reported in the media this week reflect the momentum building in India for change in the sector.
The report addresses a longstanding civil society concern within India to raise the percentage of GDP per capita spent on education. The proposal is to raise it from the current level of about 4% to something closer to the worldwide standard of 6%.
It calls for reforms to teacher education, suggesting mandatory certification of teacher qualifications for both public and private schools. It further recommends regulatory changes that would allow greater financial autonomy for top universities in India and improved research funding.
It also recommends extending the successful â€śMidday Meals Programmeâ€ť , which gives primary school children lunchtime meals free of charge in school, to secondary students.
Setting up roots in India
The report also put forward the idea that the worldâ€™s top 200 universities should be given permission to open campuses in India, reversing a previous policy of not allowing them entry.
This recommendation reflects a longstanding interest among Indian policymakers in creating greater competition within Indiaâ€™s university sector. It also serves to meet surging domestic demand for high quality international education.
It is a recommendation, too, that responds to the interests of many foreign higher education providers.
The report should please Australian universities, particularly our Group of Eight. This group represents Australiaâ€™s elite universities, ll of which are in the top 200 of global university rankings.
Opening campuses in India not only provides opportunities for Australian universities to raise revenue through improved access to the growing market for international education in India. It also allows them to deepen their engagement with India in terms of learning, teaching and research. And it facilitates cultural exchange between Australia and India.
Challenges remain for Australian universities to engage more fully in India. Most notably, India has no national system for course accreditation and qualification recognition. This makes it difficult for Australian universities to assess students' prior learning when making decisions about degree entry requirements.
Itâ€™s also worth noting that this is not the first time that the Indian government has been advised to permit foreign universities to open campuses on the subcontinent. Such legislation has been repeatedly stalled since it was first proposed in 2010. This has created uncertainty for Australian universities, making them more hesitant to engage with India.
Within the next five years, it may be possible for some universities to open campuses in India.
Australian universities already have substantive involvement with India. For example, the University of Melbourne, Deakin, RMIT and Monash University have been collaborating extensively with some of Indiaâ€™s most prestigious centres of learning and research. This includes efforts to facilitate increasing student exchanges, develop joint degree programs and foster long-term research collaborations.
Trent Brown, Research Assistant, Australia India Institute, University of Melbourne and Craig Jeffrey, Director and CEO of the Australia India Institute; professor of development geography, University of Melbourne