Could democracy help India beat China in internationalisation?

Timothy Garton Ash, Professor of European Studies at Oxford, wrote an article titled “C’mon India: Freedom must beat tyranny” in The Globe & Mail this January. In it, Garton Ash compares the performance of India and China and asks: “So is China bound to go on winning?”

To which he answers: “ No, because while the Indian system is a daily soap opera of small crises, the big crisis of China’s self-contradictory system of Leninist capitalism is yet to come. And no, again, because India is a free country…Surely that free expression of human individuality must win out in the end”.

Whether one agrees or not with Garton Ash’s conclusions, a comparison between the world’s two largest and fastest growing economies seems inevitable. And yet, barring the work of Professor Philip Altbach in what he describes as the two gigantic peripheries, a report by the Rand Corporation and a few sporadic articles, there is surprisingly little written comparing the higher education policy approaches of the two countries.

Both India and China have among the largest educational systems in the world. But what makes the comparison between the two countries particularly interesting is that both offer a common baseline ‘year’ for comparison: the 1940s, when both countries were formed and began developing their respective educational systems. Thereafter, each country took quite a different approach, with China by the 1990s outperforming India at all levels of education.


I will very briefly touch on two policy issues within the Indian context – the first being privatisation and the second internationalisation – and I do want to note that my perspective on India is that of an outsider looking in.

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