Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Indian Higher Ed must embrace Internationalisation: A Response

Indian universities fail to make it to Global Top 100 in reputation rankings, and this has now caused some embarrassment. Not that we are used to see Indian universities in the top league, but now it happens to be the only BRIC country that does not make it. Indeed, it is a moot point that the universities from Singapore, Korea, Turkey and Israel all feature in the list, but what really matters for India is that it shows, yet again, how India is falling behind China on this aspect too.

What should be done? Phil Baty, from Times Higher Education who published the rankings, suggest that India must embrace internationalisation. What this means is to focus on greater global collaborations in research and teaching, and recruitment of international faculty, as the top universities in China have been doing for some time now. He rightly observes that quality and standards have been the casualty in the face of rapid expansion of Higher Education in India, and even the top Indian institutions are quite a way away from making it to the Top 100. 

The debate about raising the standards of Indian universities is welcome, though I am not entirely sure that the way to do it is to focus our minds on Times Higher Reputation Rankings. First, one needs to look at what Times Higher Education is attempting to do. A sober view will suggest that an University's standards of research and teaching output should take years, if not decades, to evolve, and indeed, some of the University Rankings, like the one published by Shanghai Jiao Tong, reflect the relatively slow-changing nature of this business. The University Reputation ranking, the one we are concerned about here, is somewhat an attempt to induce some glitz-and-glamour in the boring business of university research and teaching: It is the sector's own reality show based on audience polls. This approach makes the rankings quite volatile, and indeed, makes it possible for Indian universities to make it to the Top 100 at some point in future if the hearts and minds and sufficient money is focused on it. Indeed, Indian institutions are capable of this: IIM Ahmedabad's rapid rise in Business School rankings over recent years and ISB's persistent good showing, despite not being an accredited institution in India, prove the point. India's quality problems may need solving, but joining an international beauty parade to solve this is perhaps the last thing India needs.

Second, while one may instinctively agree that India must embrace internationalisation in its Higher Education system, how to do so may be more complex than just trying to attract star faculty globally. At one level, the internationalisation is needed: As Pratap Bhanu Mehta puts it, India remains an open society with a closed mind, and its Higher Education sector must do more to open the students to global possibilities and global standards. And, surely, this can not be done under the current intrusive regulatory regime. However, this means more than creating a global elite, either in terms of a set of prestigious universities or a narrow band of globally minded students. In fact, India's elite may already be more globally minded than many of its peers, including China, as its education culture has not moved much beyond Lord Macaulay's strategy of creating a "a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect". Rather, coming late to the party, India has the opportunity to craft a strategy of inclusive internationalisation - opposite of the kind Mr Baty suggests - which will create broadbased global opportunity for Indian students through greater use of collaboration, curriculum innovation and travel. While this must include some elements of faculty exchange and global hiring, the greater emphasis should be on effective and inclusive deployment of learning technologies, crafting language strategies for Indian campuses and exposing the students to different cultures and critical understanding of global work.

In summary, therefore, India must embrace internationalisation, but on its own terms and to meet its own imperatives, and seek to develop its own brand of 'inclusive internationalisation'. Surely, it needs to improve the standards of its Higher Education, but the emphasis again should be on making lives better for its students and meeting its development challenges, and not on International League Tables of questionable value.
 

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