The US – India ‘knowledge’ relationship: the sleeping giant stirs!

gore 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.  goreasiasociety2goreasiasociety1

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.

goreisb 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..!!

Tim Gore

Smaller classes, bigger science, and the increasing need to engage

In the middle of checking with colleagues at a variety of peer institutions about the evolving nature of teaching loads, yesterday’s New York Times distracted me with two fascinating articles about forces that are pushing educators and researchers to work with both smaller and larger groups of people.

Small groups and quality learning

On the downward push side, the article ‘At M.I.T., Large Lectures Are Going the Way of the Blackboard’ by Sara Rimer, explores how physicists at universities across North America are:

pioneering teaching methods drawn from research showing that most students learn fundamental concepts more successfully, and are better able to apply them, through interactive, collaborative, student-centered learning.

The article, which primarily focuses on MIT and the discipline of physics, notes that students still take basic introductory classes, but:

today they meet in high-tech classrooms, where about 80 students sit at 13 round tables equipped with networked computers.

Instead of blackboards, the walls are covered with white boards and huge display screens. Circulating with a team of teaching assistants, the professor makes brief presentations of general principles and engages the students as they work out related concepts in small groups.

Teachers and students conduct experiments together. The room buzzes. Conferring with tablemates, calling out questions and jumping up to write formulas on the white boards are all encouraged.

The article reminded me of a day I spent in the Wharton School‘s lavish building at the University of Pennsylvania (see the pictures below, taken in 2005).  I was impressed with the dialogue-oriented classrooms, and the small semi-private meeting spaces for student teams in the hallways (to the left of the corridor) with more public computer desks on the opposite side; spaces clearly designed from the ground up.

wharton1 wharton2


At M.I.T., Large Lectures Are Going the Way of the Blackboard’ resonates with debates underway in numerous quarters about the learning process, classroom technologies, pedagogical practices, and so on. Yet one cannot help but wonder how the effects of the current economic crisis will restrain most public universities from moving in this logical direction, one that our institutions have long known about (witness the praise for colleges like Harvey Mudd), yet have resisted or been unable to act upon.  Indeed, as I noted to one of my colleagues in Minnesota yesterday, long term underfunding of public higher education systems generates structural forces that see faculty-student enrollment number balances tilt the exact opposite way – away from small group quality learning – as witnessed in Australia and Canada in the 1980s and 1990s (see some indicators here in ‘Analysing Australia’s global higher ed export industry’). MIT and Penn have the resources to do the right thing, but does the average university in most continents?

Big science, research, and the centralization impulse

The 13 January issue of the same New York Times included a guest column by Aaron E. Hirsh titled ‘A New Kind of Big Science’. This article, which is also getting a lot of attention, discusses what Hirsh deems a “very broad trend” in scientific research: the creation of huge international teams of researchers, and associated research infrastructures, that are enabled by the forces of centralization:

Across many different fields, new data are generated by a smaller and smaller number of bigger and bigger projects. And with this process of centralization come changes in what scientists measure — and even in what scientists are.


It’s not only scientific instruments, but also the scientists themselves who are transformed by centralization. If the 19th century was an age of far-flung investigators alone in the wilderness or the book-lined study, the 21st century is, so far, an age of scientists as administrators. Many of the best-known scientists of our day are men and women exceptionally talented in herding the resources — human and otherwise — required to plan, construct and use big sophisticated facilities.

In a way, centralization seems unavoidable. The governments that fund research have themselves become far more centralized, so perhaps science has been pulled along in the process. But even without that prevailing wind, science would, I think, head in the very same direction.

A young discipline is bound to move first through the data it can gather most easily. And as it does, it also defines more exactly what it must measure to test its theories. As the low-hanging fruit vanish, and the most precious of fruits are spotted high above, bigger investments in harvesting equipment become necessary. Centralization is a way to extend scientists’ reach.

I quote at length, here, for he raises some important issues worth pondering for those interested in the construction of new knowledge spaces. These include:

  • the degree to which collaboration and partnerships (many international) are becoming indispensable to the research endeavor.
  • the need to extend and guide heterogeneous networks to enable such research to be undertaken, and the double-edged role of centralization in enabling this extension/guiding process to function.
  • the rarely examined effects such collaboration, and such centralizing impulses, have upon the subjectivity of researchers (and of administrators, I might add).
  • the difficulties that exist in building an emotional attachment to what Hirsh calls Big Science, an issue ‘outreach’ and development planners in universities (including my university) are also concerned about.

Hirsh’s column, especially his idea of a national initiative in Citizen Science – to complement Big Science – in the US, has generated 100+ comments, some of which are insightful.

In closing, I can’t help but note that both pushes – smaller groups of people when teaching, and larger groups of people when researching – require greater, not less, social engagement, and of both virtual and face-to-face forms. Resource constraints aside, do we have the quality institutions, structures, technologies, programs, etc., in place, and knowledge about them, to enable and facilitate better quality social engagement in the local spaces of the classroom, and the broader spaces of Big Science?  Citizen Science might help resolve some problems associated with Big Science, yet we are arguably lacking up-to-date support systems to enable us to engage better, to be better partners, in the worlds of teaching and research.

In a future entry I’ll come back to the issue of inter-university consortia and associations (e.g., the US’ Committee on Institutional Cooperation) in providing one element of these needed support systems. Enough procrastination for today though…I have syllabi to finish writing!

Kris Olds