Foreign students in India: Education Diplomacy

Written by: Dr. (Prof.) V. Shivkumar

Senator J. William Fulbright outlined his views on International Education thus:

“Our future is not in the stars but in our own minds and hearts. Creative leadership and liberal education, which in fact go together, are the first requirements for a hopeful future for humankind. Fostering leadership, learning, and empathy between culture, was and still remains the purpose of the international scholarship program…….”

Post-independence India continued with pride the ‘scientifically’ tempered Lord Macaulay’s education, thereby completely influencing our thoughts, actions, our culture and art to dance to the tunes of western civilisation. We, thus, proudly marched towards the path of dependent development of the western model. We are now globally accepted!

Western medicine and pharmacopeia was not so widely known in pre-colonial India and before the advent of the European colonisation. Today, our traditional system of Ayurveda, Siddha and Unani has become non-scientific alternative or supplementary lines of treatment. The existing dichotomy of Indian Society and Culture is one such example, viz., rural and urban Indian coexisting side by side, exerting the pulls and pressure as we move towards the path of development. Key to the understanding of our cultural heritage should not be limited to propagating just one regional language alone but to have proficiency in Sanskrit, Urdu, Tamil, Telugu and other languages and to continue to unearth our ancient knowledge.

Yoga is not and will not be the panacea for all our problems; we need to supplement yoga with other traditional approaches. As a Vice Chancellor, I hosted Sanskrit certificate course online without charging fees for anyone, whoever was willing to enrol. Similar efforts were made to spread the knowledge of astrology and the Dean of the Ayurveda College wrote books on house-hold remedies for many chronic and acute maladies caused by modern lifestyle. I gave a foreword to one of the volumes!

The stakeholders’ viz., Chancellors  VCs, Principals, teachers, students, bureaucrats and noble politicians are yet to undertake the needed reforms in the right direction which would put emphasis on our indigenous traditional knowledge along with modern approaches. Making yoga or rudimentary Sanskrit education as a compulsory part of our educational system would not suffice. The so-called experts, who form the committees to recommend reforms, feel proud to draw inspirations from Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard and Stanford and institutions abroad, since many of them including the writer, had been consistently exposed to wisdom of the West! Our contemporary knowledge is, therefore, conditioned by the ideas and knowledge that is influenced by the West.

We seem to be losing our identity without us knowing it; what a pity! What we require is a very judicial revival of traditional knowledge. This would attract foreign students to come to India to learn something new along with their modern education.

International students and their expectations

Many of the foreign students come to India not only to become doctors and engineers, but they come here to seek our indigenous knowledge and culture as well. American and European students as well as students from neighbouring SAARC countries adjust themselves well, so do students coming from the West Indies. Students coming from China, Japan, South Korea and other South East nations, except those coming English-speaking countries find it difficult to cope with our teaching methods; the same is the case with non-English speaking Latin American countries too. Despite these limitations, foreign students’ enrolment has been growing steadily in our Universities. Private and deemed Universities look to foreign students as resource contributors through fees and other contributions. UGC does provide funds to State and Central Universities to cater to the needs of foreign students. Proper maintenance and periodical review are to be streamlined. UGC must fix the fees for foreign students so that they can plan their expenditures before they land in India. Institutions charging different fees for the same course needs to be rationalised. Government of India has also launched programmes such as Study in India and Study India. These are catching up. Government has to do much more if it wants to attract foreign students and scholars from abroad.

[Paraphrased and sourced from New Delhi-based Diplomatist Magazine,