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‘We’d better get serious now’

education Updated: Jul 06, 2011 10:37 IST
Ayesha Banerjee
Ayesha Banerjee
Hindustan Times
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Is the Canada-India Education Summit a forum to cement ties between the two countries?
The three takeaways from the AUCC (Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada) mission to India in November were the scale, the scope and the urgency. The scale means Canadians have to look at the challenges that India is facing, and how big the opportunity is for Canada to play a role through partnership. Minister for Human Resources Kapil Sibal last year spoke about the need to create 20 million jobs a year, for a decade, in India. He has probably created 10 million jobs since we last spoke, but what have we been doing? Where scope is concerned, the mission last year was recognising if diversity of Canada’s universities can play a role in India. Whether you are a research-intensive university from Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver or a small undergraduate university, is there a fit for you in India? And in terms of urgency, it’s just recognising the demographic dividend that India has and the opportunities that it presents. We cannot forget the fact that other countries are moving in as well. If Canada wants to be a part of this then we’d better get serious about it. From the last couple of days (at the Ottawa Education Summit), I would say, the takeaways are focused on follow-up. The opportunities are so vast. We are going to be bewildered trying to decide where we are going to apply ourselves and where we are going to put our best efforts forward. We are particularly interested in making sure from the meeting of the prime ministers of India and Canada in June 2010 and the creation of the MoU that we need to get the joint working group up and running to develop the action plan so that when we do get together, we are not any longer just talking about what we might want to do but actually implementing those things that we have identified.

What concrete steps have been taken after the 2010 MoU?
There have been a number of individual follow-ups. Canada’s universities committed close to C$4 million in initiatives. Those initiatives are underway so students are moving. The MITACS students number 240 this summer in Canada from India. There are the other opportunities for student and faculty mobility. Some student mobility will happen in September when the next intake of classes happen, but those are underway, whether it’s at Queens University or the university of Regina. It’s important to communicate to Indians that students are moving back and forth. In the business-to-business context, more MoUs have been signed between the University of British Columbia and IIT. And the University of Regina has implemented a joint degree programme in kinesiology.

The takeaways from the last couple of days (at the Education Summit) is that the university presidents can help catalyse and put a focus on the effort. But now, we have to pay attention to the faculty mobility, the research work, rolling up our shirtsleeves and doing projects together. I expect that over the next year you would see us moving forward on concrete action. What concrete steps can happen? We’ll have staff participation at the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) higher education conference in India in November, we continue to work with our high commission, with our contacts there but in the interim we’ve got to be doing some work together.

What about students from Canada going to India?
That’s an area that you’ll hear us talk more about within Canada. About the need for Canadians to get overseas as well. That was a clear takeaway from our November meetings. We were told not to vaccum students out of India, to have a general exchange. I would like to point out that in the last federal budget the Canadian government recognised the need for a sophisticated intentional education strategy that would include Canadian student mobility overseas. If this is designed then we have a sophisticated interntional relationship with India that allows for two-way exchange of students, of faculty and real work on research projects of joint interest that can be of benefit for the world.

How can the faculty exhange work out?
For the first time in a while we have a young faculty in Canada. That total fulltime faculty is 42,000 and more than half of them have been hired in the last 15 years. So what you have is a young faculty generally that’s had some international experience. They would have had one of their degrees from outside of Canada so they would be interested in global partnerships. In that context, Canada has invested heavily in attracting and retaining top talent with a view to being able to engage internationally.

We want these emerging faculty stars to link up early in their careers with the emerging faculty in India. There is a demographic piece to it, there are research priorities. And this is where we have been having some good discussions over the last few days.

How can Indian faculty be involved?
Canada has got pretty good facilities but they need help in terms of the entrepreneurial engagement with the private sector. It’s understood that Indian faculty is entrepreneurial and that linkages can be made that way. India’s entrepreneurial instincts would be an area where we can work together. There’s been a lot of talk on nanotechnology. Another area is delivery of healthcare, which is much more cost-effective in India than in Canada… that’s an area where Canada has a real need... to understand how India has been able to make those savings. So these are just some areas where we could collaborate.

What are you apprehensive of when it comes to taking the mission forward?
A lot of those barriers have been removed. We’ve been through a process of learning about each other over the some time now, we’ve reformed some of our immigration procedures, our orientation is now much more global, universities are globally ready and globally engaged and so now there’s a chance to join up in a serious way. I’m apprehensive of not moving quickly enough and into the concrete next steps. People are busy, you can only have so many protocol meetings, so many cups of tea, but at the end of it you’ve got to get down to business and I think there’s been good work done to date, we’ve got real momentum in terms of garnering interests where the universities, governments and students of both countries sare concerned. We’re all aligned and ready to go – now we just have to get there.

Any deadlines that have been set?
We were just talking about milestones, about how we measure each other’s work. For us the critical next step is the joint working group meet and to have the action plans approved. The action plan includes conferences and workshops on specific projects, student mobility, faculty exchange, research collaboration and institutional strengthening and capacity-building. Those are the required buckets of work but we need to have that first meeting, and then we need to ensure that each government is putting in the resources to animate that relationship. We expect that meeting to take place in the next three to four months.

Now we have to only look ahead. The two PMs met a year ago in June, the university presidents’ mission was in November last year, the MoU is one year old, we need to have those meetings and we need to make progress together. That’s the first milestone. The next milestone is that we’ll be checking in with the FICCI (in India) and others in November to measure progress.

Traditionally, Indian students prefer disciplines like medicine and engineering. What else could one recommend?
We always have an interest in promoting the broadest range of student experience and inquiry. We make note of the point that the chief engineer for Google in the US has said they will employ 5000 people this year, and 4000 will be liberal arts and humanities students because what they want are creative critical thinkers that can do a whole range of things and not simply be trained to do one type of engineering or one kind of science. India knows what it needs best but what Canada has to offer is a range of experiences and high quality educational facilities to meet the needs of every student.

At the Innovation Summit just after the education meet, another element that came up was that when you look at third country intervention you can come to Canada and study alongside Chinese, Koreans, that it’s a way of skipping a generation in terms of entrepreneurial linkages. So by coming to Canada you can actually engage with the whole market.

Delivering education to international students: Quality matters
Why Canada? First of all Canada’s immigration policies have been reformed in recent years so students can actually get work experience, and get North American credentials. Work experience can be attractive. A number of universities are also linking up with their local chambers of commerce to help international students create their own businesses while they are in Canada. This is a very new development but it’s one that’s designed to strengthen one’s attachment to Canada so that after a few years the students can say ‘I have a thriving business, how do I grow it, how do I move it.’ And that can be useful both for India and Canada.

Growing numbers: More generally in conjunction with other community colleges, language schools and public schools. We’ve been saying we’d like to go for about 10 % per year, generally, in Canada. And the reason for not having a bigger number is that we want to ensure that quality is maintained. We want to make sure that the experiences we are promoting and offering are actually happening. If you look at some other jurisdictions, they undersold and underdelivered. And, our Canadian style is to make sure that the experiences we are delivering are valued. A 10% growth would be quite a good rate of growth on the student side.

The experience counts: Students, when they are thinking about an international education experience, should think about Canada. We want to be on that list of considerations that students talk with their parents and with their headmasters about the benefits of different choices. It’s important that students feel right about their choices but we know you can get very good international education at an affordable price in a safe and secure multicultural environment. One of the things that really strikes me as I visit Canada’s classrooms is that you really don’t know who the international students are. That’s the great thing about Canada.

Interviewed by Ayesha Banerjee

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