Building Partnerships in India

In her recent article for the Chronicle of Higher Education, Karin Fischer makes a number of important points about the often-difficult reality of developing academic partnerships with Indian institutions. Anyone having attempted to foster these relationships will no doubt be able to relate to the bureaucratic hurdles, credit transfer issues, differing pedagogy, and incompatible research interests that inevitably arise.

The system is indeed flawed and partnership building with Indian institutions requires an additional perseverance that some colleges and universities may not be willing to endure. I’d like to provide an additional perspective based on my experience working on IIE’s International Academic Partnership Program or IAPP, focusing on India.

While our Center for International Partnerships continues to expand the IAPP portfolio to include new hot countries like Brazil, Myanmar, and soon Vietnam, India remains our longest running program; and for good reason. As John E. Dooley aptly mentions in Fischer’s article, India is a place of great promise. And this isn’t only as a source of graduate students in Engineering, but for a multitude of possibilities, including student and faculty exchange, study abroad, joint research, and even dual degrees. Granted, these partnership activities aren’t without their trials and tribulations, but each time I have returned from an IAPP study tour to India—as I did just this past Sunday— I return with just as many, if not more, inspired ideas as concerns.

First and foremost, those attempting to develop strategic international partnerships with any country are well aware that they need to be in it for the long run. Immediate results, most often in the form of a short-term study abroad program, simple faculty exchange, or joint seminar – still usually only come to fruition after a year, perhaps even longer; and seasoned practitioners will know they’re looking at more of a three-to-five year endeavor, complete with countless trips, meetings, emails, and occasional setbacks. Indeed, nearly all of the individuals quoted in Fischer’s article have been part of the IAPP program, which exhorts a strategic, long-term approach to building partnerships with Indian counterparts, all the while highlighting the inevitable roadblocks and stressing the need for creative solutions.

In the meantime, there is evidence that many partnerships are working. And not only between the Harvards and IITs.

For the past seven years, Amrita University and the University at Buffalo have been administering a dual degree program where a few courses at Amrita are replaced by U.S. courses, and Buffalo faculty travel to India to teach them. The University of South Carolina is working on 2+2+internship program with Nirma University. Davidson College has enjoyed a partnership with Madras Christian College, an autonomous affiliate of the University of Madras, for over twenty-five years. And this is not to mention the deep partnerships Indian universities have with institutions in Japan, South Korea, the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, and other EU countries.

IIE’s own IAPP participants have exhibited a number of outcomes even after a year or two, all of which are excellent beginnings to more long-lasting collaboration. Ohio Wesleyan University, together with colleagues from Lady Shri Ram College in New Delhi, created a joint program on “Living the Gandhian Philosophy,” which incorporated students from both schools and included a service learning component. Rollins College, mentioned in the article, has developed an on-campus India Center, which has acted as the focal point for their institution’s India strategy. As a result, Rollins faculty member, Jonathan Walz, says “Rollins is alive with interest concerning India and numerous faculty are getting involved.” According to Walz, this includes integrating more course material on South Asia into curriculum and increasing interactions with the Indian community in Central Florida. Moreover, upon completing IAPP India, Rutgers University and the University of Montana were awarded Obama Singh 21st Century Knowledge Initiative Partnership awards for their work with the Tata Institute of Social Sciences and Bangalore University, respectively. While I hesitate to call any of these developments fully fledged partnerships, they are certainly a few examples, among many, of solid beginnings.

This is not to say that there aren’t a whole host of issues that surround partnership development, especially between the U.S. and India. Just last week at a roundtable at the Pandit Deendayal Petroleum University (PDPU) the IAPP delegates heard from Indian counterparts about a growing visa issuance concern. A number of their students have been denied visas not once, but twice due to lack of proof that the student would return to India. We heard from colleagues at the well-respected Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and Jamia Millia Islamia (Islamic University) about Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) fatigue and the desire to see more substantive outcomes from visits and handshakes. This is not to mention the near irreconcilable fact that an Indian bachelor’s degree is a three-year degree, versus the American four-year degree. These challenges, in addition to the many pitfalls described in Fischer’s article, are indeed harsh realities. But we need to think about how to overcome these issues. We need to see how institutional partnerships can assist in the visa process, how MOUs can be better articulated to ensure follow through, and how U.S. institutions can creatively accommodate Indian undergraduates. That India lacks liberal arts is a myth that all participants on the IAPP study tour were surprised and glad to be rid of; in fact, this may be the precious untapped market that will guide the next generation of U.S.–India partnerships.

Despite all of the hurdles and hard work, institutions continue to persevere. In an impromptu survey IIE conducted on where U.S. higher education institutions would like to see more IAPP programs, more than half of respondents chose India. This suggests that there is both continued interest in India from U.S. colleges and universities and an understanding that to be successful one needs to take a strategic and focused approach. I look forward to continuing to assist those schools that are up for the challenge and the inevitable long road ahead.