The tables were turned on me today in a visit to Arcade Business College, a private college in Patna, India. I had come to interview students attending one of the increasing number of privately run institutions in India, but instead, a group of about 30 students grilled me for an hour about journalism ethics and press freedom in the United States, how to get into an American graduate school, and the state of the U.S. economy.
The reception was not quite what I expected. The director, Aashish Aadarsh, had told me the school’s goal is cater to “average” students who don’t make it into more competitive colleges. Admission requirements are relatively low. But these students were sharp and engaged. Most seemed determined to find their way to Canada or the United States one day to study or get a job. Most spoke excellent English, and their questions were probing and critical.
In Bihar, Arcade is still something of an anomaly, but other states in India have seen an explosion in privately run institutions as demand for higher education has exceeded the seats that government-run schools can provide. In order to grant degrees, the schools must be affiliated with a government-run university, the only institutions allowed to give degrees under Indian law. But the affiliation system is a loose one, and experts say it’s plagued by political patronage. The quality of these institutions varies, and educators and experts here say although educational institutions are barred from making profits, many get around the rules.
Arcade Business College has been around longer than many private schools; it was founded in 1996. Although students are not from the top rungs of Bihar society, annual tuition—at 24,000 rupees, or about $600 USD—costs slightly more than what it does at the public institutions I visited in Bihar. This price gap is similar to for-profit universities in the United States. And like for-profits in the U.S., Arcade and other private schools are often geared toward professional study, not academic research. Students can study business, journalism and computers.
It was impossible to get a sense of the school’s quality during the brief time I was there, but it was clear the students are smart and ambitious. If they represent “average” students in India’s most educationally deprived state, the rest of the world should watch out.
-Sarah Garland, reporting from India