universities with a foreign tag

Every year, there is a huge brain drain from Northeast India. There is a mass exodus of students from Northeast India to educational hubs like Delhi, Bangalore, Pune and Mumbai. This migration of students ultimately results in brain drain and flight of scarce capital from the region-leaving the region much poorer in terms of quality human and financial resources.

Besides the above the students who go outside are often become the victims of nexus between education mafias and unscrupulous educational institutions. When the uninformed students after taking admission through agents in various remote parts of the region, reach their destination, discover to their utter dismay, that the institution is running from a rented house in a residential or business locality-sometimes not even affiliated to/approved by appropriate authorities.

Moreover, there is yawning gap between availability and demand of seats in the public Universities of Northeast India, much remains to be said about the quality of education in these Universities. Mahbabul Hoque, founder of University of Science & Technology (USTM), Meghalaya says, “The number of Universities imparting quality education in the region can be counted in fingers. Most of these Universities are churning out unemployable graduates and post graduates. Being in the public domain bound by bureaucratic red-tapism without much autonomy in decision making process, the public Universities in Northeast are still offering traditional courses without relevance to the industry requirement and employability aspect.”

Hoque adds, “The contribution of a University is to be judged mainly by its contribution to the society trough its research and development work and innovation and not by its capacity in churning out degrees only. The University is expected to add value to the system by its research and development work. But contribution of the public Universities of the North East in this regard is yet to come in to focus.” The University has signed a MOU with Hi Tec Centre Ireland in 2012 to establish collaboration in the following sectors: Exchange of faculties and administrative/ professional staff, Exchange of students, Summer /Foundation course, Individual and joint research programme and Curriculum development programme

The public Universities in the region are very slow in introducing innovative and industry oriented courses. Most of the public Universities in the region are still sticking to the courses introduced decades ago. Even in some cases such courses have not been revised in last one decade while concepts and ideas are rapidly changing. As against this scenario private Universities are in a position to introduce innovative and industry oriented courses keeping pace with the changing market condition. For instance, the University of Science and Technology,Meghalaya (USTM) has already introduced innovative and professional courses like Masters in International Studies, Natural Resource Management, Social Work, Mass Communication, Cultural Studies and Business Economics.

Dr GC Kharkongor, Vice-chancellor of Martin Luther Christian University (MLCU), Shillong in Meghalaya says, “We have a large number of students who pass class 12. But not all of them can get into higher education as the intake capacity in the state-run institutions are less. There is a mismatch in terms of the number of outgoing students and places of higher education. Private universities tend to focus on courses that may not be given importance in conventional courses. In our education system, there is a mismatch, they do not have employability, need for India’s industry.”

Students too expect a career and a job at the end of their education. “Collaboration of foreign universities have made it a point of prestige. It is however, it is important to give a global perspective to the students. We have deliberated on this issue. Our university has a vision of being a development university, trying to match our training to the development needs of our community,” adds Kharkongor. MLCU have had a number of exchange programmes with Italy and Netherlands where students come to study indigenous knowledge and traditional medicine.

“We have a capacity building programme for traditional healers like harvesting medicinal plants in a scientific manner. We have courses on traditional music, instruments and craftsmen. There is a space for a number of private universities, many of our rural students study in our rural campuses. Private universities have their own space and importance. They are not necessarily competing with the established universities,” he adds.

Another upcoming private university Kaziranga University has done international partnership with University of Cambridge UK, Jiangsu University China, Enterprise with Plymouth University UK, Chinese Academy of Agricultural Mechanization Sciences Beijing. Assam Don Bosco University collaborates with several foreign universities. Some of these collaborations are in the form of generic MOUs signed which will lead to future collaborations. Some of these foreign universities include University of Chester, UK, Catholic University of Fribourg, Switzerland, DeSales University, Pennsylvania, USA and University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

The main thrust of these collaborations are to have student and faculty exchange programmes, to use the expertise of the foreign universities to start certain specialised academic programmes and to use their technical know-how to set up world-class infrastructure – both structural and IT.

Dr. Basil S Koikara, Registrar of Assam Don Bosco University says, “We do not believe that education is merely teaching academic excellence. We work towards the holistic development of the human being. Our vision says as much… “to mould intellectually competent, morally upright, socially committed and spiritually inspired persons at the service of India and the world by imparting holistic and personalised education.”

Koikara adds, “This year we are sending 5 B. Tech. students to the University of Arkansas at Little Rock – two in the discipline of Electronics and Communications, two in the discipline of Electrical and Electronics Engineering and one in the area of Computer Science and Engineering. They will complete their fifth and sixth semesters at UALR, obtain a certificate from there, the credits obtained there will be recognised by Assam Don Bosco University, and they will complete their degree here in the ADBU. They do not have to pay tuition fees there – they pay only the tuition fees of ADBU. Their only expenditure will be travel and food and lodging. The University has instituted a scholarship which will help them with their travel expenditure. We are hopeful that with some part-time employment they will be able to manage their living expenditure as well. UALR will give them the option of completing the degree there. However, if any student chooses this option, for the last two semesters, they will have to pay tuition fees at UALR.”

Private Universities have a lot of advantages. They enjoy freedom in decision-making. They have an advantage over the public Universities in having collaboration and tie up with R&D organisations and universities both nationally and internationally as decision making process is easy. Being small in size private universities offer the opportunities of extensive interaction between students and teachers, scientists and researchers. Highly motivated fee paying students demand d effective and quality teaching. Hence teaching is taken more seriously by the faculties.

The government in the region inviting private investors in higher education, filling a glaring shortage that has in the past seen students in the region migrating to the rest of the country. Meghalaya, for instance, has inked a memorandum of understanding with International Finance Corporation for starting the Shillong Medical College. The Assam government, in partnership with the Tata Group and Oil India, is starting the Indian Institute of Information Technology and Advanced Sciences (IIITAS).

However, are we not killing the pure sciences and humanities subjects in this competition for job-oriented courses? And how many of students can actually afford the expensive courses offered by the private universities. These are questions that need to be answered in the long run.