A right step forward

10 Oct

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will meet human resource development minister Kapil Sibal at a ‘Higher Education Summit’ in Washington this week. The two countries have been cooperating in this sector since 2009 but the problem is that the two have not yet developed a single vision of their

cooperation in higher education. The development of this vision is essential to the success of the upcoming summit.

India wants to increase its higher educational bandwidth in the country: new campuses with quality professors for teaching students. The US view seems largely focused on broadening educational and research exchanges and providing for knowledge transfer on the inputs needed for a vibrant higher education system. The Americans seem wary of bricks and mortar investments and are more interested in the education of Indians in the US and searching for additional
opportunities for their faculties and students to partake of India’s rich cultural and technical resources.

To an extent, the 2009 ‘Obama-Singh 21st Century Knowledge Initiative’, hit the right note. Focused on junior faculty development, this initiative goes to the heart of the one resource most necessary to increase bandwidth: creative, competent faculty, an area of higher education in which the US excels.

However, the initiative, funded jointly at only $10 million, cannot hope to fill the faculty gap.

Likewise, India’s foreign education Bill, which was floated two years ago, was hailed by some as providing the means for increasing India’s educational bandwidth by legitimising US and other foreign institutions involvement in higher education. But disappointingly, the Bill is yet to become an Act.

In reality, the US’s support for the proposed Bill was based on a misconception that it would facilitate US institutional participation in Indian higher education. Actually, the proposed Bill was designed to regulate foreign participation. The theory of the proposed legislation was that many Indians were being defrauded by foreign providers and deserved protection and recourse.

If passed, the Bill could have restricted not just the branch campuses, but also the widest possible array of existing exchange and joint programmes.

The Indian vision of increased higher educational bandwidth, in India for Indians as well as for Americans, is the right vision. However, this vision cannot come about unless there is a sound economic basis for its implementation.

This does not mean commercialisation of which many Indian commentators have expressed concern. It does mean that there must be development and recognition of legitimate business models.

Advancing these US-India higher education business models should be a primary focus of the summit. Such models would include outlines of organisational structures, tax and regulatory requirements, and mutually beneficial capital flows.

They would enable US institutions to participate confidently in the development of India’s higher education system. Without the development of a common vision that provides confidence to US and Indian institutions, US-India higher education cooperation will never achieve its full potential.

Increasing India’s educational bandwidth while providing benefits to US institutions is a vision that could produce dividends for both. The summit is an opportunity to develop and implement this vision.

Raymond Vickery is senior director of Albright Stonebridge Group, Of Council at Hogan Lovells, and former US Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Trade and Development Karl F Inderfurth holds the Wadwani Chair for US-India Policy Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and is a former US assistant secretary of state for South Asia affairs The views expressed by the authors are personal.


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