Open up your education system, India told

Sector leaders emphasise potential role that country’s academics could play in finding solutions to global challenges

January 17, 2020
THE India Forum

Education leaders from around the world called on India to increase its international collaborations and outreach, both for students and faculty.

Speaking at the Times Higher Education India Forum at Amity University, they emphasised the potential role that India could play in finding solutions to global challenges.

“If we are to tackle problems like climate change, global public health or even global inequality, we need to know how to do this across national borders,” said Nicholas Dirks, former chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley. “There is no wall, barrier or national agenda that can stop a pandemic or rising sea levels.”

“Internationalisation is not only a one-way street; it is a multi-lane street,” Professor Dirks continued. “Educational exchanges, collaborations and networks can create life-changing personal relationships.

“India has much to contribute to the world, and not just in traditional Indian subjects. There is enormous intellectual capital here, and the challenge is in mobilising that.”

Amity University, established in 2005, is an example of a private, non-profit institution reaching out globally. It now has overseas campuses in Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

“International governments are looking at the quality of Indian education – and trusting us and investing in us,” said Atul Chauhan, Amity University chancellor.

He addressed the fact that only 56 Indian universities were included in the latest Times Higher Education World University Rankings. “However, if you go back just five years, that was just 17 Indian universities. Why is that? Because leaders at universities in India have understood that they need to reach out to the world,” he said.

Way Kuo, president of the City University of Hong Kong, spoke from the perspective of a city with one of the world’s highest rates of HE internationalisation.

His advice for Indian administrators was to avoid internationalising for the sake of it. “The question is how to modernise? What is best practice? Everything you do, you ask: ‘What is the outcome? How relevant is my programme to society?’ For example, society needs more data science, so you create a programme in data science – not the other way around.

“The best way to learn is to send people to other places, and then welcome people from other places to come to you,” Professor Kuo said. “This is how you generate understanding. The world is actually very small.”

He added that “all university professors – in institutions big and small – should be doing research. And their students should be doing research, too.”

Experts felt that India’s Draft New Education Policy 2019, a framework proposed in June, could provide a chance for change.

“It’s a real opportunity for India to shift to a knowledge economy, and an opportunity for international education partnerships,” said Barbara Wickham, India director for the British Council.

“One ambition is to promote the mobility of students in both directions,” she said.

Ms Wickham said that the British Council’s study in India programme, which launched in July 2019, had received an “overwhelming response” from dozens of UK and Indian universities. “We want to massively move young people here and in the UK to have international experiences,” she said.

Tanya Spisbah, director of the Australia India Institute in Delhi, also identified new opportunity for change in the draft policy, particularly in efforts to bring international students and staff to India.

“One of the benefits of exchange is that it brings a different culture to campus,” she said. While traditional Indian education has focused on rote learning, new influences can bring “other styles of teaching, like making students respond to questions and think on their feet. The best tool we can give students is the skill of critical thought.”

She used an example of how more globally minded thinking could potentially solve a social problem closer to home: air pollution in Delhi. “The solution is not only scientific – it is also political. It requires problem-solving skills,” she said.

joyce.lau@timeshighereducation.com

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