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"There’s a growing fascination with India in the U.S."

Saturday 14 April 2007, by JOSHUA*Anita

Mark A. Emmert, president of the University of Washington (Seattle), speaks on the scope for cooperation in education.

Do American universities need to market in India when it accounts for the biggest foreign presence on your campuses?

It’s not a matter of marketing simply to attract more Indian students. There’s a bit of a name-brand bias that occurs not just in India but in most international communities where students think there are only a certain number of American universities or colleges they really need to get into. Part of what we want to communicate is that there are lots of really good universities and you don’t necessarily have to go to Stanford or MIT.

How does your university fare in terms of attracting Indian students?

We have over 400 Indian students; mostly graduates. We get exceptionally good students from the IITs and IIMs sometimes. We already have very good name recognition in India and excellent ties with the finest universities here. My interest in coming to India is to find ways to build partnerships that would move more of our students to India. And, to move more of our faculty back and forth for research and teaching collaborations.

Any specific areas of interest?

The obvious strengths of both places are in science and technology, and engineering. But, we are also interested in building around social sciences and humanities. We have a strong South Asia Studies Group. We’ve had faculty coming in here to study and do work in Indian history, culture, and politics for decades, and we want to build on that as well.

Over the past decade, several other countries have entered the higher education market. Has the U.S. begun to feel the competition?

Right after 9/11, there was a very significant drop in international students applying to the U. S. because of visa problems. The visa problem has been resolved and the numbers have popped right back up. American higher education is still the standard for universities, and we are very proud of that. The competition from other nations is a good thing. It keeps us on our toes and provides Indian students more options. The challenge for India is to ensure they return home and help build this thriving economy.

We at the University of Washington haven’t noticed any appreciable decline in the quality and number of applicants. But the reality is that there are so many high quality Indian students that the supply of excellent students far outstrips the capacity. What we have seen — it’s quite a distinctive change — is the strong desire of our Indian students to return to India. Not long ago, Indian graduate students would want to stay on in the United States.

Under Secretary of State for Public Affairs and Public Diplomacy Karen P. Hughes did mention that the U.S. would like more American students to come to India for studies. Why?

It’s a recognition of the globalisation of the economy and politics. Americans tend to be parochial and don’t travel abroad as much as other people. We want them to spend some of their academic career overseas. Partnerships with India are important because India is a very natural place for students to come. There’s a very deep and rapidly growing fascination with India right now in the United States. And, there’s not very much knowledge of India. So, to come to India is a great way to learn something about a country you don’t know nothing about.

Unlike for Indians going to the U.S., India could be difficult for American students leaving home for the first time. How do you propose to address such issues?

This is one of the issues I’ve been exploring in my conversations with Indian academics. China is a good example. Chinese universities are setting up Foreign Student Offices to facilitate the movement of students in and out. They have facilities that serve western students very well. Same thing is true at our end. We have established links with Europe, Latin America, and now increasingly China. That’s what we are trying to do in this trip; start to build those connections. And, the best ambassadors for India are the few American students who have come here. All say India is challenging in many ways but wonderfully complex.

India is in the process of enacting a law that would allow foreign education providers to set up shop here. How does the U.S. view this development?

That’s very challenging for most American universities. We are much more interested in bringing students over, exchanging professors, doing collaborative research... those kinds of activities make great sense. Coming over here and setting up a campus is probably not something many of us are interested in.


First of all, we have plenty of work to do in the United States. Secondly, the economics of it are still very challenging and the financial differences between how we fund American universities and how Indian universities are funded are enormous. It’s just not clear to me how we would make that work and why we would want to do it.

Would that hold true for anywhere else in the world also?

Yes, its not as if we are setting up campuses all over the world. American universities very rarely set up campuses in other countries.

Given the differences in the American and Indian university systems, do you foresee difficulties in having tie-ups?

Yes, there could be problems because of the differences in our respective systems. But, that’s true anywhere. Most of the world is organised more like the Indian system than the American system. We are accustomed to that and we can find ways to make it all fit. The American system is more agile, so we can do things on our own more than perhaps an Indian university.

And, I’ve heard considerable willingness on the part of government officials to increase collaborations. It’s so self-evidently good for both nations that people want to make it work.

See online : The Hindu

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