A Foreign Masters In Public Policy Is Not A Great Idea Anymore

Public policy and governance education should happen in a country’s local context.

COVID-19 has dismantled the international order and economies. One sector that has been affected adversely is international higher education. It is emerging as one of the worst-hit sectors and the best universities in the world are located in the worst-hit countries. While there is going to be a long period of crisis for international universities, it is an exciting opportunity for Indian universities and students.

Henceforth, while recovering from the impact of the pandemic, each country will work on challenging domestic problems, restrict immigration opportunities in order to provide jobs to locals and reduce scholarships for foreign students. Most importantly, given the highly volatile and uncertain future, studying within the country’s border is a safe and wise option. This opportunity is particularly relevant for master’s programs in policy and governance. 

The pandemic has shown us that each country is dealing with the virus in its own way. We are exchanging knowledge and taking help from other countries but are largely dependent on our national capabilities. Simultaneously, this has triggered geopolitical thinking where countries want to become immune from external dependencies such as supply chains, migration, resource imports, and so on. Therefore, students planning to become policymakers will have to be prepared for an altered world which is going to more inward-looking.

Every country has its unique challenges and opportunities. The cultural, social, economic, and legal context also varies from country to country. Thus, one immediate expectation from scholars of policy and governance is that the solutions they design should be contextual. Western education in public policy may not be always suitable to do that for the rest of the world. For Indian students too, understanding India is a prerequisite as global models don’t apply here. Further, because of the practice-focus in a master’s program on policy and governance, quality exposure to on-ground projects and field-research is needed to bridge the gap between theory and practice. Therefore, it is thoughtful for every country to train students on public issues.

In addition to this, interesting opportunities are emerging for domestic policy entrepreneurs. Economic revival, jobs, and livelihood are immediate concerns for the next two years. We will need original research in areas such as public health, nutrition, international relations, science and technology, and more. There is a need more than ever to blend technology with social sciences. We have studied subjects in silos for long and it has affected us adversely. Due to its interdisciplinary nature, policy education can become a role model in not just training multi-dimensional thinkers but also providing a framework for integrated education to other domains of learning. Therefore, this is also a very exciting time for technology graduates who are aspiring social leaders, policy entrepreneurs, politicians, researchers. The world needs them more than before.

In India, we have the opportunity to lead the world as the global order changes. We have seen how the world is increasingly becoming wary of China. Scholars, public officials, and corporates have expressed their opinion to mitigate risks by reducing their dependence on China. India, on the other hand, due to its reliable foreign relations and economic stability, is suited to gain more responsibility in the world order. Such an unprecedented situation needs bright minds to solve tough problems.

Logistically, studying in one’s country is value for money. Reduced opportunities for scholarships and jobs in other countries make education at a hefty loan very risky. The USA has already announced a temporary ban on immigration. As the world economy shrinks and becomes more cautious, we will increasingly see that repaying study loans by working abroad will become challenging. International universities may shrink, if not shut down, which are dependent on Chinese and Indian students. Harvard and MIT have announced pay cuts and a freeze in hiring. Most favoured study destinations like the USA, UK, and Europe are the worst hit. Indian education is much cheaper while not compromising on quality. The demand for a foreign education had stemmed from foreign jobs and fancy degrees. Now we can access global online content and learn from the best Indian faculty. So, we get the best of both worlds within safe borders and a much lesser price tag.

All said and done, volatility and uncertainty will be a part of our lives going forward. Even if the curve flattens, the possibility of the virus striking back remains. The US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has warned that the assault of the virus in the coming winter is likely to be stronger. Even if the vaccine is ready in the coming months, the risk of public health is enormous and countries may take preventive measures. The students can be stuck helpless in a foreign land if the situation changes. India is relatively doing better and is safer.

In conclusion, public policy and governance education should happen in a country’s local context. Coronavirus has exposed us to this need. Our favourite foreign countries and universities are not the best places to go for studying at least in the coming two years. At home, India is getting ready to take a global lead while we solve our internal challenges. Challenging times need leadership to rise. India needs young people in public leadership positions, now more than ever.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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