Tie-ups and standardisation
China’s economic size and its stronger global economic and diplomatic linkages have undoubtedly placed it in a better position than India to attract more foreign students. China’s cause has also been well served by international commitments, including ‘One Belt One Road’, a $900 billion investment designed to boost both land and sea trade routes that run towards Europe via Asia. The recent growth in foreign students is said to be linked to this initiative.
Overall, China leads over India in terms of hard power – economic and military – and, despite not being a democracy, also in terms of its soft power. Among other reasons, this is because China has used its resources quite effectively to boost its soft power. Nations and peoples around the world, despite their concerns about what China’s rise may mean for everyone, admire its achievements and would like to emulate its successes.
Economic opportunities by themselves, however, are not sufficient to attract a substantial number of foreign students. India would have done better than it has if that was so. There is no really no substitute for world-class institutions for a country to be able to do this. In addition, it helps to develop partnerships with prestigious Western universities, have more English language courses and standardise academic programmes.
To attract more foreign students and to improve the overall quality of education at its universities, the Chinese ministry of education is supporting the development of some universities as Sino-foreign joint ventures. Since the early 2000s, more than 2,000 such ventures have been established, including foreign university campuses. These include the Duke Kunshan University, the University of Nottingham Ningbo, the Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University, the Wenzhou-Kean University and the New York University Shanghai.
These ventures allow international students to study both in China and at the Western university. Many other Western universities operate within a Chinese host university. While there are real concerns about academic freedom at Sino-foreign setups as well as the long-term financial feasibility of these and related initiatives, they have certainly emerged as good options for foreign students looking to combine both Chinese and Western experiences.
Additionally, a growing number of Chinese universities have started to offer more courses and programmes in English to improve their appeal for international students. This is an area where India’s universities hold an advantage – but the advantage will matter only if its universities also offered a good quality education.
Finally, success with attracting more foreign students requires that the degrees be recognised outside the host country. More Indians are studying at Chinese universities because their medical and engineering degrees are recognised in India. The higher education system has to be adapted in ways that it allows foreign students to ‘carry’ the degree they have earned to their home country and even elsewhere in the world. The recognition issue is less of a problem for universities that enjoy high world rankings, although bureaucratic hurdles do crop up at times.
Another way to achieve the same result is through the mutual recognition of degrees by two countries, as has happened recently between India and France. In general, however, for smaller universities, there is certainly a greater need to design courses and programmes – in terms of content and duration – to be similar to those at Western universities to improve their chances of attracting more foreign students.
Foreign universities have a much-smaller presence – if it can be called that – in India than in China. As in China, the government does not permit standalone foreign universities, but unlike China, even join venture institutions are not permitted. The Indian model is one of twinning programmes, notably at private universities, where students complete part of their studies at their home institution in India and the rest at a foreign institution, typically one in North America, Europe or Australia.
There have been legitimate both about the quality of education at Indian institutions carrying out twinning programmes and about the quality of universities abroad with which twinning arrangements are in place. The UGC and the All India Council for Technical Education have established a set of rules in an attempt to address the problem. However, it is not known whether universities with twinning programmes attract more foreign students than usual.