WASHINGTON – More than 1,000 new universities and 50,000 new colleges.
Those are the numbers India is looking at if the country is to try to meet its ambitions of more than doubling its higher education enrollment in the next 10 years, said Kapil Sibal, the Indian human resources minister, at the U.S.-India Higher Education Summit at Georgetown University Thursday.
That kind of growth would result in a tremendous need for collaboration with existing colleges in India, the United States and elsewhere, in all kinds of areas, including the search for qualified faculty members, he said.
The daylong summit, jointly hosted by the governments of the two countries, brought together more than 30 Indian leaders from government and higher education and their American counterparts. Opening remarks came from Hillary Clinton, the U.S. secretary of state, and from Sibal.
"We want to see more American students enrolling for academic credit at Indian institutions," Clinton said. Collaboration could be between faculty, students or business leaders. No ideas are off limits, she added. She gave the example of American and Indian students at Stanford University who worked together to develop an inexpensive baby incubator.
Sibal said India was “a nascent democracy, energetic, on the move, and full of hope.” But in order to realize its potential, the young population in the country has to have access to quality education. He talked about building a robust vocational education system, drawing from the experiences of community colleges in the United States.
But what is achievable and how should higher education officials go about achieving those goals?
Some of the more ambitious ideas came from Sam Pitroda, an adviser to the Indian prime minister on public information, infrastructure and innovations, best known for revolutionizing the Indian telecom sector. "Connectivity allows us to think big,” he said. He went as far as to suggest a world of higher education where professors exist as mentors while the bulk of the learning is done online and unassisted by an individual instructor.
Several American universities pointed to the ties that they are building with India. Virginia Tech is setting up a campus with a private Indian partner near the southern Indian city of Chennai. Yale University recently concluded a two-week program designed to help administrators in India learn strategies for the challenges they face as university leaders.
Amid all of these signs of collaboration, several speakers Thursday mentioned the small number of American students in India -- about 3,000 annually, compared to the 100,000 Indian students who enroll in universities in the United States. To redress some of that imbalance, a new program called Passport to India will give American high school and college students a chance to hold internships in India. The aim, officials said, is to get private companies to partner with U.S. higher education institutions to sponsor internships in India.
The challenges to these partnerships will be twofold, said Richard Celeste, former U.S. ambassador to India and president emeritus of Colorado College. American universities have seen a dramatic reduction of resources in recent years, while India has a high level of bureaucratization and politicization in its education system, he said.
Another problem cited by many is the lack of higher education institutions in India similar to U.S. community colleges. "The coming of age of the community college movement never found a counterpart in India," Celeste said.
Efforts are under way to move in that direction. The day before the summit, 14 Indian officials toured Montgomery College in Maryland to observe the workings of a community college firsthand. Sanjay Rai, vice president and provost of Montgomery, said the next stage in this collaboration would be to develop a model of affordable education in India linked to jobs.
Participants in the summit like Pratim Biswas, a professor in the school of engineering and applied science at Washington University in St. Louis, said they are curious to see what follow-up takes place.
"There is a lot of talk here. Let us see what happens," said Biswas, whose university’s faculty is sharing ideas with teachers at the Indian Institute of Technology in Mumbai. "We will also have to see how the bureaucracy in India responds to these plans."