Education Security: Primary Challenge to Aspiring India

Prof. Chintamani Mahapatra
March 31, 2019


Education should be mainstreamed in the security discourse of India. The government needs to ensure education security for all at all levels, but particularly at higher education, to push the momentum of the country’s march towards becoming an effective global player.

In recent years a vast number of issues has been securitized by the governments and the scholars in various countries, which include, among others, water security, food security, human security, environmental security, energy security, cyber security, and so on.

More recently, the United States under the Trump Administration has begun to consider women economic empowerment as a national security issue. Australia has viewed national security education as a prime area of teaching and research and 12 Australian universities offer national security courses distinct from disciplines, such as international relations and military studies. The Australian Department of Education and Training has listed 19 courses on national security!

As education is fast becoming internationally competitive, it will most likely enter a phase of contestation reminiscent of the cold war era. Education policy of a country, especially related to financing educational institutes abroad, introducing certain preferred courses in foreign universities or colleges or seeking franchise to open campus extension in other countries may be fiercely contested.

The beginning has already been made in the United States, where large number of Confucius Institutes have been established and funded heavily by the Chinese government. The US legislators have suddenly woken up to realise that China has been trying to “indoctrinate American children” and promote “Communist government’s propaganda” in the classrooms. As efforts are being made to close down some Confucius Institutes and block the non-transparent flow of Chinese funds in the name of education, China is likely to challenge this sooner than later. The Australian Government has also come up with a “foreign influence transparency scheme” to keep track on Confucius Institutes in the country.

In the backdrop of these developments, systematic marketing of education by countries, such as the US, UK, Canada, Australia, China, Germany, France and a few other countries will come under scrutiny by the target countries. Millions of students from the developing countries are annually spending billions of dollars in the above handful of countries for acquiring degrees, professional certificates and undergoing skill development trainings. The international ranking of universities and rate race that has begun among many universities to get a place in such rankings will also be scrutinized more and more and questioned in coming times.

Internationalization of education these days is an oft-repeated concept in the lexicon of global education discourse. In April, Egyptian government will host the Global Forum for Internationalization of Education and Scientific Research. International Association of Universities has been tracking developments related to internationalization of education, promoting it and periodically publishing global survey reports.

However, for India, it is important to consider securitization of education sector and making it a primary component of India’s national security. First, India has a vast youth bulge that can bring strength to the country only if the youths are educated, employed and empowered. Second, today’s global economy is marked by the fast emerging knowledge industry and securitization of education will be timely to leverage India’s potential. Third, internationalization of curricula in the Indian educational eco-system can prepare the Indian youth to compete in the global employment market, and simultaneously earn foreign exchange by encouraging inbound student mobility and save foreign exchange by removing the need for Indian students to look for educational opportunities abroad. Fourth, social justice can be provided to marginalized section and the economically weaker sections of Indian society, who cannot afford foreign education, by making them available international-standard education in the home country.

It is time to ponder why a large number of Indian students are migrating to foreign countries by spending parental money to seek educational and professional training opportunities. It is time to debate whether the political leadership in India should not launch smart college and smart university programmes in addition to “smart city” initiative. Why is it that we have one of the largest education systems in the world and yet our universities are placed so low in international ranking in terms of quality education? Why is it that a large number of engineering graduates in India suffer from un-employability?  Why is it that vast number of medical degree aspirants have to seek admissions into medical institutions of China, Russia, Azerbaijan, Poland and a few Central Asian countries?

Even after more than seven decades of independent existence, priority given to the education sector in India is abysmally low. People have to struggle hard to get a job in bureaucracy, private sector companies, educational institutions and journalism, yet we have not adequately debated setting educational eligibility for law makers. While the executive and judicial branches of our parliamentary system are peopled with highly qualified persons, law-making bodies have inadequate number of highly qualified leaders or representatives. The largest democracy in the world must consider evolving a system to back up numbers with quality. There is little doubt that the Indian political class is intelligent and articulate. But it can certainly be better.

In years to come, countries with better-educated, superior skilled and excellent innovators will find a rightful place in the global hierarchy of power. Weapons, bombs, missiles will certainly not loose their relevance to guard our borders. But level of education, science, technology, skill, innovation and public health will determine national power. India’s aspirations for a rightful place in the global order requires more investment in, singular attention to and high priority for the education sector.