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Govt's agenda for higher education: Online courses, exchange programmes

Collaborative online courses, exchange programmes and community colleges are on the new government’s agenda for higher education after PM Modi’s visit to the US, writes Shradha Shahani.

education Updated: Nov 05, 2014 18:28 IST
Shradha Shahani
Shradha Shahani
Hindustan Times

Hundreds of American professors invited to teach at Indian colleges each year. A new platform for Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) to make US course material accessible to Indian students. A partnership between the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) and the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), to build community colleges in India and link academia with industry requirements.

These are some of the initiatives on the higher-education agenda of the new government, following prime minister Narendra Modi’s recent visit to the US.

“Although our education system is expanding, the quality is dipping,” says Suhas Pednekar, principal of Ramnarain Ruia College, Matunga. “This collaboration is the need of the hour since it will improve the quality of training provided to teachers and students.”

Students too feel that access to foreign professors, course material and educational formats will give them an edge. In fact, for many, it will be a step to institutionalise the online assistance they have been seeking on their own, from free courseware available online.

“Faculty members from abroad have a wider perspective on subjects and MOOCs could be the best way to deliver it,” says Prakruti Maniar, 20, a mass-media student from Usha Pravin Gandhi College of Management in Vile Parle. Maniar took an online course six months ago on Engaging India, hosted by online education platform EdX.

Going digital
US daily The New York Times highlighted 2012 as the year of MOOCs, but India is yet to catch up to this trend. SWAYAM (Study Webs of Active Learning for Young Aspiring Minds) is PM Modi’s first attempt to change this.

Until now, the Indian footprint in the MOOCs plane has been limited to a few elite colleges, such as IIT-Bombay, IIT-Delhi and IIM-Bangalore, who offer their courses on foreign portals such as EdX and Coursera. EdX, a free education portal started by the US-based Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University, is set to provide the platform for SWAYAM, sources said.

As per a government press release posted on the Press Information Bureau website, SWAYAM’s first phase will see IIT-Bombay, IIT-Madras, IIT-Kanpur, IIT-Guwahati, University of Delhi, Jawaharlal Nehru University, IGNOU, IIM-Bangalore, IIM-Calcutta and Banaras Hindu University, alone as well as with the help of foreign faculty, offer courses in areas of engineering education, social science, energy, management and basic sciences. “At least 1 crore students are expected to benefit in two to three years through this initiative,” states the release, adding that SWAYAM will be launched “in 2014”.

“The key to having effective MOOCs is having experts to conduct them,” says V Sivaramakrishnan, executive president of education services at Manipal Global Education Services, which currently has 15,000 students undergoing online certification courses. “The demand for MOOCs among Indian students has grown considerably, due to the flexibility and convenience of the technology, and it can only grow further.”

“I am a big fan of online courses,” says Akshay Lakhi, 22, a computer engineering graduate from Veermata Jijabai Institute of Technology (VJTI), who took two courses from Coursera, on finance and irrational behaviour, in February. “Indian colleges do not have the wide spectrum of courses that US universities offer. The Indian government’s initiative to introduce the online courses will help students gain an international perspective and earn a certificate, for a nominal fee.”

Faculty exchanges
Under the Global Initiative of Academic Networks (GIAN) programme, India’s ministry of human resource development and department of science and technology will “create a channel for US professors in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics to teach in Indian academic and research institutions on short-term exchanges”, as per the website of the US Department of State.

“Encouraging faculty exchange between academicians of different nationalities helps achieve productive interaction. Students become open to international ideas too,” says Frazer Mascarenhas, principal of St Xavier’s College, Fort. “A professor coming from a foreign country will impart fresh perspectives on each subject. The experience gained through this exchange of knowledge and culture will be effective for students.”

Indian students studying in the US say the Indian higher education system could learn a lot from the US

counterpart. “We are taught to understand everything in a way that can be applied in the real world, unlike the theoretical system in India,” says Neelam Patil, 25, an electrical engineering graduate from Illinois Institute of Technology.

“Plagiarism checks, for instance, are taken very seriously,” says Moiz Navsariwala, 25, an electrical engineering student at San Jose State University. “We are taught to develop practices such as independent thinking early on.”

Community colleges: Bridging the gap
In developing economies, community colleges can help link industry requirements to college curricula. Under an agreement signed between the AICTE and AACC, collaborative community colleges will provide education through diplomas and certificate programmes.

“This collaboration will enable us to train our faculty with practices followed in the US, and also to receive accreditation from US authorities for training programmes,” says SS Mantha, chairman of the AICTE. “We have started working towards building these community colleges and have funded almost 70 colleges to set them up.”

“Establishing community colleges leads to a win-win situation for both industry and the student,” says Rajpal Hande, director, board of college and university development, University of Mumbai. “For instance, one of Mumbai university’s community colleges is sponsored by Hindustan Coca-Cola [the largest bottling partner of Coca-Cola in India]. The company helps train students to meet their standards, and at the end of the course, many are placed at the company.”

“The growth of community colleges is extremely beneficial since it bridges the gap between the academics and industry requirements,” adds Hande. The Mumbai University has also signed an MoU with Hawaii University in October 2013, to set up more community colleges in Mumbai.
The US government has re-launched the Passport to India initiative as a part of the collaboration between the two countries. The programme was launched in 2012 to encourage students from the US to study in India.

“The reverse flow of American students is barely 2%, as compared to the number of students going to America,” says Ajit Ranade, an economist and political analyst. “This is clearly asymmetric, despite India’s population being four times higher than that of USA.”

Passport to India aims to provide specific opportunities and financial support to encourage marginalised US students to gain experience and exposure in India. “If more private corporations and universities choose, through philanthropy, to fund part of the expenses of American students, perhaps more will come,” says Ranade. “Some of the students may choose to work in India as well, which could be beneficial too.”

Early next year, Passport to India will launch a massive open online course (MOOC) for American students interested in learning about India.

They say
“In the US, students are taught to think independently and to apply theoretical concepts to the real world. Also, best practices such as plagiarism checks are taken very seriously, and inculcated in students early on. Indian students can definitely benefit from such collaborations.”

- Moiz Navsariwala, an electrical engineering student at San Jose State University

“Although our education system is expanding, the quality of our education is dipping. Such collaborations are definitely the need of the hour, since they will help improve the quality of training provided to teachers and students. They will also help students and faculty, gain an international perspective.”

- Suhas Pednekar, principal, Ramnarain Ruia College, Matunga

“Having community colleges will enable us to train our faculty with practices followed in the US. It will also help us to receive accreditation from authorities in the US to train staff. We have already started working towards building these colleges and have allocated funds for about 70 colleges across the country.”

- SS Mantha, chairman, All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE)

First Published: Nov 05, 2014 17:52 IST

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