Acumen Global Gateway Summit Sessions: India’s Global Citizens – The Role and Global Impact Of India’s Students

With Sandeep Chakravorty, Ministry of External Affairs, Joint Secretary, India

Join Mr Sandeep Chakravorty from the Ministry of External Affairs, Joint Secretary, India, as he takes to the stage at the 2023 Acumen Global Gateway Summit to speak on the subject of India’s global citizens and the role and global impact of India’s students.

In an interconnected world, where ideas traverse boundaries and cultures blend seamlessly, the role of students in shaping a nation’s destiny cannot be underestimated. India, with its rich history, diverse heritage, and unwavering spirit, has always nurtured a tradition of education and learning. Today, this tradition continues to thrive as India’s students venture forth into the global arena, leaving a lasting impact on the world.

As Joint Secretary at the Ministry of External Affairs, Mr. Chakravorty has played a pivotal role in engaging with countries across the globe, fostering partnerships, and representing India’s interests on the international platform. With his vast experience and profound insights, expect a compelling discourse on how India’s students have emerged as torchbearers of change, pioneers of innovation, and ambassadors of harmony, enriching the global community with their talents and intellect.

Five Key Takeaways

  • India’s current international education model is not sustainable and needs to change and evolve quickly, in order to provide a higher quality of education to its students whilst being an affordable cost to them.
  • The National Education Policy has made great strides in the movement of change and has set forth the path necessary for Indian universities to expand outside of India into other countries and present the opportunity to others to in turn, expand and collaborate more widely within India.
  • International visa regulations/policies need to be reviewed to ensure that Indian students who want to pursue their higher education aspirations outside of their home country, can do so with ease and of benefit to both the host country and the home.
  • The importance of education in empowering India’s youth and driving socio-economic growth on a global scale can not be over emphasised enough. Education equips students with the skills and knowledge needed to address global challenges, spurring progress and development both within India and across the world.
  • If COVID has taught the world anything it’s that geographical borders and boundaries that once existed, are no more. Technology and its advancements have seen increasing numbers of global higher education institutions having a digital footprint in countries such as India, Bangladesh and Africa and territories that perhaps once were not accessible but now are, giving students a wider selection of opportunities than ever before.

Below is the transcript

Good morning to everyone. 

I stand here as someone who has not had international education. I went to college in Delhi University, and then I did my post graduation. I think I paid 10 census fees every month as an undergraduate. And when I did my post graduate, I got a scholarship. So I studied for free in the Indian public education system. It was not that I couldn’t pay, but the system didn’t allow me to pay. I think that is one of the bains of Indian education that it is so cheap, and therefore the quality is patchy and indifferent.

I speak here as a person who is not in the education business, I’ve never taught and I don’t run a university, but I am in some way connected with the process of internationalisation. When I’m in the Ministry and External Affairs in India, or when I’m posted abroad, students and education form a very important part of our diplomatic footprint or a diplomatic exercise of basically bringing countries together. One cannot overemphasise the importance of mobility of students, of a faculty, of professors or of the whole education importance, the role it plays in bringing countries and people together. Because we need to examine education from a larger perspective of migration and mobility.

People want international education of course, for the quality, but also for career prospects for making some important life decisions. I think you people, educationists or people in the education business, do not realise the importance of, or the role that you play in these life decisions. I will try to get into some detail of what this exchange is taking place. I think the speaker from NITI Aayog mentioned some numbers, I will just take you through those numbers once again because it’s very important to highlight those and bring to the fore that this current model of international education for India is not sustainable, it is going to change. There are strong tailwinds for change, there are strong headwinds against continuing this and the speakers mentioned the new education policy. There is something else which is playing out very strongly in India, which is akhmanova bharath, which is that India needs to be self reliant. India needs to be self reliant in technology, India needs to be self reliant in education. This model of a large number of Indian students going abroad to study, is not sustainable because we have become the largest country in the world. 

Hundreds of millions of students will need education and how much can we pay and send our students abroad. It also creates issues for foreign countries for foreign governments that are migration issues, there are consular issues, there are visa issues and I will get into the visa issues later in in the panel discussion perhaps, but you know, this one way traffic of students going abroad needs to change and we need to find ways and means of changing this narrative. 

This is the data that I was given in Parliament, so this is very authentic and accurate data. In 2017 foreign 54,000 Indian students went abroad, it declined to 259,000 in 2020 because of COVID. But you see the rebound in 2021 It was 444,000. And last year 2022 It went up to 750,000. So, almost three quarters of a million people went abroad to study. And Dr. Shah mentioned the top countries USA, Canada, Australia, Germany, but interestingly, I have an interesting data point which is that 13,000 students went to Bangladesh. 13,000 Indian students went to Bangladesh. Now we receive students from Bangladesh, third 17,000, I’m sorry, in 2020 to 17,000 Indian students went to Bangladesh. Now this is not widely known. Can anyone guess why this number is for Bangladesh, what kind of education people went for? Can anyone guess? Medical education, medical education. So, you know, 17,000 students going to Bangladesh for medical education, say something about our capacities. 

I’m in government, so it’s not proper for me to criticise my my government in the past, at least, that we have not built the capacities we have these islands of excellence in IITs and I m ‘s and higher education institutes, but quality education for the common student is not available and what they do, they then look to go abroad and they go to go to the former Soviet space, they go to Bangladesh, they go wherever they can get education, they are going when the Ukraine crisis erupted, the major task of my ministry was to evacuate 22,000 Indian students from Ukraine. 

So in fact, I was going to say that some students have gone to Afghanistan for education. I think this is this is the challenge that our new education policy phases, this is the challenge that all of us who are in the education space face, that how we can give quality education and affordable price to Indians in India, because that is where the future lies, because billions of dollars cannot be pumped out of the country to give expensive education to future Indians in foreign universities. So we have to look at internationalisation. 

There are many models of internationalisation. I think the new education policy brings forth many models of internationalisation. Wherever I have served, I have pushed universities to come to India to tie ups. But again, there’s a challenge there, foreign universities are tying up with only some universities. I don’t want to name the universities, at least, the vice chancellors of one university was on the panel. So we have multiple types with one university, all universities in the world want to tie up with ABC university, they don’t want to venture out of the comfort zone, they don’t want to go to the heartland in India, because what I want to say is that unless you do that, unless you work with the be the TRB universities, those people will never get quality improvement, they will never be quality curriculum development. 

This challenge of trying to restrict yourself to only the ATL universities will continue. 

So that is one point that I want to make, also. We have to look at various models of internationalisation. Adam mentioned that study abroad programs are a good way of internationalisation. But there are not many Indian universities or institutions of which can adopt or accept foreign students. And it is basically done at the initiative of companies or organisations like Sannam S4, for example, who bring students but there is no systematic approach towards a study abroad program. We can also look at, we don’t need to look at brick and mortar universities. I’ll give you one or two examples. For instance, we are working with France and I deal with Western Europe. So I deal with France, UK, Germany and the Netherlands. And I’ll come to those countries later on. But with France, there is a program we are running called Campus France. What Campus France does is they have not built brick and mortar universities in India. What they do is that they have tied up with several universities in India and they are running programs with those universities and giving dual degrees. So the French sitting in France are running programs with Indian universities.

I think this Campus France model is a very sustainable model. It allows a cross pollination of ideas and students and faculty and it is a low cost, high dividend intervention, which I think all of you could look at also. COVID has shown us that we can work from home, we can study from home and we can divide the time between virtual and in person learning and that works to the advantage of not only the students but cuts some costs. So, unless we look at very, very drastic methods of cutting costs of international education, I think we will be hitting a wall. 

I would also give an example that Indian education institutions are also venturing out, we have just now, last week, launched two universities in Africa, one is IIT Madras in Tanzania, and a campus of the Indian Institute, Indian University of forensic science in Uganda. So, Indian universities are also going abroad, and they are looking at several models of working abroad, because I believe that India has some of these capacities, because Dr. Shah mentioned almost 50,000 Students coming to India to study so they must be getting some value for money somewhere. I think if we can leverage that, we can open universities and institutions abroad. 

Oh, one last point, which I would like to make, is that we are also watching an interesting trend in Indian students going abroad. We found in the beginning that people would traditionally be going to the United States, Canada, Australia in the recent years, but in Europe. I find that the number of students going to Germany has increased dramatically, students going to Netherlands has increased dramatically, even France, because these are not traditional destination from India for Indian students, but when these countries are moved towards education in English or English language education, I am seeing that even students are going to Italy, to France to Spain and some of the non English speaking countries including Czech Republic. 

This is a new phenomena, which we are observing because traditional markets or destinations for Indian students have become very expensive, and also the visa processes have become difficult. But again, a contrary view here is that, for instance, we find a dramatic increase in the number of students going to the UK. Now, you know, we did some analysis and we found that the the United Kingdom changed visa policy, it allowed it allowed post study visa, so you could you could finish education in a UK university, and then you were entitled to a post study visa to work in in UK that has had an amazing effect on students going to UK. So, again, Canada allows easy post study, job opportunities. We find a greater trend towards Canada and I think the United States has visa issues. So, you will find changes there. But again, Germany is one good example where the visa policies are a liberal so it is attracting Indian students. We should remember that students represent healthy legal migration and migration is a phenomenon which will be there. You cannot stop migration, if you do not allow legal migration, migration will happen illegally. 

I think you and us represent the very healthy aspect of migration students when they go abroad, they represent the very best of a country. We all know the talent deficit that is there in Europe, in America and in Australia, you need technical or qualified people. Not only that, I’m seeing at least in Europe, now, what happened in the Gulf is happening in Europe, there are no qualified or skilled workmen. We are now entering into migration agreements with countries like Portugal, Italy, where we will be required to send workmen and as Dr. Shah mentioned, India has become the largest country in the world, we will have lots of people who need employment and and if the visa policies are liberal, if people have certainty and a guarantee that when they go abroad, and they come back to India, they will be reemployed, I think it will solve some of these problems that migration brings and also deal with the issue of illegal migration. 

What I want to say is that there are two trends we are observing. One is internationalisation in terms of Indian students going abroad, but I think the current government policy, the NEP, and the effort of the government of India is to bring internationalisation to Indian students in India. And to the extent that all of you can contribute to that, I think you will find a very, very welcomed and and very friendly ecosystem, which will allow that I want to compliment the Minister of Education and UGC, for coming up with the guidelines on opening of foreign campuses in India, those have been well received, we also got a lot of comments and feedback from various universities. 

In particular, I will not be able to take a name, but I have pushed at least one university from Italy to open their campus in India. I’ll give you a small data point they have in their campus in Italy every year 1000 Indian students, and the cost of education there is 100,000 euros per year. So you can imagine the outflow that is taking place, and it’s a three year program. So, they have 3000 students in that Institute. And they said that they will come and open their campus in India, and it will become an Indo Pacific campus, for instance, they will, they will then attract students from other parts of this other parts of Asia and Indo Pacific region to come and study in their campus, which they want to set up outside Delhi. 

So, if you come to India, if you open a campus, whether brick and mortar or virtually, I think there will be a lot of demand, not only from India, but also from the region of students who want to come and study international standard universities or institutes in India. I will end by saying that our Ministry of External Affairs is very much for internationalisation. In fact, I think we are the only university with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the world, which runs to universities. So the Nalanda university and the south asian university, our universities, which have been set up by the Minister of External Affairs, because some years back felt that India needs international universities and we have made an effort and and these universities have now grown and become centres of excellence. 

With these words, I painted a broad picture, I painted a picture, which comes from my own experience of dealing with these issues, in my job as a Joint Secretary for West Europe, but you may find a little bit of a lack of coherence in what I’m saying, but because I am not in the education sector, I may have lacked coherence. But what I wanted to say is that, I clearly see that after the new National Education Policy, the government is clearly focused on setting up or internationalisation of education in India at home. There will be less incentives for people going abroad. I would encourage foreigners who have come or people from abroad who have come here to look at how they can give quality education to Indians in India. 

Thank you very much.

About the Acumen Global Gateway Summit: India

The Acumen Global Gateway Summit, held at the renowned JW Marriott hotel in New Delhi, marked a milestone in the Acumen@15 celebrationsThis exclusive invite-only event brought together the Acumen Global Team, distinguished guests, government officials, and experts. Client partners convened to discuss international higher education, exchange innovative ideas, and shape a vision for expanding access to higher education. The summit fostered collaboration, inspiration, and knowledge dissemination among higher education professionals. With its unique setting and thoughtful discussions, the event offered an exceptional platform for networking and setting the course for a future of inclusive and transformative higher education.

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