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Bhutan plans to set up an education hub that will host campuses of leading universities from around the world, with an eye on the large number of Indian students who go abroad for higher studies.
"The main market for the education hub is India and the region, where the demand for good quality education is huge,” said Kinga Tshering, chief executive of DHI Infra Ltd, a Bhutan government body that will build the education city in capital Thimphu. India has only 450-odd universities against a demand for almost 1,000, he said. Foreign varsities, he added, are not keen to open campuses in India because of its regulatory environment, which makes it difficult for them to earn profit. "Therefore, Bhutan would like to offer an alternative destination for higher education," Tshering said in an email interview. At least 150,000 Indians go abroad to study every year. The government accepts the country needs some 1,000 universities by 2020 to meet the nation’s requirement for qualified manpower. The Bhutanese education city will offer tax incentives to institutes that set up campuses there, allowing them to make profit. The government last month issued a request for proposal from companies for running the project. Tshering did not specify the project’s budget. He said at least 15 Indian institutes have shown interest in opening campuses at the education city. Some of them have visited the country, too. He did not give their names. An executive with a private education institute agreed that India’s regulatory framework is too rigid, hurting private investment in the sector. “There is a lot of frustration among leading private education players and they would not mind going to Bhutan if the environment is conducive,” the executive said, asking not to be named. India’s plan to make accreditation mandatory for all institutes is also not a good move, he added. Audit and consulting firm Ernst and Young India carried out a feasibility study for the education city project. Bharat Gulia, senior manager at Ernst and Young, said the education city will help Bhutan improve its education infrastructure and become a source of economic growth, citing the examples of Australia and the UK, two countries that earn a lot of revenue from foreign students. “The Bhutan government is conscious about quality parameters,” Gulia said. “For-profit does not mean allowing poor quality institutes to set up base. They are putting enough (screening) mechanism (in place) to bring only good institutes.” India’s education market is worth $50 billion, half of which is school education and 25% higher education, said Karthik K.S, chief executive of 24x7 Learning Pvt. Ltd, an online higher education institute chain. Test preparation and other allied segments make up the rest of the market. Karthik said the Bhutanese project is good news for Indian students, who would like to go there for quality education. Students from India’s Northeast, which doesn’t have a good education infrastructure, may be particularly keen to take admission. "Some Indian players (educational institutes) may show interest in the project as well," he added. "But it will not affect the Indian education market. The domestic education market is too huge and companies like us will be happy to cater only to the Indian market."
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