Will Indian Higher Education Get Freedom from Corruption?

Aug 22, 2011

This month, India celebrated its sixty-fourth year of independence, however, freedom from the slavery of corruption is elusive. India has a long history of corruption and some of the recent cases in this "season of scams" are:
  • Commonwealth Games: The Comptroller and Auditor General of India found that the final cost of the Games was 16 times the original estimate of $270 million to over $4billion. The head of the CWG is now serving jail time for charges of misappropriation. 
  • 2G Scam: The Comptroller and Auditor General of India found that the goverment lost revenue to the tune of US$ 39 billion due to corruption and favoritism to particular telecom companies during spectrum allocation. Former minister is in jail and Kapil Sibal replaced him as telecom minister, who is also higher education minister.
I have been writing for a while about the lack of quality and professional standards in Indian higher education. There have been numerous reports about the corruption with Indian regulatory bodies and even institutions working as pseudo-non-profits. Of course,  sheer in terms of money, higher education corruption seems tiny as compared to CWG and 2G scams, but the basic cause is no different. The primary cause is a hyper-competitive environment for resources where compromising on ethics and engaging with corruption is the easiest and fastest way to move ahead.

The scope of corruption is at all levels although the scale differs. Politicians blame businessmen, businessmen blame politicians and common man blames both, but even common man is engaged in corruption when he pays bribe to get some work done.

In this environment any reform or change is an opportunity for more corruption as this cartoon strip from K. Raja shows:


I recently watched a Hindi movie 'Aarakshan’, which blasted the crass commercialization of education in India and how inequality and caste system is even manifested in the business of higher education. It was developed on the background of controversial reservation policy where nearly 50% of seats in public institutions were reserved for students from underserved minorities. I was amazed at how closely it was able to depict what’s wrong with Indian higher education (of course, discounting the melodrama and entertaining songs expected from a Bollywood movie). It simply asked are you participating in the corrupt system or working towards changing it?

Anna Hazare is one man working towards changing the system of corruption. He has emerged as a voice of the middle class which is fed up of corruption. Hazare is asking government to draft a new law an independent ombudsman, to investigate and prosecute corrupt officials. Here is a very interesting debate on NDTV on this topic.

While Anna Hazare movement is not going to solve all the problems of corruption in India, it certainly has shown the frustration of Indian middle class with the rotten nexus of business, bureaucrats and politics. However, the real change lies with one's will power to say no to corruption at any cost. As Clayton Christensen, Professor, Harvard Business School in his article How Will You Measure Your Life? notes "...it’s easier to hold to your principles 100% of the time than it is to hold to them 98% of the time."

Many of the problems of higher education will get resolved when the blame game stops and individuals and institutions set high principles for themselves by not engaging with corruption at any level. Of course, a solid quality assurance and regulatory system which is corruption-free will make the freedom sustainable.

Dr. Rahul Choudaha

International recruitment agents: Playing with fire?

Aug 13, 2011


This week America's second largest for-profit company--Education Management Corporation--was sued by the US government for allegations that it "consistently violated federal law by paying recruiters based on how many students it enrolled", according to New York Times. Education Management is 41 per cent owned by Goldman Sachs and enrolls 150,000 students across 105 schools and clocked an annual revenue of nearly US$ 2.9 billion. If the allgegations are true than this is a prime example of institutionalization of illegal recruitment practices.

A couple of weeks back, Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) came out in a public statement supporting commission-based recruiting for international students. APLU is an association of 221 public universities including state university systems like California State University System. Yes, the same commission-based recruiting which is illegal in the US is acceptable in international recruitment--double standards? Although, NACAC continues not to support commission-based agents, its bold stance of common and highest standards of recruitment practices, has been put in cold storage for couple of years.

While NACAC softens its stance, a couple of recent incidents highlighted the risks agency-model presents to the US higher education.

- Visa fraud raid on University of Northern Virginia: Another university after Tri Valley University was raided on the grounds of visa frauds. According to the Economic Times, "We caution them to be alert to the existence of these so-called predatory visa fraud rings and fraudulent document vendors," said US State Department spokesman. Agents have no role to play in this? If a university in the US was able to work-around federal regulations, how does one expects to have any professional oversight or quality control on agents working in other countries? Here is another related proof where founder of AIRC certified ageny was found to be involved in forgerdy and embezzlement.  Now, what standards of documentations and fraud prevention do you think this agency would be expecting from students? (the height of irony is that Oceanic's website reads "we strongly discourage students to use any fraudulent means for pursuing their studies overseas.") Also, what happened to "professionalization" of agents expected from AIRC certificate?

- Australia recognizing agent and institution nexus: According to the The Age, "Senator Evans said in many cases a chain of migration agent, education college, and business owner had brought Indians to Australia to work, the students enrolled in a cooking or hairdressing course as a cover." An Ombudsman has been established for international students in Australia to complain about institutions. Already there are several complaints about agents and institutions, "A tricky area is the obligation that colleges keep an eye open for any misleading activity by agents; for example, an offshore agent who tells would-be students that Australia is still an easy mark for migration.", in an article in the Australian. Aren't the proponents of agent-models saying that Australia has perfected the use of agents?

Why we only hear negative stories like Tri Valley and UNV about agents? Where are the positive stories of how agents helped attracting top quality students? Anyone care to share?

In next couple of years, given the financial strain on public universities and softening of NACAC's stance, more institutions will use agents, however, many will only burn their hands by playing with fire.

Thoughts/comments?

Here are earlier posted on this topic:
Agents for international student recruitment: Have we not learned anything from Australia and the UK?
Recruitment agent debate: Are institutions ready for disclosures?

Dr. Rahul Choudaha

Policy reforms in Indian higher education: From rhetoric to results

Aug 4, 2011

Higher education reforms in India gained a big boost of optimism with the announcements by Mr. Kapil Sibal in 2009 with his 100-day action-plan. However, policy reforms are yet to move beyond paperwork and rhetoric. There are nearly 15 bills with the government awaiting approval.

Foreign universities bill is one such example which faces several practical issues and it has turned out be a car with square wheels. Even if the bill is approved, there are serious questions about its effectiveness and relevance. Further, there a few foreign institutions like Lancaster University, which decided not to wait for the bill and have started their campus in partnership with GD Goenka. This is a classic example of how a disjointed approach many make a policy irrelevant. In my recent article in EDU magazine, I have highlighted the need of comprehensive internationalization policy.

Uwe Brandenburg in their article “The End of Internationalization” argue that it is time “to rethink and redefine the way we look at the internationalization of higher education in the present time.” It is ironical that the conversations about internationalization of higher education have not even started in India and the advanced world is moving to its next phase of redefining internationalization. It is high time for Indian higher education at policy and institutional level to reflect on how best to leverage the concept of internationalization and engage it to achieve the goals of excellence, diversity and capacity building.

In my another article--Crisis of Confidence in Indian Higher Education?--published in University World News, I argue for the need of solid quality assurance framework to gain confidence of foreign universities in engaging with India. For a foreign university looking for collaborations in India how does it distinguish between 'recognised' and 'unrecognised' institutions? For example, how does one distinguish between institutions like the Indian School of Business, ranked 12 in The Financial Times rankings of business schools, and IIPM, when neither is recognised by quality assurance body--AICTE? How does an Indian institution establishes its credentials with a foreign university in an environment of distrust and lack of quality benchmarks?

To give an investment analogy: in India, it is difficult to tell a junk bond from a blue-chip stock. India is a promising investment market but you have to make sure you know where you are investing. Moreover, India itself has to step up its efforts to create investor confidence and build an enabling investment climate. It's time to get see some results.

Dr. Rahul Choudaha


Innovating the Transnational Model: Thinking Beyond Branch Campuses

Aug 1, 2011

Call for Guest Columns:  
I welcome guest post from leaders, scholars, and students on topics related to higher education. I am looking for brief posts (~500 words) which build on published research/book or well supported by data. If you would like to share your research on higher education feel free to reach out to me on rahul [at] dreducation.com .

This guest post is from Sean Angiolillo who earned a BA in International Relations and South Asia Studies from the University of Pennsylvania in May 2011. This post draws from his senior thesis “Importing Knowledge: How Transnational Higher Education Builds Human Capital in India.” Next year, Sean is working as an Academic Ambassador for Dipont Education Management in Shanghai, China.
Dr. Rahul Choudaha

Innovating the Transnational Model: Thinking Beyond Branch CampusesBy Sean Angiolillo
Last year this blog wrote briefly about the “industrialization of education”. Some, such as Sir Ken Robinson, have argued that education models from around the world too often resemble factory assemble lines, where all students receive the same instruction along linear paths. Given India’s tremendous deficits in the quality and quantity of higher education, it might be tempting to identify the “best” model and then scale it up to size, replicating again and again to meet India’s needs.

However, Robinson advocates an “agricultural model”, focused on creating the conditions under which students can flourish. Rather than scaling one solution, the goal is to customize education to better suit individual needs.

Transnational education (TNE) offers a number of new models that can accomplish just this, by creating new high-quality academic pathways for students. While India’s prospects for the branch campus model (never particularly high) have been largely put to rest for now, other innovative models of TNE may be able to contribute to bridging India’s higher education deficits.

Of any TNE model, the branch campus attracts the most attention for its exotic nature. However, more people are realizing that India is not Qatar. New Delhi does not have the capacity (or intention) to roll out the red carpet for foreign universities, to construct new facilities, and to underwrite financial liabilities. The enormous challenges—legal ambiguity, political uncertainty, staffing questions, quality control, and land acquisition to name a few—are more than enough to deter most foreign universities.

Nevertheless, while large-scale branch campuses are highly unlikely, smaller foreign investments and partnerships through innovative models of TNE, which minimize these obstacles, will be exceptionally more attractive to foreign institutions, and ultimately more rewarding for talented Indian students.

While the Foreign Universities Bill continues to languish in Parliament, pioneering institutions have taken it upon themselves to create new kinds of mutually beneficial foreign partnerships. Through a wide variety of creative franchising, twinning, joint programs, and distance education models, more Indian students are accessing high quality education at lower costs.

For instance, a private for-profit institution, Chennai’s National Management School, is partnering with the public Georgia State University’s Robinson School of Business. Together, over 250 GSU faculty members rotate through NMS, delivering intensive modular courses in as little as a week at a time.

In another example, a partnership between Chennai’s SSN College of Engineering and Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University makes it possible for Indian students to spend one year of study in India using Carnegie Mellon courseware and earn a CMU graduate degree with just six additional months of study in Pittsburgh.

The key connecting theme of these transnational models should be higher quality education at lower costs. Each model accomplishes this goal in different ways. Twinning arrangements shorten the length of time needed to be spent abroad. Franchising arrangements eliminate this time altogether, in theory bringing all the resources of a foreign institution to India. Distance education, including programs supported by local partners, utilizes technology to connect learners with instructors. All of these transnational models provide new options to India’s rapidly expanding, higher education-hungry middle classes.

Moreover, while India is not Qatar, it does possess several advantages over other destinations in its transnational attraction, upon which its domestic institutions can capitalize through partnerships. India’s millions of young English-speakers, looking for a role in the “knowledge economy”, certainly ranks the subcontinent near the top of many foreign institutions’ internationalization wish list. Also, transnational models can provide India’s huge diaspora of Ph.D.s with new opportunities for short-term returns.

These innovative models certainly will not solve India’s largest education problems. Nevertheless, given its current educational deficits, and its ambitious goals, India should allow its own institutions to explore and experiment with new models of TNE to augment domestic resources and expertise.

Since the state’s education “assembly lines” have clearly been inadequate to meeting the growing demand and desires of a young population, the least it can do is create a transparent and unencumbered environment for its own institutions to draw upon foreign expertise. If the goal is a “knowledge-driven” economy, India needs to capitalize on these innovations in order to ensure its supply of human capital.

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