Making community colleges work in India: Building a community of change to fuel aspirations

What would it take for workforce development programs and vocational education to grow in India? A recent white paper released by Institute of International Education (IIE) and sponsored by the U.S. Embassy in India highlights the potential of learning from and applying the U.S. community college model in India.

The paper includes pieces from several experts. Mary Beth Hartenstine of Community Colleges for International Development in her chapter suggests that “When looking at larger scale, transformative projects, such as those expected to take place in India, U.S. colleges should look to partner through a consortium to alleviate some of the possible burdens of these global development projects.” B. S. Panwar of M.S. Panwar Community College asserts that “While the government has taken note of the need for a community college system in India, there is no clear implementation plan. An autonomous agency is needed to act as a link between the government and the community to propagate and implement the community college scheme.”

Murli Nagasundaram and Duleep Deosthale of Manipal Global Education Services recommend that “The first step is to establish a task force, consisting of eminent academicians, industrialists, social scientists and advisers from select community colleges in the U.S. and some Indian educators who can look beyond the politics of education, in order to frame a policy and develop an initial plan.”  Edward Valeau of The ELS Group, emphasized the role of standards, data-driven strategic planning, learnings from with other countries beyond the US and strengthened governance and leadership structures.

I contributed a chapter entitled “Making Community Colleges Work in India: Providing Access, Fueling Aspirations” where I argue that the reform initiatives need a much stronger structural change to reshape the sociocultural expectations of a vocational education. There is an aspirational barrier among students and families who do not consider vocational education as an economically rewarding or socially recognizable career path.

In addition to policy changes and enhanced public-private partnerships, there are additional areas that need reform. First, there must be more research to understand the students who are most likely to be attracted to the community college. Second, successful exemplars of community colleges need to be established and supported, especially through partnerships with American community colleges, to substantially improve the caliber, capacity and competitiveness of vocational education in India. Finally, an aggressive and transformational marketing campaign that clearly explains the differences and benefits of community colleges should be co-developed with industrial leaders.

As Malcolm Gladwell notes in The Tipping Point, “If you want to bring a fundamental change in people’s belief and behavior…you need to create a community around them, where those new beliefs can be practiced and expressed and nurtured.”

Community colleges’ growth and success in India can reach a tipping point by establishing a community of change that brings stakeholders from industry, academia and policymakers, establishes models of success and makes students aspire to be part of this community.

Dr. Rahul Choudaha

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