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Moving to Improve Graduate Education On an International Level

Twenty-seven representatives from Australia, Canada, China, Europe and the United States met in Banff, Alberta, Canada, in late August, to lay benchmarks for better practices in graduate education. The Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) and the government of the Canadian province of Alberta took the lead on this major initiative, which, if carried forward, could lead to the establishment of best practices in graduate education globally.

Nine principles were adopted at Banff to guide the path of improved graduate education (see box). Coming in the wake of discussions last year at the Australian Embassy in Washington, D.C., on the Bologna process and the three-year European degrees, the Banff principles are very encouraging.

Of the nine principles adopted at Banff, I believe that two in particular are most important. The first principle is, “Respect and learn from the differences in programs and their modes of delivery directed towards our common goal.”

There is definitely a need to understand, appreciate and accept the differences in academic programs around the world and to acknowledge that different is not better or worse than the U.S. system. Perhaps U.S. institutions will now look carefully, with a new perspective, at three-year degrees from elsewhere besides Europe when reviewing international applications for graduate studies in order to avoid a discriminatory approach.

The other principle states, “Establish an inclusive global platform for discussion of best practices in graduate education.”

An inclusive global platform needs to involve the major participants in graduate education globally. I would recommend that something similar to the European Higher Education Area (EHEA), which the Bologna process aims to create, be considered for Africa, Asia, Australia, Canada, the Caribbean, the Middle East, South America, the Pacific region and the United States. It could be called the Global Higher Education Area (GHEA). While the EHEA is concentrating on developing standardization of the educational systems within Europe, the GHEA could go further and respond to the challenges of the 21st century to ensure that access to higher education globally is not constrained by whether non-U.S. systems are similar to the U.S. system but whether these are qualitatively on par with the U.S. system of graduate education. The purpose of the GHEA would be to inform, understand, appreciate and accept the differences that exist in the educational systems globally so that there is a standardized and smooth exchange of students across countries.

Currently, U.S. institutions have not decided, for example, whether to accept the three-year degrees from non-European countries or whether to give emphasis when evaluating non-U.S. degrees to general education courses or to specialized subject courses; another issue is whether to count the number of credit hours taken or the number of years the students took to complete the undergraduate degree. All these are extremely important issues to consider before U.S. institutions begin admitting non-U.S. three-year degree recipients for graduate studies.

Promoted by the CGS as the “first ever global meeting on graduate education” of “strategic leaders in graduate education,” Banff participants did not include representatives from Africa, the Caribbean, South America or even India, which, according to “Open Doors 2006,” an annual report released by the Institute of International Education and U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, “remains the leading country of origin for international students studying at U.S. universities.” The report states that in 2004-05, over 76,000 students from India enrolled in U.S. institutions, out of which 73.7 percent were enrolled at the graduate level.

According to CGS, the graduate school associations in the respective countries nominated representatives from the invited nations and will expand participation among other countries in the future.

— Dr. Anita Nahal is acting director of International Programs at Howard University and formerly associate professor, Department of History, Sri Venkateswara College, University of Delhi, India.


Banff Principles

• Respect and learn from the differences in programs and their modes of delivery directed towards our common goal
• Promote the quality of graduate programs
• Develop global career competencies and awareness in graduates
• Encourage innovation in programs and graduates
• Clarify and strengthen the role of the master’s degree
• Promote high quality inter-university collaborative programs across national boundaries
• Review and understand the global flow of graduate students and postdoctoral fellows (early stage researchers)
• Engage stakeholders, e.g., employers, policy makers and universities, to improve and advance graduate education in a global context
• Establish an inclusive global platform for discussion of best practices in graduate education

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