Editor’s Note: This entry has been kindly prepared by Tim Gore, now Director of The Centre for Indian Business, University of Greenwich, London, UK. Prior to this, Tim was Director of Education at the British Council in India, where he was responsible for growing the knowledge partnership between India and the UK. Tim also led the establishment of the UK-India Education and Research Initiative (UKIERI) that is profiled in an earlier blog entry.
How will President Obama’s ambitious plans for a new diplomacy translate into practical international relations and how will this impact on the education sector? An early example of this may prove to be relations with India and some clues may be in the newly released Asia Society Task Force report: Delivering on the Promise: Advancing US Relations with India.
The high level rhetoric for the US-India relationship may not have changed that much after all President Bush declared ‘the world needs India’ on his 2006 visit to the Indian School of Business (ISB) – Hyderabad - a school touted by the new report as an example of what can be done with good US-India cooperation. The School works in partnership with Wharton and Kellogg and prompted a Bush accolade ‘You’ve got a great thing going’!
However, the tone of the report is a substantial departure from the Bush years. Democratic colors are now firmly fixed to the mast and references to ‘reciprocity’ and ‘understanding India’ abound, while the ‘world needs India’ has changed to ‘the USA needs India as an ally in its foreign policy issues’.
The education agenda is a little buried in this report. It has been classified under the second track ‘Joint Public-Private Partnerships for Complex Global Challenges’. Is this code meaning that there will be little Government funding available (seed-corn funding is mentioned briefly)? After all, educational relations between the two countries have flourished over the years, despite a relative absence of visible policy and public sector involvement. There are over 80,000 Indians studying in higher education in the US every year and the US dominates the ‘market’ for doctoral studies. Also, many commentators (see, for example, Anna-Lee Saxenian’s book The New Argonauts: Regional Advantage in a Global Economy) have pointed out the seminal role of talented Indian entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley and elsewhere and research links with the US are strong and growing.
There are also quite a number of US tertiary collaborations with India (although surprisingly bearing in mind the respective sizes of their tertiary sectors, not more than the number of UK collaborations). However, the use of ISB as a beacon of attainment highlights the key issue with US-India educational relations and the nuances of policy that the US will need to get right.
ISB is an exceptional institution, undoubtedly in the top tier of such institutions globally, in terms of how hard they work their students if nothing else! However ISB, with its powerful private sector Governing Board and influential international links (US presidents don’t drop into every management college with a foreign badge on the gate), is not accredited in India by the relevant regulatory body the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE).
Similarly, the campus of the US Western International University run by the influential Modi family has no official status in India. If pressed, officials will say that it is ‘not legal’.
Australia, New Zealand and UK have a multilateral forum with India on quality assurance, regulation of cross border education and other issues of mutual interest, The US approach thus far has been to lobby for liberalisation of the sector. Alienating the Human Resources Ministry may not matter in trade relations, but it will matter in education and knowledge partnerships.
The report shows little understanding of the education sector. It claims that direct investment in education is not allowed in India. This is not really the case as a recent MoU to establish a campus of Georgia Institute of Technology in Andhra Pradesh (near the ISB) demonstrates. Regulation of foreign provision in India is unclear with the relevant legislation frozen in parliament but accreditation can be achieved. The UK’s Huddersfield University has both invested in, and achieved, official recognition of its joint venture in ‘Hospitality Management’ with the Taj Hotel Group in India.
Similarly, the report claims that the higher education sector is overwhelmingly public which is again not the case. Over 50% of higher education provision in India is private and the vast majority of audiences the US would like to address at secondary level will attend private schools which dominate the urban areas. This brings me to a second point.
The ISB example, while interesting, also misses the point raised, as the main way the US can build an educational relationship with India is claimed to be partnership in meeting the training requirements for India’s large population. ISB and similar Tier 1 institutions will never address this demand with their tiny elite intakes. More relevant are the 1800 engineering colleges with Tier 2 aspirations that are currently achieving less than 30% employability according to the IT industry body Nasscom. Here the community colleges and Tier 2 US institutions could play a bigger role (briefly touched upon in the report). And here, also, the private sector becomes very relevant with the enormous number of Tier 2 private institutions springing up all over India.
Finally, the potential of the partnership is less than fully explored here. The US already has a substantial knowledge partnership with India which transcends the main objective in the report; of helping India to produce its next generation workforce. The complex research and innovation links with US through entrepreneurs and highly qualified graduate technicians and scientists are of immense value to both countries but largely ignored in this report. The overall impression is of a hastily prepared report to encourage the new administration to focus on India.
Many of us have wondered what would happen if the sleeping giant awakes and the US take a more pro-active and coherent approach to its knowledge and education partnership with India.This report may be the alarm clock going off..!!