IN the classic work The Idea of a University, published in 1852, Cardinal John Henry Newman pointed out that a university’s “soul” lies in the positive influence it leaves on students and in the way it resists commercialisation and a utilitarian approach to education.
It is surprising that Cardinal Newman attributed a soul to an institution like university. Why did he do that? When Cardinal Newman noted that an educational institution has a “soul”, he was thinking more about the character and culture of that institution, how its various stakeholders—students, teachers, researchers, administrators and policymakers—hold its different elements together and give it a common purpose, ethos and destiny. If the institution acts in accordance with that purpose, then it acts with integrity. And we can even say that, like a soul, that purpose can be lost when the institution obscures or neglects it.
Cardinal Newman’s advice is a timely reminder as many efforts are being made to “internationalise” and improve the quality of higher education institutions at the global and national levels.
Internationalization of Higher Education in India by Vidya Rajiv Yeravdekar and Gauri Tiwari is a comprehensive, well-researched and critical study on the theory and practice of internationalisation of higher education in India. It clears the myth and the common misconception that internationalisation of higher educational institutions means increasing international student mobility and student exchange programmes through more funding and world-class infrastructure. Rather, the authors point out that internationalisation should be integrated into the very fabric of higher education in such a way that it is available to many more ordinary young citizens and not merely to a few elite and to those who can afford to travel abroad. It cannot be merely an add-on feature but must be built into every aspect of the educational process such as the curriculum and learning outcomes, teaching, research, social and cultural impact, and citizenship.
The authors write: “Internationalisation does not have to be an elitist proposition. It can be for all of us who partake in the higher education process. As opposed to how it has been presented in the Five Year Plans and those on the ‘World-class universities’ project by the Ministry of Human Resource Development, internationalisation can be of benefit to the entire populace that makes up the higher education cohort.”
This study is a timely contribution to the public debate on the proposals of the government to restructure and revamp the apex bodies of higher education—such as the University Grants Commission, the All India Council for Technical Education and the National Council for Technical Education— and introduce the New Education Policy.
Many academics and student forums across the country have expressed serious concerns that the proposed changes will lead to granting unilateral and absolute power to the Central government, thought-manipulation, profiteering, and the abdication of the autonomy and diversity of the educational sector. It is also feared that they will contribute to the marginalisation of millions of students, particularly those from socially and economically disadvantaged backgrounds.
The study insists that the steps taken by the government to reform and internationalise higher education institutions should focus on the real issues: “Poor convertibility of discipline-specific knowledge into career preparedness skills, inability to produce sufficiently large workforce that is globally competent, lack of interdisciplinary approach to learning, the paradox of large number of unemployable graduates, institutional non-presence in global ranking, abysmally low output research in international publications, lack of institutional benchmarking pointers at the national level, and, above all, modernisation of curriculum—the core of the teaching-learning process.”
The study is both descriptive and prescriptive. With relevant facts and research findings, it outlines the historical evolution of internationalisation in the Indian context, the global market principles and benchmarking factors that determine the dynamics of internationalisation, the regulatory and obstructionist stance of the Indian government, and the skewed ratio between inbound and outbound student mobility in India. The study also provides an illuminating comparison of India’s performance with countries such as China, Malaysia, Singapore and South Korea.
The study is prescriptive inasmuch as it critically examines the motivation that drives the internationalisation process in India, and suggests the directions towards which it should actually be oriented. Although the authors identify at least four different approaches and motivations—academic sociocultural, political and economic—operative in the current discourse and enactment of internationalisation, they find that it is the economic and commercialisation model that is dominant, spearheading most of what is happening in the name of internationalisation of higher education.
In this approach, internationalisation of higher education is utilised for the recruitment of more foreign students from privileged countries in order to generate revenue, secure a national profile and build an international reputation. This instrumentalist approach, the authors suggest, needs to be corrected to pursue a more inclusive and purposeful process of internationalisation.
Also, the authors envision a broad scope for internationalisation. If internationalisation of the Indian higher education institutions is pursued properly, it can be leveraged as a platform for India to be a knowledge and political leader at the regional and global level: “Internationalisation of higher education holds the key to much more than putting India on the global map of higher education. It is also a powerful lever of ‘soft power’, especially with respect to India’s relations with many developing countries in the Asian and African continents.”
In Nationalism (1917), Rabindranath Tagore echoed and reiterated Cardinal Newman’s observation about the dangers of commercialisation. Tagore wrote: “History has come to a stage when the moral man, the complete man, is more and more giving way, almost without knowing it, to make room for the political and commercial man, the man of limited purpose. This process, aided by the wonderful progress in science, is assuming gigantic proportion and power, causing the upset of man’s moral balance, obscuring his human side under the shadow of soul-less organisation.”
Strictly speaking, the idea of internationalisation of education is not new. It has been very much part of the university system right from its inception in the form of universal knowledge, willingness to share new knowledge and discoveries with others, and in the movement of scholars and students across countries and cultures. We find evidence from the writings of Chinese scholars Xuanzang (602-644 C.E.), I-Ching (635-713 C.E.) and others.
Moreover, with the acceleration of technology and the Internet, geographical barriers have been broken to facilitate easy and rapid exchange of knowledge, research cooperation, cross-border delivery of academic systems, and collaborative online learning and teaching. What is, however, missing in the recent trends and activities pursued under the banner of internationalisation is a thoughtful attention to the societal and human goals of education.
Vidya Rajiv Yeravdekar and Gauri Tiwari’s work merit appreciation precisely because it draws attention to those pertinent issues that are sidelined in the blind pursuit of economic gains and commercial success.
Dr John Alexander is Rector, Don Bosco College (Thiruvalluvar University), Yelagiri Hills, Tamil Nadu, and author of Capabilities and Social Justice: The Political Philosophy of Amartya Sen (Ashgate, 2006).