Eastward Bound

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Eastward Bound

Eirca 750 CE: Nalanda, once a nondescript town in the plains of Bihar, had grown in stature over previous centuries by virtue of being home to the worlds first global residential university. Scholars from across the Indian subcontinent and other parts of the ancient world, particularly China, Greece and Persia, flocked to the sprawling complex to take their place among the 10,000 students and 2,000 teachers celebrating learning. The very name, Nalanda, meaning insatiable in giving, symbolised the era when India was perceived as a leading knowledge centre, as also a treasure trove for the wealth of its people. Till the 12th century, budding minds of Indian and foreign descent continued to make their way to the flourishing university in search of nourishment and direction. It was an age when India gave of itself more than what it imbibed from learning elsewhere.

Cut through to the early 20th century. Nalanda had long been relegated to the annals of history. A few flickering flames the University of Mumbai, the University of Madras, the University of Calcutta and so on established in strongholds of the British Raj, held up the torch of learning in India. Such was the state of the education sector in the country in the year 1947, when the dark years of being subservient to invading powers finally came to an end.

Birth of Collaboration

As a new dawn arose over the country, free India began taking steps to establish advanced centres of learning, well aware that knowledge is vital to nation-building. For this, the newborn nation looked westward, where lay the best institutions of the modern world. The model of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) was adopted for the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), conceived to hone some of the brightest minds produced in the country. The premier management institution of the country, Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (IIM-A) initially collaborated with Harvard Business School. Faculty from Harvard helped set in place the curriculum, course design, style of governance, pedagogy and research. Even when these early collaborations were not signed and sealed pacts, the spirit of association, the intention to imbibe best practices from leading institutions in the world, was evident.

In the first half century post Independence, collaborations in the business sphere let alone the education sectorwere slow to grow. Some measure of support continued for instance, US AID brought sought-after faculty from Berkeley, MIT, Princeton and other US universities to IIT Kanpur during the 60s. Overall, however, the Indian economy chugged along, expanding too sluggishly to capture the interest of the best Indian scholars leave aside attracting bright minds from abroad. Brain drain became the norm up until the 90s. Indians set great store on foreign education for they appreciate the experiential mode of learning imparted by overseas varsities. More often than not, studying abroad became a stepping stone to settling down there.

Collaboration Boom

Come the 90s, things began to change. As economic liberalisation swept the arena of trade and commerce, educational institutions began to think differently as well. Learning would have to move out of country-specific silos and become increasingly global, to complement the emerging world economy. The outcome: a few path breaking collaborative agreements saw the light of day. The International Centre for Applied Sciences at Manipal University was established in 1994 to run undergraduate engineering twinning programmes with partner universities, initially, in USA. A few years later, Christ University in Bengaluru partnered with the Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, USA, to offer a bachelors in business administration (BBA). That was only the start of it. Since the turn of the millennium, collaboration has emerged as the new buzzword. Every foreign university worth its salt is expressing an interest in a tie-up of some sort with an Indian institution.

The burgeoning education sector is seeing an unprecedented gap between demand and supply. Realising this, overseas institutions are seeking a share of the ever-growing pie. But prevailing laws exclude foreign universities from offering a degree programme in India. Add to this the Indian penchant for foreign education, which Dr Sankaran P Raghunathan, Dean of The National Management School, Chennai cites as the foremost reason why the country is seeing an increase in collaborations between foreign and Indian institutions. Also, the huge number of students precluded from travelling overseas for further studies by the high cost of education, and Indias stated mission to triple its higher education enrolment ratio by 2020. There is enough to attract foreign universities to establish a footprint in the Indian education sector.

Foreign universities are partnering with Indian institutions to give Indian students the much-needed global education. In time, hopefully these will also create knowledge centres of repute in the country