INDIA STILL NOT WELCOMING ON THE EDUCATION FRONT
But then neither are we
At a conference on education exports some three years ago, held at Wellington College, Lord Bilimoria, who made a fortune here, on the back of Cobra beer and has an Indian background, waxed eloquent about how popular UK education is in India. The brand is much admired. So. Private schools and higher education institutions should look at opening up there, in his view. He did concede though, that there were some bureaucratic problems in setting up new education ventures. He wasn’t joking. Three years on nothing much has changed, it would seem. Anthony Seldon in a Times article this week (18 Feb) mentioned the Indian Higher Education Providers Bill. This aims to permit foreign universities to set up, but it has yet to pass through parliament, to the fury, Seldon says , of some in the Indian Government. Presumably they have been pretty furious for some time now- for the last three years, at least. This same Bill was mentioned at that conference three years ago. One begins to wonder whether bureaucracy is simply another word for protectionism. Seldon wrote ‘Bureaucratic obstacles further explain why not a single British public school has set up in India. In contrast, independent schools including Harrow, Dulwich and Wellington have branches in China and across East Asia and the Gulf. Senior government figures in India acknowledge that they badly need expertise from the West if their own universities and schools are to become world class. India should be laying garlands, not obstacles, in the paths of top universities and schools from Britain’. It should be, but it isn’t. Mind you Indian students who might in the past have automatically placed the UK as their first choice for studying abroad, are now shopping around, looking at other options, because many feel that UK immigration and visa rules are unsympathetic to them . They are looking instead to USA, Canada and Australasia for higher education options. There has been a significant drop in Indian applicants to the UK. The Government cant say it wasn’t warned. Vice Chancellors saw to that. But Ministers have been complacent, saying that it cant be too bad as Chinese student numbers are holding up. But the Chinese are an isolated case. Ministers are cottoning on now rather belatedly , as even Chinese students are beginning to voice their concerns. But damage has already been done.
David Cameron is currently telling Indian students that they are hugely welcome, providing that they have an English language qualification and a place. Maybe, but the London Met’ debacle is common currency in India and students are concerned that when they finish their studies they will not have an opportunity to stay to work.
The answer to all this is, self-evidently, to take full-time higher education students out of the Government’s immigration cap, a move currently resisted by the Home Office.The BIS and FCO should be having some productive discussions with the Home Office on this issue. (Of course they have been having discussions, but these have hardly been productive).
For education exporters India is still a less attractive proposition than the Middle East, Far East (Myanmar looks interesting to some though it currently spends less of its GDP on education than any other country according to UNESCO) South America and possibly North Africa (in the wake of the Arab spring)
In the year to the end of September (the latest figures available from the Home Office), work-related visas were down 4% on the year before to 145,604, the lowest recorded figure using comparable data. Similarly, 26% fewer study visas were issued.