A Passage to India

Mine actually began last week in Munich. Thanks to our Global E3 program, which promotes exchanges in engineering fields, and which IIE’s Peggy Blumenthal and Sabeen Altaf have expanded to include 70 members. The Global Alliance of Technological Universities invited me to speak at their annual forum for presidents and high-level officers to examine issues of science and technology education and research. The topic was “Internationalization of Higher Education in the Globalized Economy: Motivation, Strategies and Sharing of Best Practices,” and this year’s host was the Technical University of Munich.

What first caught my eye is where the president of Singapore Management University is not from. He is not a Singaporean. The Vice President at Munich is from Croatia, the Executive Vice President of Georgia Tech was born in Puerto Rico, and his international deputy is from France. And, of course, I noticed that the President of Carnegie Mellon was born in India. Indeed a surprising amount of presidents and provosts of U.S. colleges and universities were born in another country, India being the most common.

As E. M. Forster illustrates in the novel with the same title as this blog, India is full of contradictions. You cannot help but notice and hear how big the country is becoming. Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently calculated that by 2030 India will account for and produce fully a quarter of the entire world’s college graduates. Modi’s remarks on India’s Independence Day called for India to become an exporter of education—this despite the fact that demographic dynamics will make India one of the youngest countries in the world. Within two decades, more than 140 million of her people will be college age, greater than any other country. If the government is to meet its target to enhance gross enrollment ratio (GER) in higher education to 30 percent by 2020, some 14 million seats in university will have to be created, compared to the 26 million that exist today.

Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) are legendary for the excellence of their graduates. Millions of students sit for the annual entrance exams and compete for only a few thousand places.

In 2013, Indian scientists launched their own orbiter to Mars. It was the first country whose satellite entered Mars orbit on the first try and cost around 11 percent of what NASA spent to do the same. So it is not surprising to hear and read predictions about the country becoming both an economic, scientific, and knowledge superpower. And as one university president recently observed: “There is increasing consensus that if India has to emerge as a global leader, it must gain pre-eminence in the field of education.”

But you can’t sort all this about India out remotely. That is why we have an international office in New Delhi, which recently marked its 10th anniversary with a roundtable on internationalization in higher education, followed by a dinner for local stakeholders who have been touched by the programs we developed and administer from an India base. They also released “Ten Years – Ten Stories,” featuring remarkable fellows and participants from India. 

This was only my third visit to India. But it was the first time I heard about a rising commitment to internationalizing what the country is doing in higher education and to receiving more Americans for their study abroad. We are certain IIE can help Indian institutions to develop the capacity of their own international offices to do just that.

Being there and supporting the excellent team we now have in place is perhaps the best way we can mark its 10th and prepare for a new decade of service and academic partnerships.

As one of Forster’s characters reminds us, “it is easy to sympathize at a distance … I value more the kind word that is spoken close to my ear.”