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International higher education hub on its way in South India

Suneetha Balakrishnan reports form Trivandrum

Kerala Academic City and International Higher Education Zones, a planned south Indian higher education hub, has been given a tentative green light by the state’s government.

The south Indian state of Kerala is known for high levels of literacy. Dubai is a four-hour flight from the international airport in its state capital Trivandrum, so the project has the potential to attract students from the Gulf States for English-medium university courses.

But the Academic City’s foundation seems to be aimed more at addressing the brain drain of educated Keralis. The state’s best-known export is the flow of manpower going to work in both the West and the Middle East, with an estimated 2.4 million Keralis working abroad, sending home remittances of around £7 billion annually. An increasing number of Kerali students migrate out of the state and even out of India, seeking quality education.

International gatherings in 2011 and 2014 discussed transnational education opportunities and how to improve the quality of Kerala’s higher education, as envisaged by the Kerala State Higher Education Council (KSHEC).

A Global Education Meet (GEM) at Kovalam near Trivandrum in January was held to ‘facilitate an exchange of views’, according to KSHEC vice-chairman T. P. Sreenivasan. The GEM hosted 23 delegates from ten countries and around 75 investors other than academics. It produced the Kovalam Declaration, a list of 32 recommendations aimed at making Kerala an international education hub, marketing the state as a ‘smart destination’ for foreign investment and international students following the Dubai model.

KSHEC is awaiting the finalisation of legislation establishing the Academic City and the naming of a location before any foreign or private universities can be established.

The state legislature’s Left Front has already raised objections to the proposal, claiming the Academic City had its genesis in WTO negotiations and represents education as a commodity and not as an instrument of development. With elections for the state government approaching, the fate of the Academic City is now subject to the will of the next government sworn into power in May.