Search This Blog

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

International Student Exchange Programs

In the last 2 years that I have been in Delhi, I have attended many a meetings with folks from different countries trying to figure out how the institutions in India can engage with institutions in their respective countries. There are two models which seem to working well.

One is that of twinning wherein a student in India joins an Indian institution, does some course work for two years, and then seek admission in a partner university abroad, which recognizes the credits completed here. The student spends two more years at the foreign institute, and get a degree from there. This is a win-win situation for everyone involved (commercially, at least). The student wants a degree from abroad, and gets it at a cheaper price than spending all 4 years abroad. The parents are happy that they didn't have to send their ward abroad when s/he was too young. The foreign university is happy that they are getting at least two years' tuition from a foreign student. The local university is happy because they can actually charge a bit more for the two years than what they may charge for their 4-year program.

The other is that of research collaboration. Two researchers meet somewhere, may be in a conference, and they decide to collaborate. Much of the interaction can happen over Internet, and a few visits can be supported by their respective projects. On top of that, there are government to government schemes under which they can apply for projects jointly, and while getting big moneys in international projects is difficult, collaborations can certainly happen.

But what about things beyond this. In terms of teaching programs, can we have student and faculty exchange programs where our students can spend a semester or two in the foreign location, and their students can spend a semester or two on our campuses. The same could be done with faculty. Can our PhD students work in their labs and their PhD students work in our labs. This is where one does not find any solution. For our students to go to North America or Europe is very expensive - travel, lodging and boarding, as well as tuition. For their students to come to India, well they don't think of it as an option. If they were coming to our campus, it would be easy to argue for tuition waivers. They don't pay tuition here, and our students don't pay tuition there. But we don't see a 2-way exchange.

So in every such meetings, there will be complaints about lack of two-way exchanges.

In a recent meeting, I asked the representatives of various universities whether they have an MoU with a university from Bangladesh or Sri Lanka or Mayanmar. The answer was on expected lines, none of them had an MoU with any university in these countries. The reason was supposedly obvious. Their universities were not great (though I can tell you that most universities represented in that room would not be better than good universities in these countries). Now, your student does not want to go to a university which is roughly similar to that of your quality, and you are wondering why an American or a European student does not want to spend a semester at your campus.

I recall that long time ago, when we were discussing relationships with top universities in Senate of IIT Kanpur, one professor had said that only after IIT Kanpur has had a good working relationship with HBTI, MNNIT, and other decent colleges of UP, would it realize how to have a relationship with MITs of the world.

A gentleman from US asked a question, "What is the goal for student exchange?" A pin drop silence. Frankly, the goal is only to brag about it, or enable our students to go to US/Europe with fee waivers. If the goal was what normally universities say, greater cultural diversification in the class, then we could achieve that by having more students from Africa, Central Asia, South East Asia, etc. Our focus on these regions is fairly limited right now.

I believe that the right thing to do by our universities is to attract exchange students from comparable or less developed countries than us. This will help us in multiple ways. It is more likely to succeed than to try wooing students from US/Europe. Thus the first goal of cultural diversity in the class (and a side goal of doing better in ranking) will be achieved. This will make us learn what are the challenges that foreign students face, including but not limited to getting a visa, police registeration, finding accommodation in nearby localities, and so on. It would be easier for our students to spend a semester in these places and gain an exposure of different cultural setting. Once we have all this knowledge and experience, we will be able to come up with better ideas to expand the scope of exchanges to richer countries. Right now, there are many attractions that we can market to students of richer countries, but we really don't know how to leverage them, how to prepare a program suited for different classes of students.

And just like we are offering a twinning program to our students, we could get into agreements with universities in less developed regions that they will send us their students after two years of training and we will train them for 2 more years and give our degrees. Why should we always be importer of education service. We should try to become an exporter of education service.

At a national level, bringing students from such countries also projects our soft power, create goodwill, create ambassadors for life.

No comments: