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This essay follows the earlier post this week also addressing internationalization in India.


The theoretical and practical concepts of internationalization of higher education (IoHE) have evolved to such an extent, that it has become difficult to clearly identify its main purposes. It has long been accepted that the main goals of IoHE shall be divided into four broad categories: academic, economic, political and cultural (e.g. expanding national education capacity, developing globalized work force, enhancing public diplomacy and building mutual trust between nations). These can be viewed as primary benefits that cover “macro” levels of research enquiries. Secondary effects, in their turn, are rather subjective, and shall be analyzed by using typological and geographical dimensions. This is the case with inbound student mobility in India, including the primary and secondary benefits it potentially creates.

At present, India is by no means ready to actively participate in the unfolding scenario of global education. Overwhelmed by a crisis of its national higher education, the country has not given priority to internationalization. Local authorities do not recognize the benefits of these processes, and, as a result still engage in debate about international strategy on the policy front. For several years, the country has attempted to open its doors to foreign educational providers in order to enhance national capacity. Even though the market seems to be economically attractive, Indian governing bodies consistently fail to agree on regulatory issues that would make new initiatives possible. As an example, the Foreign Education Providers Bill, 2012 has been blocked on multiple occasions. This regulatory framework would allow foreign institutions to operate their campuses in India. The latest initiative is a set of guidelines titled ‘The University Grants Commission Promotion and Maintenance of Standards of Academic Collaboration between Indian and Foreign Educational Institutions Regulations, 2016’. One might argue, that India should not pursue the development of foreign campuses on its soil, but rather encourage international student mobility and academic exchanges. At this juncture, though, India has yet to satisfy the conditions that would facilitate any aspect of internationalized higher education. The “Achilles’ heel” of Indian higher education is its poor quality, including infrastructure, teaching methods, faculty, curricula, etc. For these reasons, Indian universities are ranked low in world university rankings, and, this contributes to the lack of interest from internationally mobile students. Quality of food, safety, accommodation and security in India are also cause for concern. A further deterrent is that study visas issued for international students in India do not allow for any employment within the country after academic programs are completed.

Apart from a few universities, such as Manipal University and Symbiosis International University, the majority of educational institutions in India are simply not equipped to host a significant number of foreign students. This is due to outdated curricula with little focus on global trends, the absence of adequate accommodation for international students, or staff to deal with foreign student affairs, etc.

Nonetheless, foreign students do come to India, mainly from South Asia, western Asia and Africa. According to the Association of Indian Universities (AIU), 30,423 international students were enrolled in educational programs in India in 2014-15. The most popular destinations for foreign students in India are the state of Karnataka, followed by Delhi and Maharashtra. The following “pull factors” influence the decision to choose India as a study destination:

  • unique indigenous culture and traditions,
  • cultural and religious diversity (foreign students with similar identities find it easy to adjust),
  • availability of ICCR scholarships (Indian Council for Cultural Relations),
  • low fees,
  • low living expenses.

Interestingly, the survey I recently conducted among foreign students in the state of Kerala, revealed that they had chosen India, because there were limited opportunities for higher education in their home countries, scholarships were available, and they wished to experience a different culture.

India cannot compete with developed countries in attracting foreign students, but it has its own unique advantages that manifest themselves on the cultural and political fronts. At present, South Asia is one of the more troubled regions in the world and in this disturbing scenario, the internationalization of higher education could play a significant role through intra-regional student mobility where India participates as a key actor. The state of Kerala, for example, currently hosts 35 students from Afghanistan (22% of the total number of international students in Kerala). In the same state there are also 15 students from Yemen, who are not only enrolled in degree programs, but also receive temporary refuge from the tragic events currently unfolding in their home country.

Secondary effects of IoHE in India are realized in two ways: foreign students from different backgrounds interact and influence each other in the host country; foreign students and members of the local community have a mutual impact on one another. Perhaps, this is more apparent in “North to South” student migration, the full potential of which is yet to be realized. In other words, it is one thing to move within one continent or a mostly homogeneous environment and another thing altogether to move to different surroundings and be exposed to unfamiliar traditions and culture. It is especially true in the Indian context where an international student must adjust him/herself to new realities, overcome challenges, get fresh perspectives, and enlarge personal horizons. Cultural exchanges between foreign students, as well as between the international population and local people are equally important. Admittedly, local residents may not always be receptive to different cultures and reluctant to open themselves to other traditions. All these factors combined may ultimately contribute to developing a generation of more cosmopolitan and broadminded young people.

Overall, there are numerous secondary effects resulting from the internationalization of higher education— some of them are not always achieved, others may be subjective and difficult to measure. It would be useful to examine effects beyond the conventional goals and benefits of IoHE, to study how broader effects may vary based on particular internationalization strategies and geographical location.


Tatiana Belousova is a PhD student at the University of Kerala, India. Her current research is focused on inbound student mobility in India, with particular emphasis on the state of Kerala


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