Thursday, April 05, 2007

Reality TV for recruiting Indian students: 5 UK universities believe it will work!

A new reality TV show called Airtel Scholar Hunt is going to award Indian students entrance scholarships to several UK universities - worth up to £ 8,000. Five full scholarships are being offered by Leeds, Sheffield, Warwick, Cardiff or Middlesex.

According to the CEO of the company running the show, this is a novel way to marry scholarship and the "competitive spirit", which "taps into the growing aspiration of many Indians" to study abroad.The British universities (such as Leeds) claim that this will help "raise their profile" (aka highly cost-effective advertising) amongst the potential pool of talent in India. Interestingly, everyone involved is very concerned to clarify that academic standards are not going to be compromised, although the BBC story does not quite make clear how.

This has two obvious implications: first, how much more widespread the ambition to study abroad is for young Indians, and second, how much in demand students from India (and China) are globally. The first problem is to determine if this is a demand for talent or adeamnd for revenue?
Apparently, "175,000 overseas students pay around £1bn in fees and contribute some £8bn to the British economy, according to the British Council" (BBC news). One does have to wonder if spent in their home countries, how this might have addressed the deep crisis of universities in the Global South. Report after report produced in the South speak to this crisis and almost every donor has been funding "capacity building" (which I think is a problematic notion and objective and is increasingly challenged by Southern scholars).

The continuation of the crisis of education (and in some cases its aggravation) is what pushes students abroad, along with two associated factors. First, the entry to foreign universities is often the stepping stone to immigration; and second, a foreign degree is considered to be of more value. So if one has (any, some) talent, and the means, going abroad to study is the best option. The real challenge for countries like India, in this context, is to identify the means to nurture, retain and bring this trained talent 'back home'. Perhaps even more critical is to ensure that quality education becomes increasingly more accessible across social schisms, an issue to the Knowledge Commission Report speaks.

For recruiting countries, the questions are more complex. The critical issue concerns what happens to the talent pool when it enters the labour market. As we wrote in an earlier post, while Western nations face skill gaps that Indian recruits can fill, the job market still does not treat them at par.

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