After Ayushman Bharat, the largest health insurance scheme of the world, the next ambitious agenda of the Modi government is to make India one of the leading global hubs of higher education. According to the All India Survey of Higher Education-2018 (AISHE- 2018), the country has 907 universities and 50,000 higher education institutions with enrolment of 33 million students. The Indian higher education system is the third largest with USA and China being the first and the second respectively in quantitative terms.

According to the Association of Indian Universities, India has huge potential to attract and retain international students. Currently, the country has more than 79,000 foreign students enrolled against 700,000 Indian students studying abroad. Conscious of India’s great potential, the finance minister in her first budget speech announced that the Government will bring in a New National Education Policy to transform India’s higher education system to one of the world’s best.

A National Research Foundation will be set up to fund, coordinate and promote research in the country. The FM also assured to make concerted efforts to boost the international ranking of Indian universities by making a provision of Rs 400 crore under the head of ‘World Class Institutions’. A new programme ‘Study in India’ will focus vigorously on incentivizing foreign students to study in higher educational institutions in India.

Considering that there has been limited or little thrust on internationalisation of higher education, it is worth noting that the process and the implications of internationalisation in/of higher education is addressed by the Draft National Education Policy-2019 (DNEP). The DNEP provides, inter alia, a timely transformative approach towards promoting internationalisation of higher education in India. The DNEP envisions a robust programme of internationalisation by facilitating student and faculty mobility, establishing international partnerships for research, cross-border delivery of higher education programmes, easing the processes of enrolling students from around the world, as well as the feasibility of carrying credits across institutions in multiple countries.

The DNEP also takes cognisance of India’s illustrious educational history by taking note of international reputation of the University of Takshashila (700 BCE) and Nalanda (7th century CE) which attracted students from all over the world. To this end, the DNEP calls for a robust programme for “Internationalisation at Home”. In other words, there is a need to enable a conducive ecosystem to attract international students to India and enable support to Indian students moving abroad.

The 1986 National Policy on Education, aligned to the spirit of international peace and cooperation, provides emphasis on the role of ‘education to strengthen this world view and motivate the younger generations for international co-operation and peaceful co-existence’. Hence, ‘internationalisation at home’ is a unique strategy envisaged by the DNEP-2019 vis-à-vis the previous National Policies on Education, namely those of 1968, 1986 and 1992 with some corrections. The focus is quite aptly on the creation of a nationally and internationally competitive system of education.

It also highlights the importance of and the need for National Higher Education Qualifications Framework (NHEQF) aligned with global standards for students to receive internationally recognised qualifications. There is significant stress on the importance of collaboration between foreign and Indian institutions for facilitating twinning programmes. Currently, only 150 foreign institutes offer courses with Indian universities under a twinning arrangement.

Many European and American universities offer specialised courses in Indic studies and Indology or set up India Study Centres. Such courses or centres attract Indian students and researchers pursuing India-centred research outside India. The DNEP, with a view to incentivising and promoting Indian universities, recommends offering of specially designed courses on Indian languages, arts, history, Ayurveda, yoga, etc. as attractive pursuits. This will, surely, help fostering ‘internationalisation at home’. Few of the major bottlenecks in attracting international students in India are: residential accommodation for foreign students, quality facilities and infrastructure, difficulties in obtaining visa and absence of ancillary support systems.

The DNEP recommends facilitation of stay and integration of incoming students through assigning faculty mentors, host families and student buddies, and offering local language courses and other bridge courses at a convenient pace. This calls for student mobility and faculty mobility with several proactive interventions to incentivise. Also, Indian students will be supported to have ‘a global immersion’ experience through short-duration visits to reputed universities abroad. Movement of undergraduate and graduate students from Indian universities to take up semester-abroad programmes, short-term internships, training or project work in international institutions will be encouraged.

Tie-ups with educational institutions abroad for student exchange programmes will be expanded and strengthened. The provision for credit transfer to such selected students will be facilitated. Scholarships and/or educational loans for students and researchers aspiring to pursue higher studies abroad and return to India will be enhanced. Also, faculty members at Indian institutions will be encouraged to get exposure to foreign universities, and vice versa. This could include exchange programmes with designated universities, deputation/lien, shortterm assignments/jobs and shortterm training programmes in India and abroad.

Faculty at Indian higher education institutions will be eligible for sabbatical leave which they can use for availing of such opportunities. Additionally, Indian institutions hosting visiting scholars under the Global Initiative of Academic Networks (GIAN) scheme will be encouraged to provide such analogous opportunities for selected faculty from their institutions to visit foreign institutions.

The DNEP has proposed establishing an Inter-University Centre for International Education (IUCIE) and also an International Education Centre (IEC) within selected Indian universities to support internationalisation of higher education in universities. Another significant proposition is to permit top 200 universities in the world to operate in India. An appropriate and firm legislative framework for facilitating such entry will be put in place, and such universities will have to follow all the regulatory, governance, and content norms applicable to Indian universities.

A recent phenomenon related to internationalisation has been the advent of the Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). The DNEP encourages Indian Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) to extend the coverage of their distance learning programmes to foreign countries. If necessary, adequate software support and funding can be made available to all interested higher education institutions for the programmes. The DNEP also focuses on systematic outreach brand building campaign from International Offices of Indian HEIs in all forms of communication, including social media for attracting students from abroad.

The proposed initiatives will catapult India to becoming an attractive destination for foreign students and truly give our campuses a global diversity while simultaneously giving Indian faculty and researchers global exposure, promoting cross-border higher education in true spirit. In fine, the renewed emphasis on research, innovation and academic excellence, firmly backed by the latest budget announcement, will redound to making India a leading global hub of higher education, redeeming the pride of place that India occupied from the days of Takshashila and Nalanda.

The task is daunting for Ramesh Pohkriyal Nishank, India’a Human Resource Development Minister, since, as of now, only three Indian institutions rank among the first 200 and only 23 among the first 1000 globally ranking universities.

(The writer is former Additional Secretary, Lok Sabha and writes on constitutional law and public policy matters)