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College Administrators Convene for U.S.-India Higher Education Summit

WASHINGTON, D.C. — To elevate the interaction between colleges and universities in the U.S and India, institutional leaders must take a systematic and sustained approach to developing value-based partnerships and fostering meaningful exchanges over time.

That was just one of the suggestions made by an esteemed gathering of college presidents from both nations Thursday during a panel discussion at the historic U.S.-India Higher Education Summit.

Led by the U.S. State Department and held at Georgetown University, speakers emphasized the need for American institutions of higher learning that are interested in developing bonds with Indian institutions to make a commitment to build strong relationships over time instead of tentative ones.

“Our approach to it is we are long-term investors,” Dr. Charles Steger, president of Virginia Tech, said during a plenary session titled “Getting Started: Foundations for Sustainable Partnerships in Teaching and Research.”

He was referring to various branch campus projects his college has in India, more specifically, just outside the eastern seaboard city of Chennai, and elsewhere throughout the world.

“We do not go into these projects thinking that we’ll see how it works and in a year or two we’ll pull out,” Steger said.

At the same time, Steger said, institutions that partner with each other must get something out of the partnership.

“It must in the long run be mutually beneficial, or it won’t work,” Steger said.

Similar thoughts were voiced by Dr.  Suresh Garimella, Associate Vice President for Engagement at Purdue University.

“The bottom line to me is the value proposition needs to be very clear on both sides,” Garimella said. “Globalization is great broadly, but for an institution in the U.S. to interact with institutions in India, the question is what do they get out of it?”

He said the outcomes don’t have to be crass or commercial.

“It may be something quite noble,” Garimella said. “But whatever it is, it needs to be identified as such, and have metrics.”

The U.S.-India Higher Education Summit comes as the Nov. 1 deadline draws near for U.S. post-secondary institutions to submit proposals under the Obama-Singh 21st Century Knowledge Initiative. Among other things, the initiative, dubbed OSI, “aims to strengthen collaboration and build partnerships between American and Indian institutions of higher learning,” according to the State Department.

Moderator Adam Grotsky, Executive Director of the U.S.-India Foundation, raised questions about the “imbalance” between the 100,000 or so Indian students who are studying in the United States versus the 3,000 or so American students studying in India.

One State Department initiative meant to address this disparity is Passport to India, which promotes internships for American high school and college students in India.

“I’m glad the U.S. recognizes that there is an imbalance,” said Dinesh Singh, Vice Chancellor of Delhi University.

Dr. Jared Cohon, president of Carnegie Mellon University, took exception to referring to the difference in the number of American students who study in India versus Indians who study here as a matter of an “imbalance.”

“I don’t really get this,” Cohon said. “The 100,000 Indian students are coming to get degrees. So do we really expect 100,000 American students to go to India to get degrees? Would India want that to happen? I don’t think so,” he said, referring to problems India’s higher education infrastructure would have being able to absorb so many students.

“Is there a need to get a better understanding of India? Yes,” Cohon continued. But cultural understanding and the practical reasons that Indian students come to study in the U.S. are “two completely different things,” he said.

Other panelists included Sanjay Dhande, Director of the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur, who spoke of various inter-institutional projects the institute is working on in the field of nanotechnology; T. Ramasami, Secretary of the India’s Department of Science & Technology, who spoke of the challenges and limitations of developing standards; and Dr. Martha Kanter, Under Secretary at the U.S. Department of Education, who spoke of the need to get more American students excited about studying in India.

Note: The topics and issues discussed at the U.S.-India Higher Education Summit were similar to those that Diverse touched in a recent special report  by Jamaal Abdul-Alim on higher education in India. They included the merits of the Fulbright Scholars Program, the benefits of having American instructors teach in India and American students who study there, and the need for institutions to focus on solving some of India’s practical problems of the day.

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