Trends, insights and research to inform growth and innovation strategies in international higher education.

April 27, 2010

Five Strategies for Building International Academic Collaborations

Foreign universities set to invade India.” If you are thinking that this is a recent news headline, then you are mistaken. This is from India Abroad article of January 18, 2002. Eight years later there is resurgence of the news about foreign universities entering India in big numbers. However, this time it has a more optimistic undertone and has gained greater attention from foreign higher education institutions and also several corporate houses.

In the US, the Department of Education has funded a program at the Institute of International Education which aims at strengthening academic collaborations between US-India. As a part of this program 10 US institutions have been identified which will participate in a range of training, assessment and strategic planning activities to build partnerships with India. [I am serving on the advisory board of the program].

At the institutional level, student exchange programs had been existing between Indian and foreign universities. However, lately, there is increasing interest for more extensive collaborations which extend into program offerings. For example, Leeds MET has partnered with Dainik Jagran group and Virginia Tech has announced its collaboration with MARG group to establish a campus in Chennai. Earlier, Monash University had established joint-PhD program with IIT Mumbai.

There are only a handful of successful and effective partnerships, like ISB and many more institutions are struggling to find right partners and few others partnerships have remained on paper only. Without discounting the challenges posed by lack of resources and regulatory constraints, I argue that institutions also face challenges in building effective and sustainable partnerships due to a lack of strategic approach in identifying the right partners and nurturing the partnership for long term benefits. Some of these challenges are related to strategies and approaches of institutions and could be addressed in an effective manner.

In last three years several high profile delegations visited India to assess the market and partners. Some have found partners, while most have not. Finding the right fit partner is not easy. From foreign university side there is persistent concern about the brand dilution and credibility of Indian partner. From an Indian institution’s perspective there is a lack of understanding of the functioning, needs and segments of foreign institutions. This results in poor identification of potential partners and also loss in opportunities available from partner universities.

Even if the partnership is established, there are challenges in sustaining that relationship. Charles Klasek highlights that “It is not difficult to sign an agreement with universities of all types throughout the world; it is difficult to implement the agreements so that there are mutual academic benefits to the institutions involved.”

Given below are five approaches for building and sustaining international academic collaborations.

1. Clarify the level of commitment for collaboration: This is of utmost importance to articulate the depth and width of commitment from partnering institutions. Institutions may have similar or different reasons for coming together but they should have explicit understanding of the motivators and needs of each other. This helps in setting realistic expectation levels. They should also be able to understand the wide range of collaboration opportunities available from short-term student and faculty exchange to joint-programs to full-fledged campus and that each of them requires different level of commitment level.

2. Integrate with the societal needs: Higher education institutions do not exist in vacuum; they exist in the context of the societal and industrial needs. This is where academic collaborations would find its best fit opportunities. Institutions should not only assess their internal capabilities and resources but also align them with the pressing needs of society and industry. This helps in making a convincing case to prospective foreign institution in collaborating for an area of high impact and need. For example, the inadequate teacher training and supply of talent pool is an area of concern for India and hence focus of Azim Premji University on education is very opportune. 

3. Take an interdisciplinary approach: While one has to identify an area of strength, institutions should explore to collaborations at the interfaces of disciples. There are several interdisciplinary programs which may be more open and even more relevant for academic collaborations. For example, if an Indian B-school is looking for a foreign academic collaboration, it does not have to restrict only to a B-school; it could even be explore relationships with college of public administration or international studies at leading universities.

4. Explore beyond the big brands: There is a tendency among institutions to seek partners which have a brand reputation higher than their own in the home country. For example, an institution in India would frantically try to get alliance with an Ivy League institution. While, this adds to halo effect and helps in gaining credibility, it also misses the opportunity presented by foreign institutions which may be more willing to invest and commit to build their brand in India. This also assumes that if the brand is not well-known in India it is not worth pursuing, even though the institution may be of high quality. So there is a need for a deeper understanding of the quality and types of institutions and how they best fit with the overall goals of collaboration.

5. Engage corporate houses: Several corporate houses have expressed their interest in venturing into higher education sector. Some of them intend to build high quality institutions, contribute back to society and leave a legacy for their name. For example, Shiv Nadar University is a not-for-profit project with expected budget of US$600 million. With this level of investment, the university project is not going to generate wealth for Shiv Nadar but definitely it would generate knowledge, reputation and talent. Likewise, there are several others who wish to leave their legacy and could be engaged by government and foreign universities.

Robert Stein and Paula Short conclude that “…collaboration is a complex phenomenon, especially as one considers the array of options and relationships on the menu.” This complexity of building and sustaining effective collaborations could be simplified by leveraging the strategies explained above.

Dr. Rahul Choudaha
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April 14, 2010

Guru Mantra: Dean David Finegold, Rutgers, New Jersey

Prof. David Finegold
Dean, School of Management and Labor Relations
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

Prof. David Finegold is Dean of Rutgers’ School of Management and Labor Relations (SMLR). He is a leading expert on skill development systems and their relationship to economic performance and corporate governance. His two main current research projects focus on: 1) Skill Development for the 21st Century Workforce – focusing on the rapidly evolving education and training system of India and China, and 2) Building Sustainable Organizations – focusing on governance of capitalism in the global economy and the emergence of alternative organizational forms to the for-profit public corporation. He is the author of more than 80 journal articles and book chapters and has written or edited six books, including Are Skills the Answer? (with Colin Crouch and Mari Sako), Corporate Boards: Adding Value at the Top (with Jay Conger and Ed Lawler) and BioIndustry Ethics (Elsevier Academic Press, 2005). Prior to joining Rutgers he was a professor at the Keck Graduate Institute (KGI) of Applied Life Sciences in Claremont, CA, where he helped to build the first college devoted specifically to creating a best-in-class professional science masters program. Since arriving at Rutgers in 2006, Dean Finegold has adapted the KGI model to a leading research university, taking the lead in creating the new Master of Business and Science, the first Rutgers-wide degree that is designed to prepare individuals to help bring innovations to market. He has also spearheaded wider efforts to build a workforce development system for New Jersey’s bioscience sector by bringing education and industry together from across the state ( He graduated summa cum laude with a BA in Social Studies, from Harvard University in 1985, and was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University,where he completed his DPhil in Politics in 1992.

This week I interviewed  Prof. David Finegold, Dean of the School of Management and Labor Relations at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. He shares some very insightful perspectives on:
- foreign universities bill
- current work and interests in India
- critical success factors for building academic partnerships
- nature of academic leadership

What are your thoughts or comments on Prof. Finegold's perspectives?

- Dr. Rahul Choudaha
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April 06, 2010

World Class Universities in India: Published in EDU

My article on world-class universities was published in the March issue of EDU magazine.

The trend of creating of world-class universities in India has gained momentum from several corporate leaders including, Anil Agarwal, Mukesh Ambani, Azim Premji and Shiv Nadar. While recent initiatives to create world-class universities are in the right direction, they need to be executed by a deeper understanding of the unique challenges and context of building world-class universities. This would aid in efficient prioritization and utilization of resources and help realize the full potential of the initiatives and visions.

- Dr. Rahul Choudaha
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April 01, 2010

Guru Mantra: KB Powar

Guru Mantra
Professor  KB Powar
Higher Education Expert and Scholar

Professor Krishnapratap Bhagwantrao Powar, born on 20th December, 1937, obtained his B.Sc. (1958) and M.Sc. (Applied Geology) (1960) degrees from the Nagpur University and was awarded the J.P. Trivedi Gold Medal and the King Edward Memorial Scholarship. He later secured his Ph.D. degree in Geology, in 1967, from the Banaras Hindu University. He also received Fulbright and Institute of International Education awards for higher study and research in U.S. (1966-67).

Professor Powar has worked as a teacher, research worker and educational administrator in a professional career of 49 years. He was Professor of Geology, Poona University (1977-86) before being appointed as Vice Chancellor, Shivaji University. He was appointed Secretary General, Association of Indian Universities, New Delhi, in February 1993, and reappointed for a second term in February, 1998. He retired from the Association in December 2002 and thereafter worked as the Founder Director of the Amity Foundation for Higher Learning, New Delhi till November 2004. He is presently Advisor to the Vice Chancellor, D.Y. Patil University, Pune.

Professor Powar has published 67 papers, is the author of 6 books and has edited 18 volumes dealing with different aspects of higher education. The books authored by him include, ‘Accreditation in Higher Education: The Indian Perspective’ (1996), Performance Indicators in Distance Higher Education (2000). ‘Indian Higher Education: A Conglomerate of Concepts, Facts and Practices’ (2002), Internationalisation of Higher Education: Focus on India’ (2003) and Quality of Higher Education (2005).

Rahul- You have extensive experiences as a scholar and leader engaged with higher education. What you think are the three most important events in the last decade, which changed the course of higher education in India?
Dr.Powar- The process of change in the Indian higher education system began in the early 1990s and it would be more pragmatic to consider changes over the last two decades. In fact the changes that have taken place during the present decade were all initiated in the 1990s. To my mind the three most important events are:
First, the acceptance that for the Indian higher education system to develop at an accelerated pace, it was necessary for the private sector to contribute in a substantial measure. However with the failure of the government to ensure the passage, through Parliament, of the Private Universities Bill 1995 it became necessary to use the ‘deemed university route’ leading to the present uncertain situation (as regards the deemed universities).
Second, the realization that having a few highly rated institutions was not sufficient and it was necessary to improve quality all-round. This led to the establishment of accreditation agencies and initiation of quality movement in Indian higher education.
Third, the acceptance that it was necessary to internationalize the Indian higher education system through changes in the academic structures (including the adoption of the credit-based semester system with continued internal evaluation and letter grades), addition of an international component in the curricula, development of academic partnerships with foreign universities, and improving physical infrastructure.

Rahul- Mr. Kapil Sibal has proposed several policy changes in Indian higher education. Among these are bills related to foreign universities and centralization of regulatory bodies. What is your assessment of these two bills?
Dr.Powar- It is to be seen how far Mr Kapil Sibal is successful. Personally, I feel that the Foreign University Bill lacks clarity, and includes conditions that the foreign university may consider to be too demanding. The main concern in the Bill seems to be the establishment of international campuses/ sub-centres. The possibilities provided by other modes, such as academic partnerships and cross-border supply (distance education), have not been adequately addressed. The National Commission for Higher Education and Research Bill, 2010 carries forward the idea of an over-arching apex-body, for bringing about greater coordination and integration in the planning and development of the higher education system, already visualized in the National Education Policy, 1986. However, with the exclusion of the agriculture- and medical-education sectors (and possibly law-education sector also) from the ambit of the Commission, the original concept has been grossly distorted. Moreover, vesting of the powers of a Civil Court with the Commission is something that academics and educational managements will not easily accept. The idea of a National Registry of possible Vice Chancellors does not take into account the diversity in the requirements of different universities. Moreover, persons best-suited for the Vice Chancellor’s position may not like the idea of being included in a register of potential vice-chancellors has been lost sight of.

Rahul- Indian professional higher education in general and engineering education in specific is repeatedly questioned for its quality. For example, high rate of unemployability of graduates and more recently, India's bid for full membership to Washington Accord was turned down. What are top two recommendations you have for a) engineering institutions and b) policymakers for improving quality of engineering education in India?
Dr.Powar- The variability in the quality of engineering (and other professional) education has to be accepted. It would be necessary to strictly implement quality norms and promote only those institutions whose programmes are accredited by the National Board of Accreditation and other accreditation bodies. Greater care has to be exercised before the grant of approval to start new institutions.
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