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Updated: September 24, 2012 16:55 IST

Forging partnerships

Aarti Dhar
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Sir Leszek Borysiewicz
The Hindu Sir Leszek Borysiewicz

“What we are looking at is actually a real-time working partnership.

Prof. Leszek Borysiewicz, vice-chancellor of the University of Cambridge, is on a 10-day visit to India to forge partnerships between Cambridge University and Indian institutes for research. He spoke to The Hindu about the controversy at the London Metropolitan University and was candid about his disapproval of Britain’s Immigration Policy.

There is a huge controversy around the London Metropolitan University being barred from enrolling non-European students by the UK Border Agency. The decision has impacted hundreds of Indian students as well. Do you support the British government’s move?

I have expressed, in all of the interviews that I have been giving, the Cambridge University position that we do not support the current government’s Immigration Policy. And, the situation arisen at the London Metropolitan University is of concern, particularly if — as many are claiming — genuine students who are in the United Kingdom entirely legally, are suffering and unable to pursue the courses they are engaged in. This is of really deep concern for most people in the university.

(Through a series of consultations and correspondence with the Government and the Opposition, both in its own name and in concert with the Russell Group and Universities UK, the university has expressed its concerns about the impact of recent government policy on immigration. The university seeks to maintain the highest international reputation for its teaching and research. It needs to recruit both students and staff from overseas in order to sustain and enhance that reputation.

The flow of international students through the university also provides a key element of its funding. More important, however, is the flow of ideas, the creation of networks and the spread of academic influence, which have had an incalculable value to Cambridge and to the United Kingdom.

The UK is seen by our prospective students abroad as unwelcoming; recruitment to academic posts in a highly competitive market could also be damaged by a similar perception; the best will simply go elsewhere. A xenophobic reputation once gained is difficult to dispel, a statement posted on the University website says.)

Have you taken up the issue with the British government?

They (British government) are aware of the stance Cambridge has taken. I have no doubt that they know our position by the coverage I have got and the comments I have made.

Another challenge faced by the Indian students is the cost of higher education in Britain. It is beyond reach for most students.

Yes, it is expensive. I do not pretend it is not, but I would argue that it is entirely competitive with any equivalent institution in North America, if not cheaper. Do remember that Cambridge is one of the globally leading institutions in terms of quality education. We provide education that is second to none. And what we are trying is to raise more scholarships for those students who are able to come because of their academic achievement or can be helped or supported. That is the way to go about it. All I will say is, there is a cost to education and if I wish to maintain the quality of education, the kind that Cambridge provides which is very intensive and centered at the individual student, no I am not prepared to sacrifice the quality in terms of cost. We will strive to help in whatever way we can. Students coming from India are eligible to scholarships from Cambridge Commonwealth Trust and as well as more specific India-related scholarships.

India has plans to initiate many reforms in the higher education sector, but somehow all of these seem to have got stalled. Would this impact the movement of students between the two nations?

For Cambridge this is much less of a concern. What Cambridge is looking at in India is forging a partnership which is largely based on research excellence which we have in Cambridge coupled with research excellence institutions in India. The focus, therefore, is on postgraduate studies. We do not intend to create independent campuses in India. What we are looking at is actually a real-time working partnership.

From my visit this time, I feel there is huge enthusiasm for higher education in India but primary and secondary education is still a huge challenge. I am delighted to know that the government here is trying to address this gap. But, whether they will get it alright the first time or not, probably not, the very fact that there is this commitment is really important.

During your visit to India, you are scheduled to travel to Bangalore for tie-ups in health research. Why did you choose India for collaboration? Do you believe it has the potential to take up such research?

The choice of India is actually very important in these areas. Firstly, it has a huge amount of talent. Secondly, the topics are excellent and globally competitive, and thirdly, it is the ease which our staff in Cambridge collaborate with the Indian institutions. You know, you would not have 250 active projects running between one university and India if people found it difficult to collaborate. We have been told by the academic community of Cambridge that going by the sheer number of projects this (India) is where they want to collaborate. So, these are the three excellent reasons for choosing India. The fourth one has to be that this is a great place to collaborate with.

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