Thursday, 13 October 2011

Higher Education Summit kicks off in U.S.

Getting off to a brisk start on a rainy, wind-swept morning at Georgetown University here in Washington, the first ever India-United States Higher Education Summit was kicked off on Thursday by Kapil Sibal, Union Minister for Human Resource Development, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Among the top issues that they will consider during a full day’s discussions is the prospect of U.S. universities entering into partnership agreements with Indian higher education institutions under the aegis of India’s Foreign Educational Institutions (Regulation of Entry and Operations) Bill.
Addressing the summit delegates, Mr. Sibal outlined the case for ramping up the “supply” of higher education in India in the years ahead. Arguing that India’s Gross Enrolment Ratio was around 15 per cent, he said increasing that proportion to 30 per cent by 2020 would require India to provide for opportunities in higher education for an additional thirty million children.
“To do that, we will need to build an additional 1000 universities and 50,000 colleges. To serve these institutions, we will require quality faculty of over a million assisted by quality support structures,” he said.
Secretary Clinton remarked that the Singh-Obama Knowledge Initiative “provides $10 million for increased university partnership and junior faculty development.” However she cautioned that in the wake of the Tri-Valley University scam, in which many Indian students were left in limbo following visa fraud allegations against that university, the U.S. was taking steps to block such fraudulent universities from reaching Indian students.
She said that the U.S. had expanded its Education USA advising services for Indian students and their families to provide information about opportunities for study and “to help you sort out misleading offers that come over the internet, and we know flood into homes across India, giving young Indian students the idea that a certain approach will work for them when, in fact, it is a dead end.” She added, “We don’t want to see that happen.”
In comments at an earlier event organised by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry and the Centre for Strategic and International Studies Mr. Sibal made an eloquent case for greater U.S.-India partnerships in the higher education field arguing that the U.S.’ institutions were the “envy of the world.”
Speaking at another pre-summit meeting organised by the U.S.-India Business Council, U.S. Deputy Secretary William Burns touched upon some of the themes of the dialogue saying, “I challenge all of you during tomorrow’s Summit to seek out new avenues for cooperation we have not fully explored, including community college, distance learning, and new technologies in education, which are all part of a healthy and robust higher education mix.”
While the leaders are expected to announce some prospective partnership agreements at the end of the Summit, some outstanding questions remain.
One of these is whether any top-tier universities would be willing to invest in the full range of education opportunities in India given the provision in the Indian Foreign Educational Institutions Bill that prevents foreign universities from repatriating any profits that they make from such ventures.
A second, more fundamental, question is whether the next step for India should be to promote greater expansion within the existing domestic higher educational institutions, before it turns to foreign providers of such services.

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