Nita Ambani’s vision for the future of sport in India that she set out at the sports business summit in London this week is enthusing, not least because the vision brings a revision for many of us of where we are already. Which is a better place than many of us accustomed to thinking India as somewhat semi-retired in sport had imagined. For India to have won 200 international medals in July alone is great news for despairing minds; the winners were mostly women, which makes the pleasing numbers look so much better.
Nita Ambani held out some startling statistics to indicate the soaring interest in watching sport, and not just cricket. That this interest in watching games should spill over into playing is the hope, and the challenge. If just a biggish chunk of India’s population of 600 million and more under the age of 25 play something or other well enough, we should see more dramatic Indian successes in sport to come, and this is more than airy optimism. To see the private sector stepping into the game to team up with the government adds spring to hope.
But — and there is a but — our kids will have to erase the flipside to the new take-up to watching sport. The kid who’s watching on TV is a kid who’s still. Potato fries and samosas imbibed liberally on a couch are not the best way, nor the best diet, for stepping out to play for real and not just for virtual. It’s those computer games that are most of the games a lot of kids play these days. The screens that substitute the playing fields are all over the place, and with everyone – on TV, tablet, phones, even wrist watches now. These illusory substitutes for games have become so much more affordable and accessible. Now we wonder who’s made that possible.
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So we know more firmly from Moody’s what we have always figured more loosely — why Britain is in the mood to give Indian students a two-year post-study visa from next year. It is, says the credit rating agency, the only way to make up for a declining number of students from Britain itself going to university at all. And those who do, go with a capped tuition fees of £9,250 a year — foreign students pay typically twice as much. This double restriction in income for British universities from within Britain is wending down into a loss that British universities, and Britain itself, cannot live with.
Universities have stepped up capital spending to keep pace with competitors. Moody’s offers the example of Southampton University issuing its £300 million bond to finance £621 million in development. Moody’s says that if universities are to repay their debts, and to continue to borrow to build, they will need very many more students coming in particularly form India and China.
The number of Indian students coming to study in Britain fell from a high of 39,090 in 2010-2011 to 16,550 in 2016-2017. Since then the figure has risen somewhat. But Britain is looking for at least 600,000 international students by 2030. Translate that of course into income for Britain. That would be something like at east £15,000 fees from each foreign student times 600,000, and preferably more. Of this Indian students are now being tempted to pay a fair chunk. That does not count in their living expenses which would of course work additionally for the economy.
Britain has a few fine universities but many of the rest are polytechnics renamed universities, at which many Indian students have spoken of experiences that are both unhappy and unproductive. What next is now a decision between the good sense of aspiring students and the liquidity of their parents on the one hand, and the needs and the pull from British universities on the other.
London Eye is a weekly column by CNBC-TV18’s Sanjay Suri, which gives a peek at business-as-unusual from London and around.