Arjun Singh may agree to FDI in education after all

Sunday, 30 March 2008, 07:00 Hrs
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New Delhi: Under pressure from his colleagues, Human Resource Development Minister Arjun Singh is willing to rethink his opposition to a bill allowing foreign universities and institutions into India.

Singh had been firmly against the Foreign Education Providers (Regulation) Bill, which came up in 2006. He has now decided to open fresh talks with the Left parties, which too are bitterly opposed to foreign universities in India.

The minister now says that the government would like to take the bill forward.

"We have to see and negotiate on this issue and move ahead," Arjun Singh told IANS, notwithstanding the continued objection of the Communists who provide key legislative backing to the Manmohan Singh government.

According to Arjun Singh, the Left is not against the bill per se but wants a greater regulatory role for the government in the running of foreign institutions keen on setting up campuses in India.

Singh and Commerce Minister Kamal Nath do not see eye to eye on this issue. Even a section of ministers examining the bill are against Singh's insistence that the new policy reserving seats for the disadvantaged sections in institutions of higher learning should be applicable to foreign varsities as well.

Those favouring the bill argue that the higher education sector in India should be freed and the country should open its doors to foreign investment.

But the human resource development ministry's objection is that not many countries are pushing for foreign direct investment in education under the Word Trade Organisation (WTO).

Singh had recommended a "cautious approach" to FDI in education.

Indian officials say that many developing countries, in particular Islamic nations, have told WTO that they would not open their education sector because doing so would affect local political and cultural sensitivities.

It remains to be seen whether the ministry will now insist on a regulator and give more autonomy to foreign institutions.

The commerce ministry opposes any restrictions on foreign institutions, it is reliably learnt.

The bill could not be tabled in parliament because of differences in the UPA and the lack of a consensus among political parties.

Communist Party of India leader D.Raja told IANS: "Let the government be clear about what it wants. We will continue to oppose the bill."
Source: IANS
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