India and the United States: Cooperating in Education Across Borders

Rahul Choudaha, Associate Director of Development and Innovation, World Education Services

The Indian government in March approved a plan to allow foreign universities to establish campuses and award degrees within its borders. The bill, which is awaiting a vote from parliament – most likely in May – is designed to ease the burden on India’s oversubscribed and understaffed tertiary sector by allowing well-regarded international institutions of higher education to establish there, while also benefiting students that might otherwise travel abroad to study.

The Foreign Education Providers bill has been in the works for a number of years but has faced stiff opposition from the Communist Party of India, which was part of the last coalition government. With a current majority in parliament, it appears likely that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s Congress Party will pass this key piece of legislation, which forms a central part of broader education restructuring efforts being driven by Kapil Sibal, the reform-minded minister in charge of education.

If passed, the law on foreign providers will bring new degree programs and possible campuses into the Indian tertiary sector. The method of delivery for these new programs remains unclear, but it seems unlikely that there will be an immediate gold rush in terms of branch campus construction. It appears more likely that the established model of partnering with local institutions would be more prevalent, as it is inherently less risky than a big capital-intensive project such as building a purpose built campus, especially with lessons learned from a number of recent high-profile failures in the United Arab Emirates and Singapore.

This article will look at some of the existing areas of academic cooperation between India and the United States, while also offering some thoughts on how best to keep cooperative efforts moving forward.

Higher Education Partnerships

Higher education partnerships between India and the United States have grown in scale and scope with the increasing political and economic interaction between the two countries. This has been particularly evident as India has emerged as an important player in the global economy over the past two decades, especially as relates to knowledge-based service sectors in information technology and other high-tech industries. Over the same timeframe, as Indian middle class wealth has grown, so the mobility of talent to U.S. institutions of higher education has skyrocketed.

This transformation of the Indian economy has resulted in increasing interest within management and engineering disciplines to be part of this growth story and to integrate it with their academic and research offerings. Thus, engineering and management disciplines are among the most popular for India-U.S. education partnerships, although other fields like agriculture, medicine and biotechnology have also attracted attention.

Academic exchange between India and the United States can be classified into two primary categories—short-term/semester-long study abroad programs and joint degree, dual degree or twinning programs. This article looks at developments in academic exchanges that are longer than a semester and include joint degrees, dual degrees and twinning programs.

Given the historic regulatory constraints faced by U.S. institutions in establishing full-fledged campuses, and continued interest among Indian students to gain U.S. credentials, twinning programs have become very popular (Neelkantan, 2008) in India. Under a twinning program, students typically spend the first two years of their program in India and then transfer to a U.S. partner. These arrangements tend to be popular as they involve the least risk for foreign institutions and offer a predictable revenue stream (Neelkantan, 2008).

India-U.S. Degree Program Partnerships

Manipal University [1] offers perhaps the broadest range of twinning programs [2] in India through its International Center for Applied Sciences [3] (ICAS). ICAS provides a four-year twinning program in engineering through which students pursue the first two years of their program at Manipal and the final two years with a U.S. partner university. Since ICAS was started in 1994, over 900 students have graduated from ICAS’ international twinning programs.

Collaboration in curriculum planning to ensure proper credit transfers is critical in this type of arrangement. Universities in the United States that partner with Manipal ICAS are Andrews University [4], Illinois Institute Of Technology [5], Michigan Technological University [6], Milwaukee School Of Engineering [7], St. Cloud State University [8], the University of Missouri- Kansas City [9], North Dakota State University [10] and the University of Miami [11].

Ansal Institute of Technology [12], in the Delhi satellite city of Gurgaon, has also established twinning arrangements with several U.S. universities including North Dakota State University [10], Clemson University [13], Eastern Michigan University [14], San Jose State University [15], North Carolina State University [16], New Jersey Institute of Technology [17], and Valparaiso University. [18]

Amrita University [19] in Bangalore and the University at Buffalo [20], New York (SUNY) offer a joint-degree program that allows students to earn two master’s degrees in management: an MBA degree from Amrita University in general management and an MS in Management of IT Services from Buffalo.

Other examples include Purdue University’s [21] relationship [22] with Cummins College of Engineering for Women [23] (CCEW) in Pune, which allows CCEW bachelor degree graduates the opportunity to pursue master’s and doctoral studies at Purdue’s West Lafayette campus; and Vermont’s Champlain College’s [24] partnership [25] with St. Xavier’s Technical Institute [26] in Mumbai through which students can earn a two-year associate’s or four-year bachelor’s degree in business, hospitality industry management and software engineering.

Additional examples include:


Business School Collaborations

Business schools have been particularly proactive in building relationships and offering joint programs through which students receive co-signed certificates of completion from all partner universities. It is important to note that these credentials are not approved by the All Indian Council on Technical Education [33], the body responsible for regulating business programs, so they are not technically “joint degrees,” but they have gained significant acceptance from students, industry and U.S. partner institutions.

The Indian School of Business [34] offers one of the most reputed business programs in India, pioneering this model of joint certificate programs. It offers a one-year graduate program in management in partnership with the Wharton School [35] at the University of Pennsylvania, the Kellogg School of Management [36] at Northwestern University, and London Business School [37]. As the following bullet points show, other schools have adopted the successful ISB model of international collaboration.


Research Collaborations

With the growth and globalization of the Indian economy over the last two decades, the government has increasingly focused on improving Indian research. Research output has increased as a result, but remains an area that policymakers are greatly concerned about, especially when they look across the border to the progress being made by Chinese research universities both in terms of the number of Ph.D.s they graduate and the volume of research papers they are producing.

One key channel for institutions and policymakers in improving research standards and productivity has been to develop international research collaborations, of which a number have been advanced between institutions in India and the United States. These research collaborations have taken place in a range of disciplines including management, engineering, biotechnology, science and agriculture.

Some examples of recent Indo-U.S. research collaborations include:


Future Opportunities and Challenges

U.S.-India relationships have undergone significant change in the last decade. The changing geopolitical and economic environments in both countries have resulted in interdependencies, synergies and gains for both India and the United States. Cooperation in education is a central tool in strengthening these bilateral exchanges as they directly relate to human capital development and academic mobility.

During her 2009 visit to India, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton remarked at the U.S.-India Business Council [53] that, “our countries should continue the tradition of intellectual exchange by increasing opportunities for interaction by American institutions of higher learning and their Indian counterparts as well.”

There is already significant academic activity and cooperation between the two countries, and leading American research universities have expressed strong interest in forging extensive partnerships with Indian institutions, especially with the passage of the Foreign Provider Bill looking like it might become a reality. In the past two years, several U.S. universities, including Cornell, Yale, Purdue and the University of California have sent presidential delegations to India to explore relationships with Indian institutions. Some have initiated new relationships, while others have strengthened existing ones. However, these relationships are far from reaching their maximum potential.

Expanding and building new partnerships between Indian and American universities is fraught with challenges. First, there is a wide spectrum of quality on both sides, and the current regulatory system in India lacks the teeth to separate the wheat from the chaff. India needs to create a more robust, transparent and quality-conscious system of higher education that supports international education exchanges rather than hinders them.

Second, at the institutional level, both Indian and American institutions need deeper insights about the context in which partner institutions operate and the level of adaptation and innovation required to make partnerships work. For instance, the issue of reservations or quotas (specific percentage of seats allocated for students from underrepresented communities) may pose a barrier to the entry of American universities, which are accustomed to complete autonomy in the admissions process. On the other hand, India is a complex and diverse nation that needs appropriate mechanisms to create opportunities of equitable access.

Third, the existing imbalance of student mobility is a challenge. According to the most current data [54] from the Institute for International Education [55], 103,620 Indian students are enrolled in U.S. institutions of higher education, while only 3,146 American students are studying in India, typically on short programs. India needs to overcome this challenge and leverage its cultural diversity and economic transformation as an opportunity to attract international students. India needs to proactively market itself as a destination for higher education that offers not only wide-ranging academic programs and courses, but also a safe and comfortable infrastructure for campus life.

While U.S.-India education exchanges have had their share of challenges, future opportunities – especially if the Foreign Providers bill is passed – far exceed the limitations. As Heffernan and Poole (2005) rightly conclude, creating productive international partnerships requires the “…development of effective communication networks and structures, the building of trust between partners, and ongoing demonstrations of commitment to the relationship” (p. 243). Going forward, Indian and American universities need to continue to innovate, develop and strengthen bilateral educational exchanges in a concerted manner.


Editor’s note:
This article is an abridged and modified version of a chapter that Dr. Choudaha co-authored with Rajika Bhandari for the IIE publication [56] “International India: a turning point in education exchange with the U.S.”