Red Tape or Quality Assurance?
India has taken over from China as the country sending the largest number of foreign students to U.S. institutions of higher education, according to the Open Doors Report released in November, 2002 by the Institute of International Education. Almost 67,000 Indian students were enrolled in the academic year 2001-02, primarily in graduate programs focusing on management and information technology.
Why is this the case? It's the same pattern we have spoken of already as the driving force behind Transnational Ed. Here is how Rajesh Arya, President of the Council for American Education in India, explains the situation: "[It is] very difficult to get admission to good Indian universities," said Arya. "Over the past two decades, the number of students have increased tremendously but the number of [places] in Indian universities has not increased."
But this is somewhat old news. Why bring it up now? Because no matter how many students from India travel abroad to study, there are still plenty more left at home, which in the eyes of Transnational Ed providers represents an extremely attractive market. In the 1990s, private providers began moving rapidly to take advantage of this market, and many of them were non-accredited. The marketing campaigns were powerful, however, and some students registered only to find later that their expensive, newly minted qualifications did not gain them entry to the job market in the way they had foreseen since the courses were unrecognized and the institutions unaccredited.
Recently, The All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) has stepped into the breech with a wide-ranging set of new regulations and an overall stance that no foreign tertiary institution offering technical education will be able to operate in India without its approval. By way of clarification, "technical education" in India covers such areas as Engineering and Technology, Computer Applications, Architecture & Town Planning, Pharmacy, Management, Hotel Management & Catering Technology, Applied Arts & Crafts etc.
Professional educators see these regulations as a much-needed defense against non-accredited universities. However, beyond the "watchdog" role the AICTE has set itself up to play, there is some concern that the regulations may go too far. In fact, new rules clearly state that, "The fee to be charged and the intake in each course to be offered by a foreign university / institution leading to a degree or diploma shall be as prescribed by the AICTE, giving due hearing to the concerned foreign university / institution."
Regulating fees and intake standards is a much more serious intervention in the market than merely safeguarding students against non-accredited programs. As a result, the AICTE regulations are virtually certain to be challenged in WTO forums as unnecessarily restrictive. How far can a national government or government body go in protecting its citizens? This remains to be seen, but it is a good bet that by going beyond a mere insistence on accreditation, the entire set of regulations will be jeopardized in some future WTO action.