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What does Modi’s win mean for international education in India?

When you talk about India you must use superlatives: it’s the world largest democracy, by 2025 it will be the most populous country in the world with 1.6 billion people. Recently, the south Asian superpower overtook Japan to become the world’s third largest economy and it has one of the world’s most expansive education systems.

Narendra Modi being sworn in as India's Prime MinisterNarendra Modi being sworn in as India's Prime Minister

It’s fitting that for the country’s newly sworn-in Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, the same is true. He won the election with the largest political majority in 25 years coming into office with absolute mandate. Many say his win represents the most important paradigm shift in India since it won independence from Great Britain in 1947.

India’s role in international education is also exceptional; until now it has been one of the most vital student source markets for western educators. But under Modi’s administration, what’s next for international education in India?

Modi wants to set up MOOCs and virtual classrooms “to make it convenient for working class people and housewives to further their knowledge and qualifications”

Exit polls showed Modi’s win was largely due to the support of the under-35 electorate which made up 47% of voters and are the very people set to gain from any education reforms he pushes through.

Yet the challenges are as immense as they are urgent: university capacity needs to expand from 14 million to 40 million places in six years, 500 million people need to be skilled by 2020 and the economy needs to create 15 million jobs a year to support graduates.

Campaign promises

As leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Modi’s election manifesto promised to increase education spending to 6% of GDP, up from 4% now, and placed a clear emphasis on skills devleopment and improving quality in higher education.

“We are all looking at Modi’s coming to power with optimism,” commented Lakshmi Iyer, Head of Education at market entry specialists Sannam S4. “There’s a lot to be hopeful for in the education sector primarily because of how Modi views it through the lens of skills.”

Policies laid out in the party platform include raising the standard of education and research so that Indian universities can compete on a global level and improve their place on league tables, setting up Centres of Excellence in partnership with industry to offer skills training and breaking the societal stigma of vocational education by providing vocational qualifications of academic excellence.

Online education is also a solution the party has introduced to increase access and meet the huge up-skilling challenge the country faces. Modi wants to set up massive open online courses (MOOC) and virtual classrooms “to make it convenient for working class people and housewives to further their knowledge and qualifications”.

Industry experts don’t expect him to carry over much from the last administration, including the long-awaited foreign education providers bill that has been caught in legislation stalemate since 2010 but would have allowed foreign providers to establish campuses in India.

“Given the complexities with the current scope of the foreign university bill, it is unlikely that it will move ahead in its current form,” confirmed Dr. Rahul Choudaha, Chief Knowledge Officer at World Education Services–a New York-based non-profit specialising in international education trends.

“However, it is very likely to be on the agenda and to be reintroduced with changes.”

Maintaining India’s identity and tradition is also central to the BJP’s ethos and will influence how they deal with foreign education providers. “One of the big things the BJP doesn’t want to see is foreign universities just using India as a source of revenue,” said Nick Booker, CEO of IndoGenius, an India-based inbound study coordinator.

“While they want investment and will support universities that show a genuine commitment to India they’re not going to be happy to see people who just want to come over here and make as much money as they can out of aspirational young india.

They’re also going to be very wary of those universities who want to come into India and change India rather than understand India.”

Track Record

In order to get an idea of what the country will be like under Modi’s rule, some argue that one need only look at his 13 year history of running Gujarat state.

“In his state he’s been very pro-business, pro-development”

While in power, he increased the number of universities in the state from 11 to 43, boosted international investment in the state’s automobile industry, and encouraged strategic partnerships between Gujarat universities and their foreign counterparts.

“In his state he’s been very pro-business, pro-development,” commented Duleep Deosthale, Co-founder of recruitment specialists Anyadir Education.

“His style is different, he just goes at it and gets things done. I think India has reached the stage where they need somebody of that nature. It has been many years of complacency and too much negotiation.”

Rahul Gandhi, general secretary of the Association of Australian Education Representatives in India and managing director of the Gujarat-based Take Off Education Consultants is optimistic that Modi will be able repeat the economic upturn he brought to the state at the national level.

“Modi brings accountability to the government’s work and that generates revenue for the government and when it has revenue automatically the economy revives,” he said.

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