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Modi govt looking at ‘study in India’ as soft diplomacy tool

The Narendra Modi government is set to thrash out measures to attract a larger number of foreign students, especially from Bangladesh, who could enrol in Indian educational institutions in the coming financial year as normalcy is set to return with the roll out of India’s Covid-19 vaccine soon.

The ‘Study in India’ programme, approved by the government in 2018, is aimed at improving India’s image as a soft power while using it as “a powerful tool for diplomacy” especially with countries in the south-east Asian, Middle East and African region.

“After Make in India and Vocal for Local programmes, the thrust could now shift to Study in India,” an insider said.

Though traditionally India has remained the preferred destination among foreign students from Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Myanmar and even Sri Lanka to pursue higher education, China has turned out to be a huge competition.

The number of foreign students opting to study in China has been steadily rising while the same had plateaued in India, Brookings Institution noted.

Experts said that with the rapidly changing geopolitical dynamics in the region, China’s positioning as an upcoming education hub could get dented.

“We are not guided by other countries, we are focused on what we can do and the bottomline is that we are keen to lay the red carpet to students from out neighbouring countries and elsewhere to come and study here,” a senior educator with a government college said.

At a SAARC summit in 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that India was keen to connect South Asian students through online courses and e-libraries. As of 2019, partnerships have been extended to Bangladesh, Bhutan and Sri Lanka, the Washington based Brookings Institution said.

According to the think tank, though India has traditionally been the destination of choice for students from the South Asian region, the growth in the south-Asian student- population in the country was plateauing. Factors such as cultural similarities, reduced travel time and lower costs made India a top choice for education among many foreign students but a large number of students were opting for China.

Between 2011-12 and 2018-19, the think tank said that Nepal retained its position as the top nation sending students to India while Afghanistan climbed up to the second position. But Bhutan’s share went down.

Education also is a useful mechanism to promote people to people contact and earn goodwill.

“The programme envisages participation of select reputed Indian institutes and universities by way of offering seats for international students at affordable rates, along with fee waivers to meritorious foreign students ranging from 100 to 25 per cent,” the ministry of human resource development (HRD) had earlier said.

Under the recently approved National Education Policy (NEP), India has also thrown open its doors to foreign universities. “This is also one way to attract a larger number of foreign students,” the educator said.