US-India education connect: Building an innovation-driven workforce

education-usIt’s a knowledge-driven partnership, with practically limitless possibilities. With India aiming to upskill 500 million job-seekers by 2022, a staggering number that surpasses the entire population of America, the world’s two largest democracies are set to deepen their education partnership to build a modern work force and enhance opportunities for young people in both countries.

Higher Education Dialogue

A day after discussing weighty strategic and economic issues during their fourth strategic dialogue, India and the US will hold a higher education dialogue in New Delhi June 25. The dialogue, to be co-chaired by India’s Human Resource Development Minister M. M. Pallam Raju and visiting US Secretary of State John F Kerry, is expected to provide a fresh momentum to a host of pioneering initiatives like community colleges, technology-enabled education, including massive open online courses, and expanding the two-way flow of students.

What’s on agenda?

The dialogue will build upon the  Singh-Obama Knowledge Initiative, which was unveiled during Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s first visit to the US in 2009, and map out an ambitious agenda to transform young people’s lives through greater access to job-oriented education and skills upgrade. Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Mumbai, is poised to seal an MoU with edx — a US-based open online course platform.  Other issues on the agenda will be deepening linkages between the industry and the academia, faculty development, post-doctoral research and co-operation in training for school teachers.

A slew of important announcements are expected during the visit that includes: the second round of Singh-Obama Knowledge Initiative Awards which have 8 joint research programmes under it, and the first batch of 126 Raman Fellows, who are being sponsored by India’s University Grants Commission to take up post-doctoral research in US institutions.

Connect India

The “Connect India” programme that encourages the US students to come to India will also come up for a fresh review and the two sides are expected to discuss tangible steps to triple the US students’ flow to India by 15,000 by 2015. Compared to over 100,000 Indian students in the US, there are barely 4,000-plus American students who come to India for higher studies. The focus will be on bridging this asymmetry and build a long-term youth base to bolster the India-US relationship over the next generation.

According to this year’s Open Door Survey, measuring American Educational Exchange, India ranks 14 among countries that Americans choose to go to for higher education than countries like Greece, Chile, New Zealand, Brazil, Peru, Netherlands and Denmark.

The introduction of a four-year undergraduate programme (FYUP) in Delhi University will act as an added incentive to attract more American students as it helps meet global standards of education and bring the DU at par with global universities. According to the registry office, the DU has received 2,500 foreign students’ applications this year.

Community Colleges

The idea of “community colleges,” already a big success in the US, promises to be a game-changer for India in its pursuit of a well-qualified workforce attuned to the emerging needs of industry.   India has already latched on to this initiative, and plans to create a national network of 200 community colleges with ties to industry.

In an article entitled “How to build a modern workforce,” Tara D. Sonenshine, US under-secretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs, and Martha Kanter, US under-secretary of education, has made an eloquent case for extending the community college model to India. “Community colleges are uniquely positioned to design their curricula to match local labour market conditions, making them flexible and relevant to today’s economy and job market. They are open access institutions committed to providing jobs,” they write.

“The US and India are both looking closely at emerging industries as target sectors in which to train our youth or provide new skills for professionals so that they can advance their lives and seek secure futures for themselves and their families.”

Against this backdrop, the two top US education officials say the “upcoming US-India Higher Education Dialogue will provide an opportunity for our two countries to deepen our partnerships and consider ways to advance the prosperity of our nations.”