George Palattiyil, Deputy Director of the Edinburgh India Institute, University of Edinburgh, speaks on social work studies in Scotland and about being a part of 'College on Wheels'

George Palattiyil is Deputy Director of the Edinburgh India Institute, University of Edinburgh. Beginning his academic career in Mumbai at the College of Social Work, University of Mumbai, he also taught at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences. After a PhD in Social Work in the area of HIV/AIDS and family carers, he worked as a social worker for five years before settling into an academic life at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow. He speaks to Education Plus about life as an Indian academic in Scotland and about College on Wheels.

What was the biggest difference you saw when you moved from academics in India to Scotland?

The three key differences that I experienced as an academic in India and Scotland are

The emphasis on research and publication for academics.

The operational basis of the profession itself: that is, in India, social work is largely voluntary and altruistic. In Scotland and the U.K. in general, social work is rooted in the welfare policies of the state and carries statutory duties and responsibilities.

The relationship between the teacher and the students: where students in Scotland are seen largely as adult learners, while in India there is the emphasis on teachers being a ‘guru’.

What are the changes you have seen since you have been there?

One of the key changes I have seen since I came here is the increasing number of overseas students coming to study here. Perhaps with globalisation and a commitment to more international engagements, more and more students from overseas are coming to study here, thereby providing a stronger diversity of students.

What can students look forward to on a social and personal front apart from academics?

The social life in Edinburgh and at the university is equally interesting, with a number of social and cultural events, and the students’ union plays a vital role in enhancing student experiences. For those who like the countryside and more adventurous activities, the highlands of Scotland, the glens and the lakes are a short distance away from Edinburgh.

What are the options that students of social work have in India?

Social work has been an established profession in India and over the years, there is a trend towards professionalising it. Therefore, students of social work are in great demand. I believe students of social work should develop the skills and knowledge to work in a variety of settings including poverty alleviation, public health, humanitarian aid, human rights, international development, crisis and disaster environments, and national and international agencies.

What are the advantages that these students will have if they study social work in Scotland?

Scotland provides a fantastic opportunity to be a part of a cross-cultural learning experience. Developing a deeper understanding of social work in the context of first-world development will broaden the understanding of Indian students in the vital conceptual framework of social work in relation to issues of poverty, inequality and globalisation. The importance and stress given to research and social policy will enable Indian students to have an added advantage of being in the forefront in these areas if they were to return to India or to work in any other developed or developing world context.

What are the courses available in Scotland?

Currently, we offer two routes to qualifying as a social worker, a four-year undergraduate Bachelor of Science (BSc) and a two-year postgraduate Master of Social Work (MSW). We also have a growing community of research students at MPhil and PhD levels.

In addition to the qualifying programmes, we offer a number of credit-bearing stand-alone courses, including International Social Work – Themes and Issues; Social Interventions in HIV and AIDS; Evaluation Research Methods; Critical Perspectives on Mental Health and Well-Being in the 'Global South'; and Reflexivity in Qualitative Research. We also offer a post-graduate certificate in Advanced Professional Studies (Mental Health Officers Award).

About ‘College on Wheels’

As the University of Edinburgh has an established partnership with Delhi University, we were invited to be part of the College on Wheels project this year. Edinburgh India Institute, along with our international office also played a key role. College on Wheels is a an innovative and unique learning experience, enabling learning outside the usual classroom settings conceived by Professor Dinesh Singh, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Delhi.

While India is one of the fast developing BRIC countries; it also faces many challenges. Our aspiration was that the ‘College on Wheels’ experience will allow our students to develop a critical appreciation of a different culture, its people and society, while also deepening our relationship with the University of Delhi and its staff and students.

We travelled from Delhi to visit Kurukshetra, Amritsar, Jalandhar, Ludhiana, Chandigarh for a week, giving the participants an incredible opportunity to understand the rich historic, cultural and religious facets of life, along with the rapid development in urbanisation and industry that the state of Punjab is undergoing. We were keen that our students develop a taste of life in a developing country context, in the unique setting of a train that travels while leaning takes places. Interacting with students from diverse backgrounds allowed the assimilation of ideas and the development on new bonds between students from two different universities.

For our students, the College on Wheels project was perhaps a once in a life-time transformative opportunity to embark on a train journey, learning and interacting with fellow students, assimilating the rich historic and cultural heritage that the state of Punjab could provide.