Can Yoga be used to Internationalise Indian Higher Education?

Two recent events hold the password to unlock the door for internationalising Indian higher education, provided the policy makers decrypt it correctly.

With India’s help, on the 13th day of June, 2015, China set up its first Yoga college at Yunnan University of Nationalities, an almost 65 years old institution, located in Kunming of Yunnan province, which borders Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam.

The first International Yoga Day was celebrated on the 21st day of June, 2015, world over, with the Government of India making successful entries into the Guinness World Records on that day fororganising the largest Yoga class and for having the presence of people from most nationalities in one Yoga class. When the resolution for declaring anInternational Yoga Day was introduced by the India’s ambassador in the United Nations General Assembly in December, 2014, it was co-sponsored by over 175 nations, including 46 Islamic nations, which is reported to be the highest number for any resolution in the Assembly.

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The two events offer Indian higher education an innovative route to internationalise.

As any educationist would vouch, India is a ‘sender’ and not a ‘receiver’ of students. This fact is attested by the statistics furnished in the Status of International Students in India for Higher Education, available in the website of India’s Ministry of Human Resource Development, which is based on UNESCO data. In 2012, over 189 thousand Indian students were enrolled for higher education in over 50 nations, including over 97 thousand in the United States, almost 30 thousand in the United Kingdom and over 11 thousand in Australia.  The inbound students numbered marginally over 28 thousand. Though India is emerging as a destination for international students, its student base is substantially from SAARC nations– Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal,and Sri Lanka.

One of the prime reasons for the modest inbound student mobility is the relative disadvantage the country has in the traditional higher education sector. The United States, the United Kingdom, Europe, Australia, Canada have demonstrated their strength in various disciplines, especially in research and scientific pursuits. So is the case with some developed Asian nations like Japan, Malaysia, and Singapore. Even China is leaving no stone unturned to become a hot destination for higher education, which is evidenced by its performance in the latest Times Higher Education Ranking 2015, in which it has overtaken Japan as the Asia’s higher education powerhouse. On the contrary, India has fared badly, with only nine institutions making it to the top 100 Asian universities, down from 10 last year.

If India has to follow the traditional path to internationalise its higher education by establishing research and world class universities by following the Humboldtian model or the US’ or European model or an Asian model, the likelihood of the nation’s higher education globalising is low. It would be very expensive and time consuming too. Hence, catching up with others should best be avoided.

The best option for India would be to choose Yoga as its trump card. Would it succeed? Perhaps, the odds are favourable as this would not just be innovative, but be frugal as well. Further, India could supply continuously for the ever growing global demand and be a natural leader.

Yoga is one area where India has both absolute advantage and comparative advantage, the presence of at least one is a prerequisite for international trade. Yoga is one of the few Indian ‘brands’ that is globally popular and has ever growing demand,  amply proven by the number co-sponsors in the UN General Assembly backing the resolution to declare a day for Yoga and the number of nations actually celebrating it. Though Yoga is  strictly neither a commodity or a brand, the way education as already been commodified and branded for market and the way Yoga is being taught and learnt in most countries, it may be not be completely wrong to label it as such.

If India enters the educational space of teaching Yoga to international students, which it does already in an unstructured way, it may address the concern of purists and some educationists that the trend of internationalisation is driven only by commercial interests and the universities are not leading internationalisation for the benefit of students and promote international collaborative research. This would also essentially be a pillar for India’s soft power, which would be very peaceful and in complete contrast to other economically developed nations that use higher education for manipulating and influencing foreign relations.

The way forward for the policy makers is to bring Yoga under the university education system in a big way. Having a few autonomous institutions will not work. This could be done in the following ways: offer university status to existing ashrams or other institutions that are already teaching Yoga and are willing to and capable of functioning autonomously; create Centres of Excellence for Yoga in top national universities; bestow college status to units teaching Yoga by affiliating them to existing universities, so as to enable them to offer degree programmes; create a model for Yoga as a discipline with indicative or basis structure for courses and programmes–from certificate to degree level– including a model curriculum that could be readily used by institutions; adopt ICT and MOOC platforms to complement the traditional methods.

– by M. Saravanan,
Education Consultant


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