Massachusetts and Pune universities to find out how disadvantaged students fare

What makes a low-income student from a migrant community suffer alienation in classrooms in centres of higher education in India and the U.S.? What can be done to correct processes that discriminate against students from marginalised communities in and outside the classroom?

These and many more such questions will be taken up in a new partnership between the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and the University of Pune. The research is aimed at mapping experiences of exclusion in higher education through different methodologies to arrive at a richer narrative of disadvantaged students on campuses in the two countries.

‘Inclusive Universities: Linking Diversity, Equity and Excellence for the 21st Century’ is the project proposal selected under the Obama-Singh 21st Century Knowledge Initiative and will receive $2,50,000 over three years.

Pune University Vice-Chancellor Wasudeo Namdeo Gade says this is the only project to be approved in social sciences under the partnership.

As new people and new classes (of people) enter education, how should we turn it into an asset? What are the issues and challenges of, for example, a Dalit studying in India’s university, asks Sangeeta Kamat, Associate Professor, Department of Education, Policy, Research and Administration of the University of Massachusetts. “Many students from diverse backgrounds beginning the process of learning is great news. It is unfortunately associated with the deterioration of quality. The study will look at dispelling some of those myths.”

“Both the U.S. and India have been dealing with an influx of a new demographic entering into higher education. While in the U.S., this includes migrants and minorities, in India this can mean people from rural areas, tribals, first-generation English language learners, and even women. The study will go into the overlapping of similarities and differences and starting a positive dialogue.”

As for expected outputs from the study, Ms. Kamat adds: “One of the key outputs expected is an inclusive universities report, which will also include a diversity index. It will be released at a national seminar, and we hope we will be able to suggest policy changes.” All through the project, training for faculty and students, and focus group discussions, called social justice dialogues, will form the basis of the comprehensive research.

The study will also invite participation from other universities in India and the U.S. and will seek to dispel the presumed conflict between equity and excellence in higher education and make a compelling case for how diversity and excellence reinforce each other and are essential to innovation and progress in multicultural democratic societies.

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