Frugal Internationalization: The Indian Way

Prime Minister Modi is facing the challenge of re-election in May and has launched the Leadership for Academicians Program, which underlines the importance of international training for faculty in academic and administrative leadership.

February 4, 2019

India’s higher education sector in the last few decades had been very slow to move on key reforms to keep pace with global changes and even failed to deliver on some of the reforms promised, especially with regard to research, innovation and internationalisation. This has hampered the country’s march towards occupying a major role in the global knowledge economy.

The present Federal government, with initiatives such as the human space flight program and the Atal Innovation Mission(AIM) that promotes innovation and entrepreneurship, has been according a greater role to higher education and research in the country. Although irrational utterances about ancient India’s scientific and technological contributions from those in key government positions have drawn criticism from many quarters—both nationally and internationally—the past four years will also be remembered for quite a few positive developments with regard to internationalisation. Major initiatives such as the Global Initiative of Academic Networks (GIAN)  and Scheme for Promotion of Academic and Research Collaboration (SPARC)aimed at tapping the international talent pool of researchers to improve  the  competitiveness of the system are the best examples. 

The government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi is facing the challenge of re-election in May and is on its last lap now. Interestingly, just a few months before the general elections the Modi government has launched the Leadership for Academicians Programme (LEAP) which underlines the importance of international training for faculty in academic and administrative leadership, in partnership with foreign universities, as key to the success of reforms in the Indian higher education sector.

LEAP: A Strategic Approach towards Leadership Development

Leadership for Academicians Programme (LEAP) is a customized three-week leadership development programme for professors in publicly-funded higher education institutions in India. The program’s main objective is to provide select senior professors with necessary leadership and managerial training to respond to challenges under the National Mission on Teachers and Teaching Scheme. Professional development with a focus on improving institutional competitiveness, learning outcomes, resource mobilization, autonomy, accountability, research capacity, internationalization, and institutional performance are key components of this programme.

The LEAPprogrammeis expected to improve the leadership potential of second-tier academic heads who are likely to assume leadership roles in public higher education in the future. This programme is implemented at fifteen prominent federal institutions—IIT Roorkee; IIT Kanpur; NIT Trichy; Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Kolkata; Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi; IIT BHU; University of Delhi; IIT Bombay; TISS Mumbai; University of Hyderabad ; NIEPA, New Delhi; IIT Kharagpur; Jamia Milia Islamia, New Delhi; Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi  and Aligarh Muslim University. Each institution has a programme coordinator and would provide training to around thirty individuals nominated by the eligible institutions. The international partner institutions also have coordinators for the successful implementation of the programme.

The international partner institutions are Stanford University, Purdue University, Harvard University, University of Virginia, Penn Engineering of the University of Pennsylvania, University of Michigan, University of Cambridge, University of Oxford, The London School of Economics and Political Science, Monash University, Kyoto University, and Nanyang Technological University. Although US institutions dominate the list, it is interesting to note that Japanese and Singapore institutions also found a place in the list. However, Chinese institutions are conspicuous by their absence. 

The most important feature of the LEAP programme is that it is a fully funded programme of the government of India for professors below fifty-five years of age. The age clause ensures that only those who have a significant number years of service left benefit from the scheme. Two of the three-weeks of the programme will be conducted in the Indian institution and the remaining one week at the foreign partner institution. This would help the government to whittle down costs associated with foreign training abroad. 


Need to expand the scope of LEAP with True Federal Spirit

LEAP is certainly an excellent initiative of the federal government that provides future leaders of the Indian higher education with access to diverse intercultural experiences and innovative approaches to institution building in the international context. The most interesting thing is that the present federal government has designed both major initiatives – GIAN and LEAP-- along the lines of similar programmes implemented by the South Indian state of Kerala in the past. While the GIAN is modelled to some extent  after the ‘ERUDITE Scholar-in-Residence’initiated under the academic leadership of Professsor K.N.Panikkar during  2008-2011, LEAP has many similarities with the Fostering Linkages in Academic Innovation and Research (FLAIR)foreign training programme initiated by the Kerala government during 2014-2016  in partnership with the British Council and select UK universitiesunder the leadership of Dr.K.M.Abraham,  who later became the chief secretary of Kerala. This shows that academics and bureaucrats could work wonders, even within the existing limitations of the State higher education system in India. 

While the impact of LEAP would not have a major effect on Indian higher education due to the limited number of professors being trained, what cannot be denied is that internationalisation has already become an important policy priority of the Federal government. However, currently the government is managing internationalisation as a top-down approach. This approach needs to be changed. All State governments should be equally equipped to drive similar kind of initiatives at the institutional level. Doing so requires a sustained  and coordinated effort by both the Federal and State governments and various national and State-level agencies such as University Grants Commission and State Higher Education Councils, especially to  align existing policies and programmes. Such an approach would certainly bring a big change in the India’s higher education system in the long run.


Eldho Mathews is a senior researcher in Indian higher education at the New Delhi office of a leading international management consulting firm. His current research interests include internationalization, higher education policies of India during the post-liberalisation period and post-Mao reforms in Chinese higher education system.

The views expressed here are solely of the author in his private capacity




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