When college is a total trip
Gone are the days when learning a foreign language was considered to be the ultimate decoration on an undergraduate student’s CV. In today’s ultra-competitive job market, institutions as well as students know that a global worldview and experience extends beyond an elementary knowledge of a foreign language.
Short-term study-abroad and exchange programmes have been around for decades, but new tie-ups and associations with local colleges mean they’re more accessible (and professor-approved) than before. The new slew of programmes lasts anywhere from three to 10 weeks. For students, they offer opportunities to learn specialised skills like marketing and business administration in international settings. For home and foreign institutions, they’re a way to pool in skills and forge partnerships across borders to establish a global presence.
Somaiya Vidyavihar in Mumbai, has more than 30 partnerships running right now, five of which were signed in the first few months of 2019. Even non-profit organisations like AIESEC, known for generations as a facilitator for cultural and social exchange programmes among students, are working out project- and internship-based exchanges.
The partnerships are not cheap. Few are subsidised by scholarships, which means they’re restricted to undergraduates who can pay their way for a trip abroad. Simran Gangwani who went to Poland on AIESEC’s Global Volunteer program in 2018. “I spent close to Rs. 2 lakh for the 50 day programme, including living costs,” she says. “Affordability is definitely a factor but opportunities to volunteer abroad are rare, and I’ve always been fascinated by Poland, so it was worth it.”
Many students now consider a short-term foreign programme or exchange as a quicker, cheaper alternative to a full-time course. There’s international exposure, and far fewer essays to write.
On Their Own Trip
Deepangana Singhi, a 2019 political science graduate from Miranda House, New Delhi, was part of a team receiving an all-women delegation of 15 undergraduate and postgraduate students from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire in 2017. “During their time at Miranda, we had a discussion on how the female body has been unrealistically depicted in Western art,” Singhi recounts. She was 19 at the time, and had never been exposed to the issue. “I had never heard anything as radical as that before; it definitely deepened my interest in the subject.”
In 2018, Karan Bhanushali, a marketing student at Airoli’s New Horizon Institute of Management Studies participated in AIESEC’s Global Talent programme. He spent 51 days in Egypt, working at a marketing startup called Elinjenium. He says his time abroad helped him understand how marketing unfolds outside India. “West Asian digital marketing has very little space for global pop-culture references,” he says. “It is hyperlocal and they adopt the mobile-first approach.”
Indian institutes are more than enthusiastic to forge international collaborations today. But Meeta Kumar, associate professor of Economics at Miranda House, organises an Indo-Dutch collaborative management programme for students, says funding is a challenge. “Educational institutions have only two options for funding: students and corporates. But corporate sponsorship is difficult to tap.” Businesses tend not to put money towards domestic programme that will barely see 10-odd international students on a campus. Further, local institutions through their MoUs either facilitate a tuition waiver or discount for their students, but travel and subsistence costs still need to be borne by the students.
According to Miranda’s circular for one-week Indo -Dutch collaborative program in Utrecht, Netherlands, students have to bear the cost for travel and subsistence which amounts close to Rs. 74,000.
The kind of Indian instruction initiating the exchange programmes makes a difference too. SIES College of Arts, Science and Commerce was granted Autonomous status by the University Grants Commission (UGC) in 2018. “The autonomy lets us adjust exam schedules, allowing some students to travel abroad for exchange programmes,” says Rashmi Bhure, vice principal. “We also plan to initiate credit transfers for students who have earned them abroad.”
Miranda House, which is a part of the University of Delhi, has not been able to do the same. “This ends up limiting exchange programmes to a co-curricular status,” she says. Managing the academic calendar to facilitate international delegations and events can be cumbersome too. This is made worse when individual departments and colleges also have to answer to their parent institution for schedules. Students end up missing attendance because of a course abroad.
Students and colleges on both sides of an exchange programme say they benefit from tie-ups. Indian colleges say the collaborations give them greater exposure within the academic community. But short-term international opportunities need to be subsidized if they are to benefit more than economically privileged students. As Miranda’s Meeta Kumar puts it, “People who really need global exposure are kept away from it because they can’t pay for it. It’s a good trend, but so far has not been an equitable one.”