For foreign universities looking for fertile student recruiting grounds, India is a preferred destinations with its young demographic profile. However, these collaborations are still very limited in scope and much needs to be explored by both sides for benefits to flow in.
The Indian Scenario
Indian students in foreign universities are recognised for their diligence. The aspiring Indian middle class parents are prepared to pay a high price for educating their children and are known to have a penchant for foreign education. With its emphasis on English, our education system produces well educated, English speaking workers of better quality than many other developing countries. Indian students are already contributing to the economies of the countries where they choose to work and with better academic input this workforce will multiply. Almost 30 per cent of the workforce in NASA and 38 per cent of doctors in the USA are of Indian origin. India’s past colonial linkages with Britain help in easy assimilation of students in the Western culture.
Indian higher education system is teacher-centric with tremendous emphasis on rote learning. It inhibits critical thinking and creativity. Till the recent past, the Indian industry, especially the manufacturing sector, was driven by imports and relied on low-end technology. Therefore, the academia, instead of nurturing problem solvers and knowledge creators produced process managers. Both application-oriented and fundamental research, have been neglected in theuniversities. Though the USA and India have almost similar numbers of engineers per million of population, the former produces about 3,500 PhDs in engineering per year while the corresponding number in India is close to 1,000 and that too of questionable quality. The reasons are not far to seek. The quality assurance benchmarks in India are based on inputs where ‘brick and mortar’ score over intellectual capital and student outcomes. Both Central and State governments spend phenomenal amounts on public universities without tangible outcomes. The lack of a culture of accountabilityensures that the numerous centres of excellence, have no worthwhile achievements to their credit. Professional bodies like the Institution of Engineers and others have failed to set benchmarks and nurture industry-academia linkages. Their journals are no match for those of their counterparts in developed countries. Our universities are still biased towards manufacturing and services sectors and have, by and large, ignored the life sciences that would, in all probability, be the areas in which cutting-edge research is likely to be focussed in the 21st century. Moreover, liberal arts have been neglected, and no society can hope to progress by ignoring these.
Western countries need young, English speaking, skilled manpower. They have developed their higher education sector with considerable emphasis on hands-on and practical training. The culture of research that has taken roots in their universities, fosters creative and critical thinking. Professional bodies like the IEEE and ASME in the USA, wield considerable clout both in the academia and industry and have high-quality journals. Application-oriented research, focussed on needs of the society is given due importance. Life sciences and liberal arts are encouraged and students pursue these depending upon their passion and not with an eye on the job market.
Scope for Collaborations
The collaborative arrangements between Indian and foreign universities have mostly resulted in one-way traffic with Indians going abroad to study either under the ambit of twinning arrangements or securing admissions based on GMAT, GRE, USMLE or PLABE, and mostly in the fields of engineering and technology, medicine or management. Recently, a concept of Semester Abroad has taken shape but the number of students going under such arrangements is miniscule.Collaborative endeavours have been dominated by Twinning Programmes. Faculty exchange and research activities have been neglected. Collaborative arrangements have found favour with students to secure a legal route for immigration. Knowledge sharing has taken a back seat. It would not be an exaggeration to say that foreign education providers have not exploited the deep and wider higher education market in India to build long-term relationships.
The guiding concept for collaborations must be based on mutual needs keeping both short-term and long-term aspects in mind. The short-term aspect should focus on revenue generation—after all no one is in this business for charity. The long-term view should focus on building lifelong relations, with revenue generation not being the main criterion. An honest collaboration should ensure that financial considerations do not predominate. Moreover, developed countries would do well by encouraging a two-way exchange process among students if they want to take advantage of India’s rapidly growing economy.
Measures to boost short-term revenue generation could include twinning programmes, articulation arrangements, advanced standing agreements, faculty exchange programmes, semester abroad options, etc. Distance learning programmes could also play an important part. Foreign universities could engage in joint programmes in life sciences as well. In addition, foreign universities could leverage the relationships of the large Indian diaspora. IUCEE (Indo US Collaboration for Engineering Education) is a good model to emulate. Long-term relationships could be based on training of Indian faculty to carry out research and also by engaging in joint research programmes. Intellectual property so developed could be jointly shared by the two collaborating universities. Similarly, study of liberal arts could form part of long-term ventures to build bonds between communities.
Foreign Education Providers Bill is likely to be passed by the Indian Parliament soon. Foreign universities could set up Branch Campuses in India, either independently or based upon a more financially viable model involving collaboration with Indian partners. All such collaborative arrangements would need proactive support of the government agencies and regulatory bodies. Indian diaspora could form an important link in the chain and could be motivated to sponsor scholarships for Indian students studying abroad or to finance joint research projects. It must be remembered that participation of all stake holders is crucial for a collaboration to succeed.
[Brig (Dr) RS Grewal, is the VC of Chitkara University. After retiring from the Army in 2002, he joined the Manipal Group, where he was the director of Sikkim Manipal Institute of Technology. Later he was the pro-vice chancellor of Sikkim Manipal University and also the first director of ICICI Manipal Academy.]