February 14, 2013, New York and New Delhi – The Institute of International Education led eight U.S. higher education representatives on a partnership-focused study tour to India last week to learn more about the Indian higher education system and explore potential partnership opportunities. The study tour was part of the International Academic Partnership Program focusing on India, a major initiative of IIE’s Center for International Partnerships in Higher Education, which seeks to foster sustainable partnerships between higher education institutions in the U.S. and India.
The delegation included representatives from five U.S. colleges and universities that were chosen in October 2012 to participate in the year-long IAPP program. The five selected institutions are: Arizona State University, Portland State University, University of Colorado Colorado Springs, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and Washington & Jefferson College. The five institutions were selected due to their commitment to developing long-term, strategic partnerships with counterparts in India, with the goals of increasing student and faculty exchange, joint research, dual degree programs, study abroad, and other partnership activities.
To introduce the delegates to the diversity of the Indian higher education system, Center for International Partnerships staff, together with staff from the IIE New Delhi office, selected eight distinct institutions in Chennai, Ahmedabad, and New Delhi where U.S. delegates conducted site visits and partnership-focused roundtable discussions. The Indian host institutions ranged from large, public universities such as Anna University in Chennai and Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, to smaller private institutions such as the Pandit Deendayal Petroleum University in Ahmedabad. In addition, the delegates met with representatives from a few colleges that are affiliated with larger central universities, such as the Madras Christian College in Chennai and the Indraprastha College for Women in New Delhi. Other site visits included the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU), the largest university in the world with over 3.5 million students; and the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Gandhinagar, one of the newer IITs developed by the Government of India. In addition to site visits, the delegates also participated in a roundtable discussion hosted by the U.S. Public Affairs Section in Chennai, as well as the One Globe 2013 Conference in New Delhi.
The study tour highlighted a number of opportunities and challenges for developing U.S. – India academic partnerships. Whether looking to create dual degree programs, increasing study abroad, or exchanging faculty and students, the key to developing quality, sustainable partnerships is compatibility. This study tour helped the delegates to explore what makes a good partner, and to learn that compatibility does not necessarily mean the same institutional size, geographic location, or governance. In fact, many of the U.S. and Indian institutions found they shared an emphasis on diversity and catering to the needs of first generation learners. Others found they have centers or departments working on similar global issues, such as energy, conflict resolution, and religious pluralism. While, historically, a major hurdle for potential Indian Master’s students in the U.S. has always been the three-year undergraduate degree in India, some Indian institutions are beginning the transition to a four-year Bachelor’s degree.
The challenges that arose are not necessarily new or specific to India, but represent common partnership issues that require significant forethought and creative solutions. For example, many Indian institutions raised the issue of visa issuance as a recurring barrier to student mobility. Many of their students have been denied visa not once, but twice; the main reason for denial being that there was not enough proof that the student would return to India after their studies. In a discussion with representatives from the U.S. consular section in Chennai, delegates were informed that formalized partnership agreements often help in these matters, such as- a signed Memorandum of Understanding, which can bolster a student’s visa application.
Funding poses another major challenge, especially in light of the recent depreciation of the rupee. Increasingly, institutions in both countries are being asked to conjure up creative funding models, including tuition swaps, public-private partnerships, and joint funding proposals such as the Obama Singh 21st Century Knowledge Initiative. Finally, due to the vast and varied higher education landscape in the U.S. and India, the need for quality and widespread information about a large cross-section of institutions in both countries is of increasing importance.
The 2013 IAPP India delegation is the third group of U.S. institutional representatives to travel to India with IIE. Since 2010, IAPP India participants have utilized their time on the study tour to learn about Indian institutions’ priorities for developing partnerships, models of successful partnerships, and common pitfalls. Upon returning to their campuses the U.S. participants will continue to refine their India partnership plan and proceed to engage potential partners in a strategic and focused manner. Past participants have gone on to develop new faculty-led study abroad programs, faculty exchange programs, joint symposia, and an on-campus India Center. Two alumni of the IAPP India program, Rutgers University and the University of Montana, also received Obama-Singh 21st Century Knowledge Initiative partnership awards in July 2012.