With the COVID-19 pandemic raging on, there is little doubt that the whole world is undergoing structural changes across various domains. One of the most prominent changes has been in the education sector, especially in terms of internationalisation.

As per figures released by the Indian government, during 2018-19, around 47427 students from 164 countries came to India for higher studies. Interestingly, 3.20 percent of these students came from the United States. If at all physical mobility can be considered as any parameter to judge internationalisation, then there are reasons to believe that the Indian education system has a lot to offer.

During this pandemic, when the world has seen the plight of ‘digication’ – education through digital mode, as I call it – understood with empirical experiments, its merits and demerits, perhaps it is high time that India promotes the age-old concept of ‘internationalisation at home’ in the truest sense of the term.

This thought has its roots in the new National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 recently published by the Indian government. It talks about opening campuses of foreign universities in India as a step towards internationalisation. Indeed, this is a welcome step.

However, these offshore campuses will be direly deprived of what may be called the ‘campus culture’, also one of the main attributes of quality education.

Premier universities in India, like Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Banaras Hindu University (BHU), Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), Viswa Bharati and others, have a unique campus culture, which has had an effect on the quality of education, teacher-student relationship, social cohesion and many such qualitative attributes that can be hardly compared.

Bab-e-Syed, the gateway to Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) | Photo: Haris H Khan, Wikimedia Commons

So one wonders if students experience the thrill of walking the corridors of Oxford or Cambridge University in their offshore campuses.

As the NEP says, the cost of education may reduce in these offshore campuses, but students will miss the ‘once in a life time’ taste of the campus culture in its most pristine form, as it flows in the original set up.

It is precisely here that the role of Indian universities can be of immense importance. The scope for ‘internationalisation at home’ is even more prominent and possible. Internationalisation is not only about physical mobility, although in most cases, it is synonymous to having few foreign nationals in the enrolled list of students.

In education, internationalisation actually refers to integrating an international, intercultural, and inclusive element into the purpose, functions, and delivery of higher education.

Also read ‘Why India’s New Education Policy 2020 Should Be Embraced By All’

To elaborate, the process is a commitment towards comprehensiveness. For this, the host institution has to take necessary steps to ensure the osmosis of international comparative perspectives, including the ethical standards. It should comprise of the teachers, students, the leadership and all related academic support units, and not simply through a top-down approach. 

Naturally, it is a holistic approach, much beyond the physical mobility. As seen these days, both the government and the private sector are coming up with educational institutes of higher learning. As on date in India, as per University Grants Commissions (UGC) data released in August, there are 53 Central Universities, 412 state universities, 124 deemed-to-be universities and 361 private universities.

Yet, there is a need for more institutes of higher learning. But this should not lead to a ‘mushrooming’ of such institutes. It is equally important that the existing ones make themselves compatible with international standards, and make a stride towards ‘internationalisation at home’. Else, once the foreign universities start opening campuses in India, there is a fair chance that many of these Indian universities will lose their importance and may actually face a shortage of prospective students.

Indian private universities like Amity might lose out to competition from foreign universities when they open offshore campuses | Photo: Aditya Oberai, Wikimedia Commons

This is true for both government and the private institutes. To sustain the tough competition, in the worst case, these lagging institutions may actually degrade the quality of education to a great extent. This will only hamper society at large.

Therefore, the idea is to not only internationalise campus infrastructure, but also the curriculum. This can be done by incorporating the international intercultural and inclusive dimensions in the content. The content should be mapped with learning outcomes and assessment tasks. Innovative teaching methods should be adapted to maintain the revised curriculum.

These revise curricula should be such that they prepare the students to perform, and more importantly, thrive in a multicultural environment – both professionally and socially. The revision of curricula should be such that even in a domestic periphery, they should enable student to recognise the intercultural context. In this, the role of the domestic campus, enabled with international standards, is the key. Unfortunately, this aspect is grossly missing in the Indian context.

Also read ‘As COVID-19 Cripples International Education, Universities Need to Think Out of the Box’

There is no doubt that in terms of revenue generation, the inflow of foreign students will definitely be beneficial. But as already mentioned, it is not about the physical mobility of international students or simply having foreign students in the Indian campus. The focus should be on outcomes, rather than input and output, irrespective of the location.

In this, it is essential that universities in India realise that the main aspect of internationalisation at home lies in framing a context for the development of skills that would enhance employability. The cross-border experiences will be helpful in nurturing the typical transferable skills that the prospective employers are looking for. 

The above can practically happen if the autonomy given to the institutes of higher learning can be channelised in bringing fresh thoughts into the existing education system. Simply and blindly replicating the West may actually be counterproductive. 

Views expressed are the author’s own.

Featured image: Government Medical College, Haldwani | Wikimedia Commons