In line with NEP, US state dept designs master’s programme for Indian students | Latest News India - Hindustan Times

In line with NEP, US state dept designs master’s programme for Indian students

Aug 16, 2023 04:28 AM IST

The programme seeks to create a new pathway for Indian students to pursue a one-year professional master’s degree

In line with India’s New Education Policy (NEP), and to deepen knowledge partnership, the United States (US) State Department has initiated an educational programme that will create a new pathway for Indian students to pursue a one-year professional master’s degree with an industrial specialisation in American universities.

The State Department is acting as a facilitator. (Twitter) PREMIUM
The State Department is acting as a facilitator. (Twitter)

The courses are confined to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) disciplines. They will begin in the fall semester of 2024. Twenty American and over 15 Indian universities are in discussion about how to take advantage of the initiative, with the State Department acting as a facilitator. Once the courses are complete, students can stay in the US for up to three years, as per existing and applicable visa rules, to gain work experience in industry and repay student loans.

Also Read: NEP offering flexibility, choice of subjects to students: Edu expert

The programme has been designed by Akhilesh Lakhtakia, a Jefferson Science Fellow at the State Department’s South and Central Asia (SCA) bureau, who was brought in from his academic position as a professor of engineering science and mechanics at Penn State University to the US government for a year to study India’s NEP. His mandate was simple — come up with a programme beneficial to the US and Indian governments, as well as US universities and Indian students.

The rationale

In an interview, Lakhtakia said that when he read the NEP, he felt it was a departure from the traditional Indian education system and appeared to come out of the pedagogical methods of American universities.

Also Read: NEP to be scrapped in state from next academic year says Karnataka CM

“What was proposed was very much to my liking. It is student-centered, flexible, multidisciplinary, futuristic, and international. If this can be implemented, it will simply revolutionise school and higher education. The State Department brought me in to understand how, in line with NEP, the two countries can work together. The objective was to create a win-win, but in my mind, my client was the Indian student,” said Lakhtakia who studied electronics engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT)-Banaras Hindu University before moving to the US in 1980.

The emphasis on the knowledge partnership in the wider bilateral relationship helped. During Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s state visit to the US, his first engagement was in Washington at the National Science Foundation with First Lady Jill Biden, with students and college administrators present.

In April 2022, external affairs minister S Jaishankar and secretary of state Antony J Blinken launched the working group on education and skill training. The group has met once and set up four committees, two headed by India and two by the US. One of the groups is the US-India higher education partnership committee, chaired by Lakhtakia on the American side.

For the State Department, this is part of its public diplomacy, enhancing soft power, and deepening people-to-people linkages. For the Commerce Department, this is part of its objective of getting more foreign students to the US as a key source of revenue. For the wider American economy, this infusion helps add a key pool of talent in an economy that needs high-tech skilled workers. For Indian students, there is a definite addition in skills, knowledge, and earning potential. And for the Indian government, the deepening knowledge partnership has the potential to build constituencies that can add to the economic and tech partnership between the two countries.

The structure

Lakhtakia said that there were 280,000 Indian students in the US, out of which 32,000 are pursuing their bachelor’s degrees and 25,000 are pursuing their PhDs. “The bulk of them are masters students. As the numbers show, many are not going to do a PhD, and neither should they. There are many other ways to be productive members of society.” He added that Indian students are keen to enter the workforce and earn, and a master’s course in specialised programmes that are hard to find otherwise was seen as the best option that governments could facilitate for them.

Over the past six months, Lakhtakia worked with American universities to narrow down on a set of specialised courses. This spans a diversity of areas, including wireless technology, satellite guidance and control, semiconductor processing, nano-technology, photonics, 5G and 7G communication systems, display technology, artificial intelligence (AI) applications, quantum engineering, generic medicine, unmanned micro vehicles, telemedicine, cybersecurity, among others.

“A usual master’s degree in the US is for two years. But we thought that over 12 months, students can get a master’s degree with 30 credits. The idea is also to have a strong experimental component so that graduates when they go into industry, can become effective fairly quickly,” Lakhtakia said.

The advantage of such a specialised programme is that it will enable students to be eligible to stay for three years in the US after studying under the optional practical training (OPT) mechanism. It will also help them earn enough to pay back a large portion, if not the entirety, of student loans that they may have taken to pursue the programme.

Working in practice

One innovative element of the programme is a provision to enhance university-to-university collaboration, which will help Indian universities upgrade their courses and aid Indian students in building a set of skills even before they arrive for their masters.

Giving an example, Lakhtakia laid out how this cooperation can work in practice. “Assume an American university says we can offer a programme in wireless technologies to your students to its Indian counterpart. This Indian university asks its students who are pursuing their bachelor’s in electrical engineering, at the end of their third year, whether they are interested in such a master’s course in the US. A joint committee of faculties of both universities then come together and create an application form and select students.”

For this cohort of students, the university in India itself then offers two electives in wireless tech in their final semester year which can build their knowledge base in the domain. This year can also give them time to arrange loans, and the university itself can tie up with local banks to help find them the best rates. With the clarity in admission, students can also apply for a visa one year in advance as a part of a cohort to avoid delays and improve their prospects of getting a visa.

University-to-university collaboration can also help resolve other practical challenges. Given the fact that an American master’s requires 16 years of education, while the end of a bachelor’s in sciences degree in India leaves a student with 15 years of education, Lakhtakia has been speaking to universities to find a way to address the issue. “This is completely up to universities and there can be no government ruling on this. If an American university accepts a student after 15 years, fantastic. But in most cases, it would not. So one option is for students to enroll in a master’s degree in India, study for a year there, and then move to the US and finish the course here. And students can get degrees from both universities,” he said.

Envisaging the role of governments as enablers, facilitators, and the connective tissue meant to remove impediments, Lakhtakia said that he received enthusiastic responses from universities at both ends and they were at different stages of collaboration. “But we encourage others to get in touch as well and become a part of this new initiative.”

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    Prashant Jha is the Washington DC-based US correspondent of Hindustan Times. He is also the editor of HT Premium. Jha has earlier served as editor-views and national political editor/bureau chief of the paper. He is the author of How the BJP Wins: Inside India's Greatest Election Machine and Battles of the New Republic: A Contemporary History of Nepal.

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