Foreign Students in India: Education Diplomacy

Soft Diplomacy By Dr. (Prof.) V. Shivkumar

Many of the foreign students come to India not only to become doctors or 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.

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/were 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 or 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.

Foreign scholars and students come on invitation and nomination from the GOI for advanced training and research and under academic collaboration. ‘Study India’ is yet another scheme through which, group of students come for short stay and for tailor-made academic programmes.

Students coming from foreign countries do face certain challenges as do our students face abroad. Some of these hurdles are common in the sense that every foreign student faces in a given institution, while others are specific, depending on the institution and their unique culture. As we discussed earlier, these common challenges include the difficulty experienced by students moving to countries where a different language is used as a medium of instruction. Learning becomes difficult, as in many instances, the professors do not have sufficient patience and at times knowledge to explain to them. I found an excellent student from Mexico, who secured a good rank in his University but miserably failed in our institution because he could not write and understand English spoken by his teachers. Many times our teachers show their own preferences and subjectivity towards assessment of pupils. These problems can be addressed by providing a special coaching session for these students. UGC/University/ICCR can defray these expenses. Many foreign students coming to Indian universities carry presents to their teachers in order to have smooth relationship; teachers must not expect or receive such gifts from any foreign students. As explained earlier students coming from different cultures following different religions find it very difficult to adjust to the new environment. ICCR and MHRD has been sensitive to these problems and they do provide some solutions like allowing foreign students to live with a local host for a few days and find a suitable families who could take care of them but such facilities are non extended to foreign students coming on their own. This causes lots of problems. Students coming on their own have to incur a lot of expenses to find their own accommodation to maintain themselves. Every institution should have a psychologist as the Dean of foreign students to attend to their needs and be compassionate and proactive! MEA, ICCR UGC, MHRD and the foreign embassies must be in touch with foreign students and help them to the possible extent.

UGC must give clear instructions so that VC/Registrar or Dean of foreign students to be available on mobile or Apps for foreign students at the time of distress. Similarly police and ICCR officials should be available to our Athithi (Guests)!

Environment, climate and food habits are inter-related. This must be taken into consideration. Foreign students coming from a temperate region cannot tolerate tropical climate, and they tend to fall sick. Water pollution, food adulteration and change in weather affect them a lot. The institutions must take special care. Medical facilities must be made available whenever they are needed. There must be an institutional escort to come to their rescue. Medical insurance must be made available to all of them. Their place of stay must be neat and clean.

More importantly the quality of our education must be improved drastically so that we come within 100 best institutions of the World. Today’s youth are well informed and look for international ratings. UGC initiative in forming a Standing Committee for Promotion of Indian Higher Education Abroad (PIHEAD) is in the right direction but UGC officials need to continue to follow-up on actions. Our universities must participate in educational fairs both within India and abroad. Let’s remember that international students are our goodwill ambassadors. We need to put our acts together and best foot forward to welcome them and make their stay memorable.

Both PM Modi and the HRD minister have appealed to our Diplomatic Missions, ICCR and MEA to promote “Education Diplomacy”. This would enable India to foster better understanding and relations among our friendly nations. Many of the foreign students, who have studied in Indian Universities and Colleges have become statesmen, diplomats and politicians in their own country. They would bolster their country’s relations with India. Everyone must be accountable to the general public and to foreign nationals. I do hope things will change!

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The writer was the founder Director of the UGC Centre for Latin American and Caribbean studies, Goa University, former Visiting Professor at Mexico and Pondicherry  Universities and managing trustee of Indo-LA association for International trade and cultural cooperation. He has written books on Latin America and the Caribbean and International affairs. He has published several articles on various issues relating to Higher education, India’s foreign policy on international affairs. His articles have been published in India and abroad.

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Diplomatist Magazine was launched in October of 1996 as the signature magazine of L.B. Associates (Pvt) Ltd, a contract publishing house based in Noida, a satellite town of New Delhi, India, the National Capital.

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