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George Iype | January 24, 2005

Outsourcing may be the rage these days, but offshoring India's higher education is going to be the next big thing soon.

To begin with, India's most celebrated education brands -- IIT (Indian Institute of Technology) and IIM (Indian Institute of Management) -- are all set to go global.

So who all are taking their prestigious schools abroad? IIM-Bangalore and IIT-Bombay are going to be the pioneers.

IIM-B -- the impressive B-school in India's Silicon Valley of Bangalore that made it to The Wall Street Journal's list of the top 100 business-schools globally in 2003 -- has already chalked out a plan for an international debut.

IIM-B's first destination? Most probably Singapore.

"We have finalised a plan to set up an international campus in Singapore or any other South East Asian country. We hope the new campus will be operational by next academic year," IIM-B Director Prakash G Apte said.

Similarly, IIT-Bombay has tied up with the prestigious National University of Singapore, which paves the way for the former to offer M.Tech courses to students in Singapore.

Under the memorandum of understanding that the IIT-Bombay has signed with the National University of Singapore, students will be permitted to be attached to major Indian companies. It also allows Indian students to work for Singapore-based global companies.

Other IITs and IIMs are also chalking out similar plans for an offshore debut, even as the Union human resources development ministry is flooded with applications from foreign universities looking for Indian tie-ups.

The floodgates for the Indian brand of education to go abroad in fact opened up in January 2003 when an expert committee set up by the University Grants Commission suggested that premier IITs and IIMs be allowed to set up shop on global shores.

The report by the UGC committee on the promotion of Indian higher education abroad also recommended that prominent, privately run educational institutions like the Manipal Academy of Higher Education and the Birla Institute of Technology and Science, Pilani, may also be encouraged to make an overseas foray.

However, the human resources development ministry, which studied the UGC report, has insisted that only IITs and IIMs be allowed to go offshore to begin with.

The reason: the strong IIT-IIM brand equity.

"The IIT-IIM brand is now globally recognised. India's higher education is propelled by IITs and IIMs. So they are the pioneers now going international; others will follow them sooner than later," says Bangalore-based education consultant Srinivasa Raju.

Raju, who heads the Global Education Resources, points out that Singapore will be the test case for IIMs and IITs. "None of them is going to Europe or the United States now. The real test of IIMs and IITs is going to be Singapore," he said.

Why Singapore? Consultants like Raju argue that there is a growing demand from countries in the South Asia, West Asia and Southeast Asia for Indian education because they are fascinated with the strong brand equity of IITs and IIMs.

"Singapore is the best bet when it comes to testing one's competitive edge in higher education. More than that, Singapore also has a large Indian Diaspora," Raju says.

Particularly, the Singapore University requested the Indian government for a tie-up with an IIT after its joint education project with America's Massachusetts Institute of Technology fell through.

Other countries that are queuing up for tie-ups with the IITs and IIMs include Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Mauritius, the United Arab Emirates and some other West Asian nations.

Experts say that these countries, which have a low level of science and technology activity, are captivated by the IITs and IIMs as they feel the Indian schools could be a stepping stone to their educational, management and scientific advancement.

Jacob Mathew, another education consultant in Bangalore, says that among other countries in Asia, India has the best chance to become a 'knowledge hub.' "These days, global education is a huge market and the United States and European countries --  especially Britain -- have dominated the global education market," he says.

In Asia, Mathew feels, India has the potential 'to emerge as the US in the education field.'

To get a sense of what Mathew says, go through this survey:

  • A recent estimate by the Global Alliance for Transnational Education indicates that about $27 billion worth of higher education is exported to Asia and Pacific by three countries -- the USA, the United Kingdom and Australia. A business of $37 billion trade in tertiary education services in Asia and Pacific region is projected in future.

Experts like Mathew say that India has a huge potential to tap this market in Asia, which is now with the US and other countries.

The IITs and IIMs going abroad is just the beginning. This year, India will fully open up its education sector to foreign investment under the World Trade Organisation regime.

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