India determined to promote tie-ups with American universities

Date: 15 June 2012
Posted By: AUSIB EduNext

The second India - US Higher Education Dialogue that took place at Washington DC on June 13 with the participation of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Indian Minister for Human Resources Development Kapil Sibal and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's advisor Sam Pitroda, has reinforced the seriousness with which the two governments are promoting India-US collaboration in higher education.

While the first dialogue focused on the possibility of collaborations in community colleges and vocational education, during the second dialogue, Sibal called for partnerships in developing meta universities and innovative learning through low cost solutions in cyberspace. As envisaged by Sibal, under the meta university project, students will be allowed to choose from the study modules offered by different participating universities. He suggested that multiple universities could come together in cyberspace to grant a single degree and promote distance education, making it economically viable for a country like India.

Sibal's drive is a reflection of the revolutionary steps being taken by the Indian government led by Prime Minister Singh to overhaul the Indian higher education system through multi-pronged efforts and initiatives.

The government has been at the forefront in taking steps to raise the standards of higher education in India and has planned to open 200 new universities and a degree college in each district of India in the next five years and also upgrade existing universities into autonomous colleges. The goal is to increase gross enrollment ratio from the current 17% to 30% by the year 2020.

One of the thrust areas in higher education is to encourage collaborations between universities in India and the United States in an effort to embrace a culture of excellence in higher education and raise the standards of education in India. This is one of the key areas of operation for AUSIB EduNext which has been providing full-fledged assistance to universities and institutions of higher learning seeking fruitful partnerships and collaborations in India and the United States (visit www.ausib.org).

Towards this end, the two governments have not only entered into the Higher Education Dialogue for effective partnerships for research and innovation and the setting up of Community colleges, but have also inked the Obama-Singh 21st Century Knowledge Initiative (OSI). Under this initiative, the two countries are taking numerous steps to strengthen collaboration and build partnerships between American and Indian institutions of higher education. The areas for collaboration include exchange activities in curriculum design, research collaboration, team teaching, focused series of exchanges and seminars. The goal of such initiatives would be to develop expertise, advance scholarship and teaching, and promote reliable, long-term communication between partner institutions.

The priority areas for collaboration that have been identified include Agricultural Sciences and Food Security; Energy; Sustainable Development; Climate Change; Environmental Studies; Education and Educational Reform; Public Health; and Community Development and Innovation.

This is one of the most significant initiatives of the Singh government in the field of higher education, ever since the United States assisted India while establishing the premier Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT). IIT Kanpur for example was established in 1959 and in its first decade benefited from the Kanpur Indo-American Program, where a consortium of nine US universities assisted in establishing the research laboratories and academic program.

The other strong area of collaboration is the Fulbright Program under which, since inception in 1950, the United States-India Educational Foundation (USIEF) has awarded over 4,550 Fulbright grants to Indians in almost every field of academic endeavor.

Sibal is now seeking to expand the scope of collaboration between Indian and American universities, through the Foreign Educational Institutions (Regulation of Entry and Operations) Bill, 2010 and other initiatives. The aim is to encourage Indian institutions to collaborate with American universities which are well-known for their high quality standards at the post graduate and doctoral degree levels, innovative programs and flexibility, excellent infrastructure and advanced systems in education.

Even as this bill is awaiting passage, the University Grants Commission- India's apex body in higher education- has been directed by Sibal to identify existing provisions in the law and allow foreign educational institutions to introduce operations in India. The UGC is exploring the possibility of allowing foreign institutions as "Deemed Universities" or as Private Universities. The UGC is also drafting the rules and regulations for twinning programs and joint degree programs between foreign and Indian educational institutions.

A large number of universities in India and the United States have been keenly following the developments related to Sibal's thrust on this policy measure and have been waiting for policy formulation on issues such as fee structures and other specifics.

During a visit in October, the US Assistant Secretary for Trade Promotion Suresh Kumar said that there is tremendous interest among US educational institutions about engaging India. "So the first thing they want is clarity on what are the rules, structures and how do we engage... as it refers to fee structure, for profit and non-profit institutions and different business models which will enable to attract more institutions. Clarity is the first stage but there is work to be done," said Kumar who was leading a 21 Schools mission to India.

In totality, the changes taking place in the higher education sector in India are truly revolutionary and hold enormous promise and potential for the vast community of students. They also offer ample opportunities for fruitful collaborations between educational institutions in India and the United States.


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