Trends, insights and research to inform growth and innovation strategies in international higher education.

October 26, 2010

TIME: Steep learning curve for American universities in India

I was quoted in TIME magazine article on interest and engagement of foreign universities in India. The article discussed opportunities, challenges and models of engagement. It rightly summed up "The American schools, true to their nation's entrepreneurial heritage, see the opportunity as too ripe to pass up." Click here to read full article.
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October 18, 2010

Advertising (mal)practices: Lack of professional standards

Education sector was the highest spender on print advertising in India and constituted 15% of all print advertising in the first half of 2010 (AdEx Analysis). Within this the top spender is Planman Consultant (IIPM). Planman is now also spending money on TV advertising and is the biggest spender under education sector (watch advertisement) The big question is--Is IIPM through Planman misleading students and families and overclaiming its quality? There are many who believe so. Consider this exhaustive investigation by Careers360--IIPM-Best only in claims? Or this recent analysis of advertising influence of IIPM on media. However, IIPM believes it is not misleading students. Recently, UGC issued a notification that IIPM “does not have the right of conferring or granting degrees as specified by the University Grants Commission.” Why Indian institutions are in this state of overpromising and overclaiming? What are the implications on students?

Competition is intensifying in higher education sector and many institutions in India are engaged in over-promising and misrepresenting. This happens in other consumer sectors too, however, here stakes for the consumers (students) are very high. A detergent company claiming whiteness of shirt has very different implications as compared to an educational institution claiming 100% placement or a coaching institute claiming selection to top institution, when the reality is poor offering. The influence of unfulfilled claims is not only on the career and expectations of students directly but their families too.

This means that ethical standards and their enforcement for education sector should be much stringent. In contrast, there are no guidelines from the sector or from the policymakers. For the first time, ASCI proposed self-regulatory Guidelines for Advertising of Educational Institutions. It appropriately acknowledges that the nature of education services which is different from tangible product and highly influenced by factors like "...qualification nomenclatures, abbreviations, icons, logos, claims, affiliations, testimonials, accreditations, admissions, job and compensation" where wide variety of promises exist. See related story in Business Standard.

At the policy level, the bill to check malpractices in education--The Prohibition of Unfair Practises in Technical, Medical Educational Institutions and Universities Bill-- had proposed penalties upto Rs.5 million for misleading advertising. Unfortunately, the discussion on bill has been deferred due to priorities on other bills.

While challenge of overpromising and underdelivering is rampant in Indian education sector, it is also gaining attention in the US. Last month, US GAO report found evidence that for-profit colleges "encouraged fraud and engaged in deceptive and questionable marketing practices." See the video clips of undercover operation. In June 2010, US Department of Education also proposed negotiated rulemaking for improving integrity among education providers qualified for federal financial aid. It notes that there are "...overly aggressive career college recruiters signing up students, only to have them drop out weeks later and default on their loans. Despite these concerns, for-profit institutions have never been required to substantiate the claim that they are preparing students for 'gainful employment.'"

Undoubtedly competition is good  and advertising/marketing serves an important function in the sector, however, it is high time that institutions realize that they are not selling detergents or cigarettes and create new benchmarks of ethical standards. Likewise, policy framework should become vigilant and enforce these standards in the interest of students.

-Dr. Rahul Choudaha
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October 13, 2010

Why does India lack world-class universities?

My article--World class aims demand quality--was published in the October 14th issue of the Times Higher Education.

Why does India lack world-class universities? It is easy to point to the lack of resources - money and time - needed to build such institutions. More importantly, however, Indian higher education fails to fully recognise the value of the most essential resource in such an endeavour, namely talent. An awareness of the importance of attracting the best talent - students, faculty and administrators - in delivering quality is sorely missing.

The Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2010-11 featured six universities from mainland China, two from Turkey and none from India. The easiest defence for India is to attack the rankings' methodology, but this league table is yet another reminder of the ugly truth of Indian higher education: quality is simply not a priority at institutional or policy level.
There is no dearth of self-proclaimed world-class institutions in India, even though when claims of world-class faculty, research or infrastructure are benchmarked to global institutions through proxies such as the THE rankings, they fail miserably. Nevertheless, the term "world-class" is loosely used not only by institutions but also by the government. Unfortunately, the recent announcement of the establishment of 14 "innovation universities" meeting world-class standards has yet to move beyond an attractive concept.
Why does India lack world-class universities? It is easy to point to the lack of resources - money and time - needed to build such institutions. More importantly, however, Indian higher education fails to fully recognise the value of the most essential resource in such an endeavour, namely talent. An awareness of the importance of attracting the best talent - students, faculty and administrators - in delivering quality is sorely missing.
Let us take a basic comparison of research productivity between Zhejiang University in China, 197th in the THE rankings, and the University of Delhi, which is one of the better-known public universities in India.
A simple search for "University of Delhi" on Google Scholar produces about 30,000 results, compared with nearly 330,000 for "Zhejiang University". This difference becomes even more stark when one considers the relative size of the institutions. Delhi has almost 138,000 students enrolled in formal education programmes against Zhejiang's 39,000.
Such inefficient research productivity reflects not only a lack of recognition of research as one of the core measures of a world-class university but also a lack of an ecosystem of talent. For example, consider the number of PhD candidates at the two universities. Only one in 50 students at the University of Delhi is enrolled in a doctoral programme, compared with one in six at Zhejiang.
Admittedly, Indian universities have at least two significant systemic challenges. First, the landscape of Indian higher education is quite complex. Both public and private colleges are affiliated to public universities, resulting in a high variability of quality within institutions. Second, in just over 60 years of independence, India has struggled to pull together resources, focusing on access and quantity instead of quality.
Although India cannot turn its back on access, nor can it afford to waste its higher-education resources by expanding an inefficient system. Continued expansion without a keen focus on quality will merely result in a larger inefficient system. It is time that quality orientation takes precedence, at least in the short term.
One may argue that India has no need of "world-class" higher education institutions, given the country's resource constraints and widening-access priorities. But I believe that India needs exemplars to raise the overall quality of the system and to provide world-class solutions to its many challenges. Building truly excellent universities will require a comprehensive approach to attract and retain top talent.
Dr. Rahul Choudaha
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October 09, 2010

Brain Gain Strategy for India: Gyan Ratna To Recognize and Attract Top Talent

Kapil Sibal's First 100-days action plan mentioned "Formulation of a 'Brain-Gain' policy to attract talent from across the world to the existing and new institutions." Sam Pitroda had also proposed setting up of a fund of $500 million to attract select faculty and researchers to India.

The fund proposal is facing criticism on at least two major fronts. First, the proposed amount of $500 million seems to be too high in the context of resource constraints and other priorities. The total budget of all 15 IITs is less than the $500 million. Another major concern is about the demotivating effect of high differential compensation on the academicians and researchers who opted to stay in India.

I applaud the ministry and Sam Pitroda to think along the lines of attracting the best talent to improve quality of higher education. This had been one of the most important areas which has not got enough attention. However, I argue that approach of attracting top talent through monetary incentives alone would be very expensive and even inefficient.

I see two other limitations with the proposal--appealing to the wrong needs of global faculty and lack of comprehensive approach on talent. Maslow's need hierarchy defines five levels of needs from Basic needs to Complex needs. The proposal of attracting talent through money alone aims at Basic level needs like Physiological, Safety and Social needs, while the approach should be to appeal to Complex needs like Esteem and Self-actualization. "Esteem needs focus on self-respect and include recognition and respect from others. Fulfilling esteem needs produces feelings of self-confidence, prestige, power, and control." "Self-actualization needs focus on the attainment of one's full potential."

Second, limitation of the fund proposal is that it lacks a comprehensive approach. The objective should not only be to attract the best Indian talent from abroad but also to attract foreign talent to engage with Indian higher education. Furthermore, there are many high caliber faculty and researchers who's work is unappreciated. Thus, the approach should be to improve the competitiveness, productivity and professionalism of the education sector by attracting the best talent from any part of the world.

Gyan Ratna: Recognize the service and excellence in education

I propose that government should appeal to the esteem and self-actualization needs of top academicians and by recognizing them through a national title like Gyan Ratna (which means Jewel of Knowledge). These titles could be along the principles of Bharat Ratna which is "...the highest civilian honour, given for exceptional service towards advancement of Art, Literature and Science, and in recognition of Public Service of the highest order." While Bharat Ratna are highly selective, only 41 awards till date, Gyan Ratna will be more broad-based and may even have 10-15 titles to be awarded every year.

Gyan Ratna would be an aspirational title awarded by the Ministry of HRD to educators, irrespective of their nationality, who have made exemplary contributions in the field education and research in India.

This would include three segments:
1. academicians based abroad and committing to come back
2. academicians already based in India but making global impact
3. foreign academicians engaging with India

Basic criteria need to be defined to ensure that title holders are achievers in their field of work and are committed to contributing to Indian education sector. It would have both a qualitative and quantitative evaluation system where a point-based system may weigh several criteria including PhD earned in India or abroad, number of citations, number of years of experience in higher education, commitment for working in India etc. The qualitative selection process should be non-political and peer-review based.

Of course, a title alone would not attract the best talent and would need support from other strategies like availability of an ecosystem of research and decent salary levels, however, Gyan Ratna would create aspirations and attractiveness for one of the noble professions which is in dire need of quality and professionalism.

What are your thoughts/comments/suggestions?
Dr. Rahul Choudaha
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October 03, 2010

International student enrollment for fall 2010: Increasing interest for US & UK universities

Public universities in the US are reporting record enrollment of international students (listen to my interview on NPR). Here are some examples:

University of Cincinnati: up 8%
Kent State University, Ohio: up 26%
Indiana State University: up 13%
University of Colorado, Boulder: up 11%
Iowa State University: up 10%
The University of Michigan-Flint: up 40%
Montana Tech: up 11%
University of Central Oklahoma: up 17%
Arkansas State University: up 35%

There are two primary reasons for record enrollments:
1. Decreasing state budget cuts
2. Increasing demand from source countries

At a time when private sector is showing signs of recovery, higher education is still facing budget cuts. According to Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, at least 43 states have implemented cuts to public colleges and universities. For example, Georgia has reduced state funding for public higher education for FY2011 by $151 million, or 7%. Similarly, US News and World Report notes that estimated state tax support from 2008-2010 for US public higher education was down by average 7% and for some states like Ohio it was even worse with a decrease of 14%.

In these circumstances of budget cuts, public institutions have limited options--cut costs, raise tuition or increase tuition earned per FTE. International students who pay non-resident fee and get no federal financial aid help universities by increasing the revenue potential for the universities. For example, undergraduate international students at the University of Cincinnati increased by 13% or 60 more freshmen enrolled as compared to last year. These additional 60 students will contributed nearly $1 million in incremental revenue over four years as compared to in-state students.

On the supply side, countries like China and India have seen rapid expansion at the school and undergraduate level, however, economy has not expanded at the same pace to absorb all students. For China, the gross-enrollment ratio increased from 6 % to 23% percent in a decade. Similarly, for India, the annual intake of engineering seats has doubled to over 1 million in five years. This rapid expansion has resulted in increasing demand at the graduate level. Another factor supporting mobility of China and Indian students at the undergraduate level is the increasing prosperity and affordability. For example, According to 2010 Asia-Pacific Wealth Report there were 477,000 and 127,000 US dollar millionaires in China and India respectively in 2009. This is an increase of 31% and 50% for China and India respectively from 2008.

The trend of increasing enrollment of international students at public universities is also witnessed in the UK where budget cuts have made international students more lucrative. For example, according to BBC, Welsh universities expecting a record enrollment of international students with an increase of up to 20%. Likewise, the Telegraph reported that "Vice-chancellors said they would increasingly turn to students from outside Britain and Europe to plug a multi-billion pound hole in university finances"

Overall, fall 2010 enrollments show continued strong interest by international students for US and UK as the destination and budget cuts are compelling universities to go all the way to make the best of this interest and recruit international students.

What enrollment trends are you witnessing?

Dr. Rahul Choudaha
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