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Be careful before you enroll into that foreign course

May 7, 2008

students indiaImport of higher education into India is wonderful in itself because those who cannot afford to go abroad to get their degrees can get them here. However at times the foreign course that the student dreamed of can be a disaster. It fails because the course fails to take into account Indian conditions…in other words the course runs as if it is operating in the country of its origin.

It was quite disturbing to read that a Rs 4-lakh 2-year foreign degree course (offered by ICRI, India’s premier Clinical Research Institute and UK’s Cranfield University, U.K) failed 27 of its 551 students. One of the reasons for the disaster was that the course relied too heavily on the internet. There was a blackboard system on the internet from which the students had to take notes online. But not surprisingly the system never worked properly and could not be fixed either!

Another problem was the thesis. The students did not fare well in their thesis which was compulsory…”the foreign course required a research thesis of 20,000 words, to be completed in the last four months at the workplace.” This thesis accounted for 50 percent of the marks in the second year. Not only were the Indian students unfamiliar with how to write such a thesis, they were additionally disadvantaged as the thesis required them to source research data from corporates. As it says in a Times of India article (could not get the link):

foreign univsThe university did not understand that in India, while doing research, very few companies reveal their data to students and provide R&D facilities to them. Yet, many of the students were judged on the research part of the thesis…

Clearly, Cranfiled university failed to take into account that in India companies are secretive and not student friendly. Was it surprising then that so many students failed? Well, luckily the university is giving them a second chance…

But I cannot help but wonder if these foreign universities have done their own homework. Do they know anything at all about India? They should have known that students from a rural background in particular would find the course very tough, though even students from metros like Mumbai failed the course.

India has come a long way from the time when the government wanted to ban all foreign courses in India (about 10 years ago) as they were under the impression that it was something for the “elite.” Now that they have realised that it’s the middle classes who are gasping for higher education they’ve changed their mind. Not just that. The government has realised that:

…a liberal framework for foreign education providers would save India annually $4bn in foreign exchange. More than a lakh Indian students join foreign varsities to pursue higher studies every year. A number of foreign universities, including those from the US, the UK and Australia, are keen to set up shop in India.

However the government is not involved in monitoring the quality of the courses. There is a bill (the Foreign Educational Institutions Bill, 2007) regulating the entry and the operations of foreign educational institutions (FEIs) in India but it is mostly the fee structure that the government wants to control. The government has not prescribed any minimum standards that the institutes have to follow and the government will hardly care if the course is suited to Indian conditions or not. It’s up to the students to figure it all out.

(Photograph is by me and is a stock photo, not related to the university being written about. The second image is the shot of the article from the Times epaper)

Related Reading: 3 of the world’s top universities are Indian
New rules for those who want to open foreign universities

11 Comments leave one →
  1. May 7, 2008 10:21 am

    do Indian unis have courses in foreign countries too?

  2. May 7, 2008 10:48 am

    If my dad would have to give a 4 lakh fee for a 2 year course for me and I fail, then he would be royally pissed off. 😀
    As far as I know(but I am not sure), such courses are provided in India via an affiliation to a University here. So, is it not the responsiblity of the Indian University to make sure that all the facilities are provided? Why should a person who is already paying such an hefty sum, has to suffer due to technical snags??

  3. May 7, 2008 12:37 pm

    Vishesh, I guess they should have shouldn’t they, I mean in countries like africa? I think I read something of the sort but don’t have the link.

    Amit, I too think that the Indian arm of the univ should be more responsible. But I think the way things are people get so impressed with anything ‘foreign’ that they simply lap it up. You’ve seen it when people go abroad and get degrees from unknown univs, just to flaunt their ‘foreign’ degree! We have some really excellent univs here, only if there were more of them!

  4. May 7, 2008 1:25 pm

    I guess much of these is because ppl are ready to pay lakhs when they hear ‘foreign’ attached to the degree.
    Its would be a lot better to study here in India from recognised universities.
    Also none of the Clinical Research courses (by these private colleges) are recognised by any university nor the govt here in India. I have drafted some thing on Clinical Research hype and the money involved. Will post it sometime.

  5. May 7, 2008 2:49 pm

    These universities hire instructional designer and SMEs (subject matter experts) to design their courses that ensure that students truly gain the knowledge after they have learnt. With advent of Web 2.0, blackboard type utilities are quite popular in e-learning. Let’s face it our slow internet connections ensure that India is yet not ready for e-learning as most tools run very slow here.

    Also, a designer does a needs assessment and assessment of already existing knowledge and tools. This is stage when actual learning conditions of Indian students and market scenario would have been revealed. Sadly, most universities overrule this part in this age of instant gratification. They get designers and get them to design straightaway, irrespective of global considerations. It has worked so far as Indians are raving mad after things that are foreign. And they hardly indulge in researching the value of a course.

  6. May 7, 2008 7:51 pm

    Xylene, more and more of these courses will be seen in India now as the market is wide open. Everyone needs to be careful before they spend their hard earned money on these institutes. And yeah, there are a lot of unrecognized courses too, but I am not sure whether these foreign courses fall into that category.

    Poonam, thanks for that very informative comment. A pity isn’t it that universities are in such a hurry that they overlook the basic necessities? Reminds me of the BRT mess. No research and planning, just plunge into it! And as for us Indians, as you say we are raving mad after things ‘foreign.’ Even after so many years of independence!

  7. May 7, 2008 9:45 pm

    I absolutely adore your photography. Sometimes, I solely look at your blog for the pictures you put on. :)) Thanks for the moments of glee you bring into my life. 🙂

  8. May 8, 2008 9:09 am

    I returned from my higher education in NY, and I must agree with u! I had no idea what a thesis was! and I had no idea what they were talking about for the first few weeks there!! Financial hurdles, technical hurdles and finally, the culture shock all play a major role!
    And I guess its the same when a foreign university comes to india… students here are just not aware of the kind of standards they maintain and they’re not aware of our standards! there should be some sort of a bridge-building session before such an initiative is taken…

  9. May 8, 2008 4:50 pm

    Roop, thank you. When I was putting up this post, I was admiting my own photo 🙂 but didn’t think anyone would notice!

    Nikhil, thanks.Over here in India a thesis is not compulsory for MA students. In any case doing research etc is not ingrained in our Indian curriculum while abroad the kids are trained to do it from school itself. I agree that if they are conducting their courses here they need to do something to give students an idea as to what is expected of them.

  10. jacob permalink
    May 13, 2008 8:51 pm

    Has it occurred to any one that the kind of students enrolling for such courses probably come from rich backgrounds and they are just doing these courses to either please their parents or to just get a stamp of having done something in life, normally even the duffers from here do well abroad.

  11. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    May 13, 2008 9:19 pm


    You may or may not have a point there. Maybe we need to review what kind of kids we call “duffers.” Our education system is largely about cramming and regurgitating, while in many of the developed countries (I don’t say all) it is about learning, and about learning to learn. Maybe the kids you call “duffers” are plain misfits in our system, where as in a more open system they sparkle.

    One thing, unfortunately true, is that scholarships for Indians to study abroad are far fewer today than they were until 15-20 years ago. So a large number of students opting for such courses today are indeed from rich backgrounds. Or else they are from modest backgrounds but so consumed with the desire for a “foreign” degree that they go in for steep loans which they spend half their careers repaying.

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