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Harvard Hyderabad and Oxford Kolkata? The future of US higher education could be in India

With much of U.S. higher education online only this semester, and its more long-term future deeply uncertain, now is a time to dream big. My own fantasy is based on the Indian government’s recent plan to encourage the top 100 universities in the world to operate in India.

Consider how the next 30 years might look if India were to allow the creation of a “Princeton Mumbai,” a “Harvard Hyderabad” or an “Oxford Kolkata.”

At first, most top U.S. universities would be reluctant to proceed boldly. Branch campuses abroad exist, such as the Yale-NUS College in Singapore, but they are usually smaller and less important relative to the home university. Top universities jealousy guard their positions as exclusive institutions, and it would not be easy for Harvard (even pre-Covid-19) to hire faculty of comparable quality in India in most areas of academic study.

Still, some schools in the top 100 would start operations in India. Even if Harvard hesitated, schools such as University of Texas at Austin, Georgia Institute of Technology or perhaps one of the nearby Singaporean schools would not.

In my fantasy, the schools that are open to expanding their India operations will rise considerably in reputation. India, and South Asia more generally, is in the midst of a phenomenal explosion of talent in diverse fields. Sundar Pichai runs Alphabet and Google, and Satya Nadella runs Microsoft. Abhijit Banerjee recently won a Nobel Prize in economics. Vishy Anand is one of the world’s top chess players. Indian writers are famous around the world. And so on.

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