U.K. invites students to broaden horizons

BANGALORE, SEPT. 2. The number of Indian students seeking higher education abroad has steadily increased over the years. It has grown rapidly in the recent years, partly as a spinoff of the IT visibility India has achieved globally. The increased IT-driven global exposure has perhaps brought global education closer to the Indian student, and India is now considered a major source of talent, and not just because of the IIT graduates.

While most Indian students still look to the U.S. as the best destination, quality education is now on offer in the U.K. and Australia, besides New Zealand.

Mr. John Nance, British First Secretary and Head, Arts and Education Promotion, British Council, India, who was in Bangalore on August 30 and 31, spoke to The Hindu about the "genuine partnership" the council was trying to promote between India and the U.K..

Links between institutions, which were traditionally in the form of MoUs, Mr. Nance said, had now progressed to faculty exchange and student exchange. In the foreseeable future, they would involve offshore franchisee campuses offering reputed courses here at an affordable cost.

There was an "explosion" of interest in India for, what he called, "further education". With time being a critical factor, distance learning, short online courses and similar options would become increasingly attractive to those wanting to enhance their CVs. There would, however, be problems of validation which would have to be tackled as the Indian perception was that distance courses, for example, were second class.

The British Council was involved in educational projects that created links at the school level too. One of the programmes was motivated by the fact that there was a sizeable Indian community in Britain that sent its children to British schools in Britain. Groups of British teachers would come to India and visit identified schools to understand the practices followed to teach Indian students in India. The first group of teachers was expected in October.


Mr. Nance pointed out that many new courses were being introduced, and accreditation would play a significant role in rating courses. Accreditation of universities, which was still voluntary in India, was mandatory in England and was given by the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA).

The fears about accreditation here were also encountered in UK, Mr. Nance said. While initially it was considered to be a draconian move, ultimately, even those opposed to it were convinced that it would help make varsities more competitive. For the system of accreditation to be effective, the assessors needed to be chosen wisely. "They must not only know what they have seen, but also what they have not," he added.

The QAA has been working with the UGC National Assessment and Accreditation Council, Bangalore (NAAC), on various aspects related to accreditation, which include putting together a handbook for accreditation, and appointing NAAC members as observers at the QAA. The NAAC would be hosting an international conference on quality assurance, in Bangalore in March 2001. The head of the QAA is expected to participate in the conference.

The National Board of Accreditation and the All India Council for Technical Education are working with the Institution of Civil Engineers, U.K. as part of an initiative to bring about the "Washington Accord". After the accord comes into force, Indian courses recognised by the AICTE will be given international recognition.

International education

Mr. Nance said the focus would increasingly turn on internationalising the courses offered in India. Apart from the necessity of having cross-border recognition for one's qualifications, for example at the executive level, the value of multicultural exposure as part of one's education would itself be seen as a serious motivation. This would especially be true for the youngsters, he added.

An exchange at the school and at the undergraduate level between India and U.K., for example, would be beneficial for specific reasons. One of them was the difference in the attitude towards learning in the U.K. and India, Mr. Nance said.

In the U.K., there was a thrust on all-round education which, he said, was good if it worked. Often, however, the student in the U.K. was not motivated enough to excel in the dull but essential aspects of education.

This problem, on the other hand, was tackled by the Indian parents who pushed their wards into achieving high grades. The tremendous competition made the Indian student aware early in life, of the effort that was expected of him if he were to have a successful career. The British student could do with a little of that kind of focus, and the Indian student could do with a little broadening of horizons, Mr. Nance said.

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