Bloomberg way of starting university holds lesson for Sibal

3 Nov

New York: Indian minister of Human Resource Development Kapil Sibal bored to death poor American university dons at last month’s higher education summit in Washington by rambling on about how India is planning a massive expansion of its university system in the coming decade.

“If 604 universities are now serving 16 million children, we’ll need another 1,000 universities in the next 10 years and another 50,000 colleges,” Sibal said at the higher education summit on 12 October.

“That’s the kind of scale we’re talking about,” he added with a flourish expecting US universities to jump.

You have to forgive American universities for not getting overly excited. They have heard Sibal’s spiel on India’s desire to build a 21st Century education system discussed ad nauseam. In fact, they have been hearing it for almost two years while waiting in the wings for the Indian Parliament to open up India’s heavily regulated education sector.

India’s education law isn’t exactly on the front-burner. Reuters

India’s education bill proposed in March 2010, still has to clear Parliament, and would require foreign universities to invest at least $11 million. It prohibits them from repatriating profits from their ventures, a condition that could limit the appeal of an Indian campus to those universities that view overseas programmes as profit-making ventures.

The Indian government could also regulate tuition fees to keep them low, but foreign colleges would still have to ensure what they offer is quality comparable to what they offer on their main campuses.

The Bloomberg Way

India’s education law isn’t exactly on the front-burner. The Wall Street Journal recently commented on India’s “half-hearted welcome to foreign universities” observing acidly that Sibal, who is also telecommunications minister, has his “hands full” dealing with the fallout from the 2008 2G spectrum scandal.

Contrast, India’s dawdling with New York Mayor Michael R Bloomberg’s groundbreaking initiative to build a new applied sciences campus in New York. Bloomberg has promised free land and $100 million in seed capital to the institution with the best proposal.

With that sort of incentive, it stands to reason that Bloomberg’s quest to lure New York’s next “genius school” attracted seven applications — from 17 top institutions in three states and four countries. The Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Mumbai and Noida-based Amity University have submitted bids to set up a science and engineering campus in New York.

Bloomberg’s proposition is enticing enough for the schools to say they’ll contribute millions in private investment and bring top faculty to New York.

“All of the submissions were stronger than anything we could have possibly imagined,” Mayor Bloomberg gushed on Monday. “Each of these applications is ambitious and comprehensive…all serious and all attractive.”

Interestingly, IIT Mumbai is part of a strong consortium that includes New York University, University of Toronto, UK’s university of Warwick, City University of New York and Carnegie Mellon. They have submitted a proposal to set up a centre for urban science and research in Brooklyn.

Amity University has submitted a separate bid to set up a campus in Governor’s Island. The proposals range from sweeping new 2 million-square-foot tech campuses on Roosevelt Island proposed by Cornell and Stanford in dueling bids — to smaller facilities proposed in Brooklyn and Manhattan.

Michael Bloomberg said New York is open to helping as many schools come to the city as possible by using city funds, private funds or philanthropic dollars. Getty Images

The city estimates that Bloomberg’s world class tech university project could trigger $6 billion in economic activity over the next 35 years.

New York City officials plan to pick a winner later this year or in early 2012.

All the universities gunning to win the right to build a campus in New York hope the mayor picks more than one winner. Bloomberg said the city is open to helping as many schools come to New York as possible by using city funds, private funds or philanthropic dollars. There is a good chance the billionaire mayor’s own foundation could offer seed money to universities.

Putting your best foot forward

Some US universities aren’t looking to India for profits, but want to include it in their research and education map. Instead of waiting for the education bill to go through, the more savvy Indian states are wooing top US institutes to set up campuses. They want engineers and finance students with the right skill-sets to work in the multinational firms already crowding their states.

“We are a non-profit government agency, so we are not looking at it from a tuition point of view but as a research opportunity,” Vijay K Madisetti, executive director of Georgia Tech’s exploratory initiative to start a campus in India, told Firstpost.

“We were offered 250 acres of land in 2007- 2008 by the Andhra Pradesh government. We want to focus on a Masters and PhD level programme in India. It requires relationships with industry, other universities and government labs. We want to do research in information technology, energy, biotechnology and infrastructure,” said Madisetti.

Georgia Tech wants to collaborate on research with companies in the Hyderabad and Bangalore corridor. “Our work will be related to working with companies in India and not with offering classes. Georgia Tech students and faculty from our Atlanta campus would be collaborating with local Indian and US companies; they may spend some portion of their time in India working with Indian companies to understand their problems,” said Madisetti.

Rutgers University is also keen to get a piece of the action. Rutgers and the Tata Institute are launching the India Center for Sustainable Growth and Talent Development to provide cooperative education programs, including student exchanges and dual degree programs. It also seeks to help Indian universities train administrators and policymakers by using research fellowships. Columbia University and New York University are also testing the waters with research centers.

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