Collaboration in Higher Education: New Directions for India and Australia
An issues paper for the Australia India Education Council
Prof Fazal Rizvi
Associate Dean, Global Engagement
Melbourne Graduate School of Education
University of Melbourne
Dr Radhika Gorur
Melbourne Graduate School of Education
University of Melbourne
Background and Context
Academic links between Australia and India have a long history, stretching back to the late nineteenth century, but blossoming since the 1950s. From the 1950s to the 1970s, Australian universities provided India wide-ranging development assistance in education, with a focus on skills formation in science and technology in particular. Many Indians were awarded scholarships to undertake advanced studies at Australian universities under the Colombo Plan.
Since the late 1980s, this approach to collaboration has been supplemented by a more commercial approach, with an increasing number of fee-paying Indian students attending Australian education and training institutions. In 2010, more than 100,000 students from India enrolled in Australian institutions of higher and vocational education, and a wide variety of credit transfer, twinning and articulation arrangements have developed between Australian and Indian institutions.
Other forms of linkages have also emerged, with Australian students participating in various types of study abroad programs. Research links have also grown, though a little more slowly than expected. Australian and Indian authorities have also cooperated in strengthening bilateral education, training and research exchange. The broader context in which such cooperation takes place is however changing rapidly. Both Australia and India recognize that their systems of higher education are now located in a shifting architecture of global higher education shaped partly by the requirements of globalization and the knowledge economy.
The importance of international cooperation in higher education is no longer questioned - what is now needed is a more effective framework that enables institutions to develop more confidently programs of staff and student mobility, collaborative teaching and research and other forms of linkages.
With more than twenty years of experience in internationalization, Australian higher education has developed considerable expertise in developing such frameworks, not only with respect to student recruitment but also in the development of bilateral and multilateral arrangements with respect to cross-border recognition of qualifications, mechanisms of quality assurance, and the formation of knowledge partnerships.
While Indian higher education is relatively new to internationalization, it has recognized that international collaboration can be a major driver of institutional reform that the Indian Government has initiated over the past decade and is now pursuing with greater determination, vigor and sense of urgency.
The Indian Government's plans to reform higher education are driven by pressures of rapid growth in demand and the need to broaden access to higher education; of diversification and privatization of institutions; and of the need to address issues of institutional governance as well as instructional quality.
The Government has loosened some of the bureaucratic rigidities in the system, giving institutions greater organizational autonomy, enabling them to develop collaborative links with institutions abroad. It has introduced in Parliament a Bill to enable foreign institutions to enter the Indian market and develop collaborative links through faculty, student and research exchange.
Within the context of the joint Ministerial Statement between Australian and Indian Ministers of Education, issued on 8 April 2010, reaffirming the commitment to expand collaboration in education, training and research, opportunities have never been greater for Indian and Australian institutions of higher education to forge new collaborative links that are not only economically sound but also educationally and culturally productive.
Current Forms of Collaboration
The number of collaborative agreements between Australian and Indian institutions has been growing steadily over the past two decades. In 2010, Universities Australia reported 134 agreements falling mostly under the categories of franchising, twinning, articulation and exchange.
- Franchising: Australian institutions appoint institutions in India as franchisees, authorized to provide all or part of their courses in India, towards a qualification awarded by the Australian institution. The attraction of these arrangements is that students gain 'a foreign degree @ Indian cost' as Edith Cowan University advertises of its collaboration with Bangalore Management Academy (BMA), which offers a Master's degree in Business Management.
- Twinning: Under these arrangements, Indian institutions deliver courses specified and developed by Australian institutions. Students undertake the early parts of their studies in India, before completing the requirements of an Australian qualification in Australia. This reduces the cost and length of students' stay overseas. James Cook University (JCU), for example, has an arrangement with CMS College of Science and Commerce for the award of an MBA degree, on a one-year, full-time basis. Students study for one term on the CMS campus in Coimbatore, and two terms at the JCU campus in Singapore or in Australia.
- Program Articulation: Unlike twinning, an articulation agreement does not require the partnering institutions to jointly implement an academic program. Students can study the courses of the first few years at the Indian institution, with the Australian institution recognizing the credits they earn as advanced standing in specified courses. The qualifications may be awarded by one or both institutions. For example, Griffith University and the Dr D Y Patil University [DDYPU] jointly offer a three-and-a-half year Bachelor of Exercise Science Program. The first eighteen months, including six months of internship, are delivered on the DDYPU campus leading to a Diploma of Exercise Science, and the second phase of the program spanning two years is delivered on the Gold Coast Campus of Griffith University leading to a Bachelor's degree in Exercise Science.
- Student Exchange: In these arrangements, the students complete a semester or two, or a project, in an institution overseas by prior arrangement, which earn credits towards their qualification awards. In some cases the exchange is mutual - i.e., students from both institutions travel; in others, it is one way. Queensland University of Technology has, for example, a student exchange arrangement for its graduate students with four of the Indian Institutes of Management (Bangalore, Calcutta, Kozhikode, Lucknow); the Management Development Institute; and the National Institute of Fashion Technology. Students from these institutions spend one to two semesters in the overseas institutions and earn credits towards their degrees.
These arrangements are increasingly popular and are lucrative for participating institutions. From the Indian perspective, they add more higher education places in a market where demand far outstrips supply, and where competition makes entry requirements at the top institutions extremely high. They also diversify options, opening up new areas of study, such as exercise science, previously unavailable to students in India. From the Australian perspective, these provide means for recruiting international students to study in India and also enhance their programs as international components are increasingly valued.
These arrangements do not however exhaust the range of collaborative links between Indian and Australian higher education. A wide variety of research links exist, though often on individual rather than institutional basis. Many Australian academics of Indian background and research students enrolled at Australian universities have developed close links with Indian institutions. Joint academic conferences and workshops have become common, though jointly published papers remain rare. Researchers based at Australian universities carry out development assistance projects in India for NGOs and aid agencies such as AusAID. Other examples of collaboration include policy research on issues of assessment and evaluation and vocational training by ACER and NCVER respectively.
Issues and Challenges
Despite their popularity, most of these arrangements of collaboration remain tentative and informal. The more formal arrangements too face several challenges with respect to the delivery of instructional programs.
- Quality: Most of the existing arrangements are purely commercial in nature, and in some cases, the collaborating institutions are of dubious quality. With some programs the entry requirements are so low as to call to question the quality of the program being offered. Whilst Australia has been a leading exporter of education, the market is now crowded with many players and Indian institutions have a range of choices. Australian institutions will need to pay greater attention to quality to remain attractive and competitive, particularly given recent revelations of poor quality institutions and the closure of a number of such enterprises. As Australia overhauls its quality assurance program and India also pays more attention to issues of quality, there is an opportunity for the two countries to work together on quality assurance frameworks designed specifically to evaluate transnational programs. Until these quality assurance measures stabilize and strong programs are put in place, the interests of students and long-term institutional and national interests could be compromised.
- Inequity: Since programs of international collaboration tend to be expensive, there is an understandable perception in India that these exacerbate inequity. As collaborative arrangements are by and large for-profit, they do not offer merit-based scholarships to students. These opportunities are therefore available only to those who can afford such programs. For collaboration to benefit a greater range of socio-economic backgrounds, Indian and Australian authorities need to consider how issues of equity might be addressed so that international experience in education is not restricted to the wealthy.
- Priorities: Since the partnerships and agreements are between specific institutions rather than between governments or the apex university bodies, these arrangements serve the interests of the institutions concerned and are not designed to address national priorities of either country. The types of courses that many of these collaborations offer are not necessarily in areas of priority, nor do they necessarily serve long-term national needs. There is far more emphasis on marketing and recruiting students than on such issues as reviewing the appropriateness of curricula, harnessing available strengths, engaging in professional development for staff, strengthening the research infrastructure, or collaborating in innovative research.
- Practicalities: Differences in the articulation of standards (and in some instances, absence of or disregard for standards) have been widely recognized. Cultural differences and differences in infrastructure make straight-forward transfer of courses much more problematic than is often assumed. These practical issues need to be more carefully addressed, both at the level of the institutions and the policies governing articulation.
Although collaborations between Indian and Australian institutions involving twinning, franchising, articulation and student exchange do fill a niche and their popularity will continue to grow, alongside these arrangements, there is a distinct opportunity to create a new, high-quality approach to collaboration that takes into account the long-term policy priorities of both nations, with an eye towards sustained and mutually beneficial collaborations that seek more than financial gain.
- New Priorities for Australia: Although Australia is a world leader in educational exports, it is now entering a new phase of internationalization, which strives to: diversify its international student body, with a greater number of higher degree research students; ready domestic students for work in a global environment; and focus on international research collaborations. Australia's priorities can be elaborated as follows:
- Addressing the projected shortage of academics and researchers: Australia cannot currently meet its workforce requirements for 2020 based on current patterns of enrolment. To bridge the shortfall, it needs to diversify its international student base and attract more students into higher degree research programs. This would be facilitated if partnerships, joint projects and other collaborative arrangements are robust and enduring. Undergraduate or graduate degrees in India which are clearly linked to priority areas for Master's and PhD degrees in Australia, possibly with scholarships attached, can help reduce Australia's projected skills shortage and promote its leadership in the knowledge economy.
- Participation in the innovation system: If Australia is to participate with confidence in the knowledge economy, it has to 'build concentrations of excellence, encourage collaboration and achieve better dissemination of knowledge, ...[and] partner with each other and with other research organisations (nationally and internationally)', according to the Cutler Report. This means that it must seek 'effective connections to global innovation and research networks' through collaborations with institutions, researchers and scholars, as the Bradley Report advises.
- Enhancing reputation: Australia competes for an international pool of talented students with institutions around the world. This competition is likely to increase as other nations increase their participation in the international education market. Australia needs to enhance its reputation as a leading provider of high quality programs that prepare students for the global workforce. It should be wary of any collaboration that may damage its reputation. Here institutional and national priorities could clash.
- Preparing Australian students for the global workforce: It is critical to internationalize curricula and provide opportunities for students to participate in projects and courses overseas so that they form a pool of appropriately skilled and talented participants in the globalised knowledge economy to maintain Australia's global competitiveness.
- New Priorities for India: Poised to be one of the world's economic powers in the near future, India has both new opportunities and a huge responsibility. The National Knowledge Commission focuses on expansion, excellence and inclusion as its priorities for higher education. With plans to create 1500 new universities by 2015, and the setting up of the Independent Regulatory Authority for Higher Education (IRAHE), the time is right to explore strategic collaborations with great care to achieve its goals. Collaborations that are purely profit oriented could exacerbate India's problems by increasing inequity, even if it offers a short term solution by creating more places for students and adding to the diversity of offerings. As a new economic force with a highly talented but under-trained and under-utilized workforce, it must harness its strengths - a culture that values education; the familiarity with English; and a valuing in particular of the STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), which is declining rapidly in the Western world. Some of the relevant priorities identified by the Knowledge Commission are:
- Attracting more talented students in mathematics and science: India needs to rejuvenate science education and research and attract more students in mathematics and science through upgrading infrastructure and revitalising the teaching profession and teacher training.
- A revamp of professional education: India needs to reign in the unruly growth and tackle the uneven quality in professional education, subjecting institutions providing medical, legal, management and engineering education to stringent accreditation and quality control processes. It also needs to reform the examination system and provide greater autonomy to encourage innovation.
- More quality PhDs: India lacks a healthy research environment, by and large. To invigorate research and development in the country, enhance the quality of PhD programs and encourage a global outlook in research, the Knowledge Commission recommends a massive injection of funds and industry-academia partnerships. A National Research Mission is planned to help achieve these goals. Research training and improvements to research infrastructure would need to be planned, as well as opportunities for researchers to collaborate with other academics both within the country and overseas.
- More open and distance education opportunities: One important way of rapidly expanding access to higher education whilst keeping infrastructure and other capital costs down is to piggy-back on the national ICT infrastructure and provide more distance education opportunities. However, developing resources to teach through online and distance modes represents new challenges for Indian academics.
Given the analysis above, the time appears right to forge new directions with regard to collaboration between India and Australia. While institutions will continue to exploit opportunities as they arise, at a ministerial level, collaborations that are in keeping with the respective national priorities and long-term goals must be carefully considered and encouraged, so that both India and Australia can participate in sustained, mutually productive collaborations, ensuring that each nation can participate confidently at the forefront of the knowledge economy, and indeed shape its future. From the priorities listed above, several areas of convergence and mutual interest can be identified which are summarized in the recommendations.
Future collaborations should align with the respective national and long-term priorities of India and Australia, rather than immediate and institutional-level priorities.
A new audit instrument, purposefully designed to evaluate transnational collaborative programs should be developed to assess and improve collaborations already in operation. Australia's or India's existing standards and instruments for evaluating private colleges would not suffice, as transnational arrangements are qualitatively different from private colleges in either country. This is an important and urgent task for the protection of students and for the maintenance of Australia's reputation as a provider of excellent education programs and services. Such an instrument would be useful to both nations to evaluate collaborations with other countries as well.
Priority should be accorded to the development of sustained capacity for high caliber research, especially as each nation strives to participate in and shape the knowledge economy. This may be achieved through setting up joint venture centres of excellence, developing joint projects and programs of work, and facilitating the development and mobility of academic scholars.
New collaborations should prioritize joint programs in the areas of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) in particular. At a graduate and doctoral level, India has a pool of STEM graduates and scholars, but they may need additional support in terms of professional development which Australia is well poised to provide. Currently, a number of highly talented potential scientists are lured into management and engineering, away from research in the sciences and other academic pursuits, due to the difference in career prospects between these options. By opening up attractive career prospects through the development of STEM research programs, providing opportunities for teaching and research across India and Australia, this untapped pool of STEM professionals and academics can be harnessed for the benefit of both nations.
To serve India's immediate need of expanding access to higher education rapidly, distance education and on-line programs utilizing Australia's expertise in e-learning should be fully explored.