Many apologies to my readers for the break in this blog.
The logistical pressures of moving countries and cities – from London to Calcutta – and a nasty bout of flu meant that it was sensible to stay offline for a while.
Over the next few blogs I will seek to provide an overview of the educational climate in India, and the extent to which international alliances are changing or are likely to change the university experience .
Why are British universities seeking to find a presence in India?
The Indian government has plans to increase the number of university goers from a current 12 per cent of the population to 30 per cent. In plain terms this works out to a present university student population of 12 million, and a projected increase to 30 million. This is clearly a very ambitious plan and opinions are mixed as to whether it can or should be achieved.
In this first piece though I want to present a side to the global impact of the ongoing changes in the Indian university system that is seldom seen in the media.
That is, what is the university experience in India from the point of view of the student and the lecturer?
I went to school in Calcutta and also did my first undergraduate degree in the city. When I went to the UK to do my second undergraduate degree it wasn’t the differences in the educational culture that I noticed but rather the continuities. This was probably because both the school and university I attended were established in the nineteenth century when Calcutta was the capital of British India, and at the heart of a close engagement between the cultures of India and of Britain.
What I experienced in India was a meticulousness of detail and depth of approach which I am truly grateful for. Somewhere along the way I also became firmly imbued with the idea that the big picture matters. So valuing the humanities was important because it helped one to link the puzzle pieces of the world together.
A common expectation and hope amongst the educational community in India is, I think, that alliances with British or other overseas universities will mean more flexibility for students and teaching staff. By which I mean exposure to the arts, sciences and perhaps even technical knowledges together. It seems rather harsh to expect an eighteen year old to choose a “stream” and stand by it life-long.
A simple scan-through of the weekly educational supplement to the Kolkata edition of The Times of India gives a thumbnail picture of the kinds of degrees and career pathways being offered to current undergraduates. Management and science degrees predominate but there’s a wide range of IT -related and engineering courses, along with intriguingly specialist courses in things like wine-making, chocolate making and magicianship (though not at Hogwarts).
What I wonder as a global citizen and a teacher is this – how are we going to help students join the dots? Will the view that learning has value in and of itself because it nurtures creative and critical thinking hold in the new university environment being fashioned?
This wider view of the meaning and value of education already has a space both in India and in the UK. But I have also experienced the piece meal view – in both countries – that being educated in order to find and keep a job is all that’s needed.
It’s an interesting time to be in education – and I hope in succeeding pieces to chronicle more of the changes taking place. The future – not just for the UK and India but for the world – looks an utterly different place than most would have imagined it a mere ten years ago.