Why we must build bridges towards borderless education

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New Delhi | Published: April 2, 2018 1:16:38 AM

The ministry of HRD had been pursuing the plan to allow foreign universities on Indian soil, and award degrees to Indian students right here.

EDUCATION, EDUCATION IN INDIA, INTERNATIONAL EDUCATIONInternational education should mean allowing a student to do a part of the course in India and the rest in another country from the same university or different. (PTI)

In a connected and integrated world, how do we define internationalisation of academics? Indeed, how do we define internationalisation at all? It is no longer the Laissez-faire concept—free economies completely open to global business. The most relevant definition I have come across is that it is the process of integrating an international and intercultural dimension into the teaching, research and service functions of the institution (“Updating the definition of internationalisation,” by Prof Jane Knight, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto; goo.gl/a1vc8A). It is about getting students from various countries onto one campus or spreading one campus across many countries. However, this is a tiny subset of the things we can do in making education international.

It should go way beyond that. In its entirety, it should be a process that consists of some extended dimensions and methods. It would mean strategising education in a manner in which the whole spectra of dimensions are integrated—research, data sharing, administration functions, good practices, innovation. Sharing of good practices across universities will assist in quality assurance, increase non-academic revenues and bring in operational efficiency.

International education should mean allowing a student to do a part of the course in India and the rest in another country from the same university or different. It could extend to research from a foreign university with guidance from Indian faculty, or use Indian resources. There could be co-guidance from two different subject experts from various universities. Alternatively, the integration of services in a manner that a library that is physically available at, say, a US university could be partly open in an Indian university as well. Today, grants for programme development, mobility and research are increasingly set aside for collaborative and consortial arrangements, rather than individuals or single universities.

The truth is, it needs to go beyond borders. It could extend to setting up campuses of the same university in different countries and provide the same standard of academic excellence to students in all locations. It should be able to provide student and faculty mobility, research collaboration and geographical uniformity of academic standards.

For true internationalisation of Indian education, we need to go into the details of best practices of universities in other countries and adopt them. To get first-hand exposure to foreign universities, we need to get in more international campuses to India. This brings us to a limitation placed on the need for this academic excellence—the barriers have been put by policy regulations.

The ministry of HRD had been pursuing the plan to allow foreign universities on Indian soil, and award degrees to Indian students right here. However, recently, that project has been put on the back burner. Now, they want to build world-class universities in India and provide Indian students education that would be comparable to any other institution globally. Called the ‘Institutions of Eminence’ plan, it has discouraged the participation of stalwarts like Oxford and Harvard in the Indian education system.

I strongly oppose this move, which is clearly driven both by economic and political ambition, since it may deprive Indian students of much better growth prospects. There are foreign exchange expatriation issues to be thrashed out, we have been told, but Manipal has been the lone and the loudest voice in driving the encouragement of international campuses on Indian soil. We feel it will add to the academic excellence of Indian education, provide healthy competition to Indian institutes, while retaining foreign exchange. We hope for a positive resolution but do not see it coming in the near future.

Internationalisation can create a talent pool that is mature in outlook, excellent in academics and able to research with a global stature, aided by the best brains around the planet. What sets institutions like the National University of Singapore apart is that almost 75% of their students have had some level of global exposure.

In my opinion, the value that global university campuses would add to Indian academic scene would go far beyond a degree, providing cultural integration and the added global exposure to students, allowing smooth movement between campuses and schools. The competition that will then happen would be a huge flip to standards in India. I feel that providing students with internationalised education adds untold value to their academic excellence, cultural maturity and the ability to be better global citizens. We are working tirelessly to get this edge for Indian students as well as providing a similar opportunity to students from other countries.

Vinod Bhat is vice-chancellor, MAHE (Manipal Academy of Higher Education). Views are personal

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