Student Mobility: Creating Sustainable Channels of Collaboration between Australia and India
Prof. A.S. Kolaskar
(Ex Vice-Chancellor, University of Pune, India)
Advisor, National Knowledge Commission
International Relations - RMIT University
The flow of tertiary students between India and Australia over the last decade has been almost exclusively one-way as large numbers of Indian students have chosen Australia as their study destination. While outbound mobility of Australian students has grown over the same period, very little of it has been to India. For Australian students, the chance to study for a semester or short course rarely sees the light of day due to the many obstacles that lie in the way.
Although there have been other forms of collaboration in the educational context that has assisted in advancing the relationship between the countries, there has not been a coordinated approach to establishing sustainable student mobility programs. Historically, collaboration has not been coordinated from the government level, but rather has organically evolved at an institutional, and more so than not, an individual level. Although relationships may result in successful student mobility activities, given the reliance on the 'individual', these programs are not sustainable. 'Individual' efforts may have a better chance of success with the active support of government - both federal and state and with the assistance of relevant peak bodies. It is only through these frameworks underpinning both Australia and India's interests in student mobility that will allow for accelerated growth, diversity, and sustainability.
However, recent discussions at the Australia-India Joint Ministerial Commission held this May 2011 in Canberra, and co-chaired by the Hon. Dr Craig Emerson, Australian Minister for Trade and Shri Anand Sharma, Commerce and Industry Minister (CIM) of India, suggest the landscape is changing as discussions turn to more pragmatic issues affecting the flow of students to and from Australia. The regulatory and legislative constraints for incoming Indian students through to the skills development program that incorporates priority sectors of mining, construction, hospitality, and retail gained the attention of Ministers on both sides. Although these issues are part of a bigger collective of pressing items for the Commission, cooperation of this kind brings both sides one step closer to an integrative approach for internationalisation.
There is also disparity between Australia and India's internationalisation in higher education - particularly within the student mobility space. Australia has well established policy frameworks at both government and institutional levels underpinning the establishment of bilateral and multilateral partnerships to create quality assured mobility programs. This is further supported by peak industry bodies such as The International Education Association of Australia (IEAA) that provide support to institutions, and more importantly, mobility practitioners in the way of sharing best practice, professional development, benchmarking, and research.
India's current economic challenges have urged the Indian government to acknowledge the need for reform. With this reform has come the recognition that internationalisation in Higher Education is mutually beneficial, and student mobility in particular, an ideal vehicle for individuals, institutions, and governments to develop intercultural understanding and competence.
India - Status
India is one of the fastest growing economies in the world and has shown its resilience even during the latest global economic meltdown posting average annual growth rates above 8%. Such continued growth will require highly trained human resources at various levels in addition to government policies conducive to development. It has become clear that the current growth rate cannot be sustained without increasing the human resource development index by at least 2 to 2.5 times as compared to the present status.
As a measure to address these concerns, the Prime Minister of India established The National Knowledge Commission (NKC) in 2006 to create an infrastructure to provide direction on the formation of policies and changes to governance enabling India to become a leading Knowledge Economy. The Commission was established with a three year term and early deliberations identified specific areas critical to a successful transition to this space. On the basis of the Commission's recommendations, at least five new bills have been drafted enabling the establishment of innovative universities, entry of foreign universities, accreditation of institutes of higher learning, and the establishment of a Higher Education council.
The Indian government has taken major steps based on the recommendations of the NKC as well as the report of the "Committee to advise on renovation and rejuvenation of Higher Education". Several measures were initiated at bilateral and multilateral levels for collaboration and Australia was identified as one of these countries having a well developed educational system. Past interaction between Australian and Indian institutions is being leveraged to provide further strengthen ongoing collaboration.
Also on the basis of NKC's recommendations, the Indian government has established several new public universities (central universities), Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs), Institutes of Information Technology (IIITs) in the last two to three years. Simultaneously, state governments have established more than 70 private universities and will soon establish many institutions on public private partnership model. This expansion in Higher Education has created several challenges particularly regarding quality of education.
The quality of education and training imparted by many of the current educational institutions in India is inadequate to meet the needs of Indian industry which is growing by more than 10% per year. It remains the case that large numbers of deserving students do not gain admission to the courses of their choice and therefore go outside the country for tertiary education, though this is not the only reason for opting to go overseas for studies . The number of students taking up offers to study at Australian institutions was increasing at a rate of 10% to 15% per year for the past few years.
Further to this, several Indian companies have become multinational in nature and have their business and manufacturing operations in different countries including Australia. In spite of this growing globalization trend, the Indian higher educational system remains somewhat resistant to the government's reform processes and does not benchmark as being competitive internationally.
Australia - Status
Student mobility has grown exponentially in recent years, with 8.8% of undergraduate students undertaking an international learning experience in 2009 which was a 3% increase from the previous student mobility survey conducted in 2007 (Table 1). This growth can be attributed to initiatives driven from both a government and institutional level.
International Study Experiences 2009 by Type
||Number Of Experiences
|Other Semester Or Year Programes
|Short Term Programes
|Placements or Practical Training
Source: Olsen, Alan 2009
Graduate outcomes are high on the government's agenda with the recognition that intercultural understanding and competence is integral to equipping Australian students for a global marketplace. A key strategy for achieving this has been through student mobility. The Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education (DIISRTE) has been proactive in gaining a deeper understanding of the practical barriers, challenges, and opportunities within this space through direct consultation with student mobility practitioners and consistent participation and support at student mobility centric forums and events. This type of consultation has led to the amendment, as well as the development of government schemes supporting student mobility that have included:
- Overseas Study Higher Education Loan Program (OS Help)
OS Help was established in 2004 allowing eligible undergraduate students loans to assist with the costs associated with a student exchange experience. Following feedback from Australian institutions, short term study was included, the 1 EFSL was reduced to .5 EFSL to complete upon return, and the 20% fee was removed.
- DIISRTE Student Mobility Scholarships (UMAP, Endeavour, Cheung Kong)
DIISRTE incorporated more flexible scholarship submission guidelines and reconciliation processes, opened the Endeavour scholarships for incoming exchange students, recently created a new short term program scholarship scheme, and has increased funding annually (Table 2).
- Outbound Student Mobility Best Practice Guide and Toolkit - Higher Education and VET Sector
Australia Education International (AEI) commissioned a Best Practice Guide and Toolkit for the VET sector in conjunction with AIM Overseas in 2010. The development of a similar guide for Higher Education is under development with a steering committee comprised of 9 Australian institutional student mobility practitioners. This is due for release in October 2011.
Australian Student Mobility Funds
||OS HELP Program
Source: Molony, John 2010
The establishment of peak industry bodies in Australia has also provided a solid framework for student mobility practitioners to share research, access professional development, network, and collectively engage with industry stakeholders to promote international education. The leading peak industry body in Australia is The International Education Association of Australia (IEAA) established in 2004 and houses the active 'Outbound Student Mobility' Special Interest Group (OSM SIG).
The OSM SIG drives a coordinated agenda on a national scale, but also links internationally with the group's counterparts in the United States (The Forum on Education Abroad) and Europe (SAFSA - professional group dedicated to services for foreign students and study abroad) to share best practice and collaborate on benchmarking exercises and research. The OSM SIG also leads the coordination of the annual 'Outbound Mobility Forum' - a one day forum comprised of practitioners from around the world discussing current issues, best practice, and future developments in student mobility; and The National Australian Exchange Fair Circuit.
Institutions are also formally recognising mobility at the top level, which is encouraging given that historically many mobility offices have purely worked against targets set within their respective international offices. In fact, more than 28 of the 39 Australian Universities indicate that student mobility sits firmly as a key objective within their strategic plans . Support at this level has been a significant driver for policy development, internationalisation of the curriculum, extra-curricular programs, and increased funding that creates a quality assured and sustainable framework for student mobility.
Issues and Challenges
For a Higher Education system of its size and scope, India has an opportunity to enhance its engagement internationally through a strong centralised authority guiding and supporting the stakeholders in the education sector.
There is also disparity between Australia and India's internationalisation in Higher Education - particularly within the student mobility space. Barriers to mobility become more pronounced when institutional frameworks cannot support these programs i.e. allowing credit transfer for Indian students, conflicting academic calendars. Without an overarching national framework, Indian institutions have not developed familiarity with the mechanics for implementing long term student mobility programs and can be bound up by the rigid structures of their institutions.
Example: Semester exchange program between La Trobe University (LTU) and Lady Sri Ram College (LSR): LSR students cannot transfer academic credit gained at LTU back to their LSR degree, because the curriculum is streamlined from the 'parent' institution - the University of Delhi (UD). LSR is one of many colleges that sit under UD, and as such, must seek approval for international credit transfer from UD. Given this proves an arduous process, credit transfer is typically not pursued in these instances and Indian students can be discouraged in undertaking a semester of study that will not be formally recognised.
Another flow on effect for Indian institutions has been the underdevelopment of adequate student support systems to manage the needs of incoming international students. This is a familiar realisation that Australia faced as they too began adjusting the focus from domestic to international student needs in the 1990s. Unlike Australia, India is challenged by some environmental factors that affect developing countries such as concerns surrounding health and safety and mandatory curfews that significantly restrict students' access and levels of independence. These issues will directly influence India's strategy in establishing a sound student support framework that also gains the confidence of its international counterparts.
Australian students are becoming more aware of opportunities to study in India. According to the 2009 AUIDF survey, 32.2% of Australian students undertook an international experience in Asia . From across all program types, only 2.4% of those 'already mobile' students went to India. Although anecdotal, Australian students have expressed concern with the quality of education, safety in country, living conditions, and student support. Reversely, Indian students are applying to participate in mobility programs in Australia, but regulatory and legislative changes to the student visa program have created significant roadblocks to entry. Although many Australian institutions are allocating incoming Endeavour scholarships (AU $5,000 per student) to assist in offsetting the increased financial standing required for visa eligibility, it is still only privileged Indian students able to take up these placements.
As with other international programs, funding is also a contributing barrier to mobility. Australian institutions are eligible to apply for DIISRTE Endeavour funding to support mobility projects for semester or less than semester study programs for both incoming and outgoing students between countries. However, available funding amounts vary annually and are reliant on successful submissions, programs must attract institutional credit to be considered, and funding is primarily to support undergraduate mobility (only short term programs allow for post graduate funding). Although the Endeavour scholarships offer a significant channel of funding, submissions can only be made by Australian institutions, and it is at their discretion as to how these scholarships are dispersed. Without consistent funding to support mobility in both directions, planning and implementation of long term mobility programming becomes challenging.
Australia and India's Higher Education sectors recognise the mutual benefits from an international student experience for the individual, institution, community, and economy. While student mobility is an agreed pathway to increased internationalisation, careful evaluation and implementation of these programs is paramount to ensure long term success. Therefore, the following recommendations have been made:
Establish an industry body to represent International Higher
Education in India - equivalent or counterpart to Australia's IEAA
Although bodies exist to support collaboration between countries, there is not a peak body solely dedicated to International Higher Education within India. By establishing an industry body similar to those found in other HE sectors around the world, priorities could be aligned and synergies leveraged.
Further to this, the creation of a Special Interest Group under this model, similar to the OSM SIG within IEAA, would greatly benefit the sector and allow Indian mobility practitioners to link nationally and internationally on mobility specific issues.
Diversify the modes and models of student mobility: virtual, dual degrees, internships, service learning, volunteering
To address issues of reciprocity, alignment of academic calendars, and cost, other modes and models of mobility could be explored. Depending on institutional frameworks, traditional semester exchange may not be possible for institutions.
Example 1: Semester Exchange/Short Term
1 incoming Indian semester exchange student to Australia = 4 outbound Australian exchange students undertaking a 3 week service learning program in India
Example 2: Virtual
Information technology students - 1 classroom of students in India and 1 classroom of students in Australia - engage in a virtual classroom for the duration of the semester working to achieve a common project.
Establish an India/Australia specific scholarship program for student mobility
In recognition of the importance and need to develop bilateral flows between countries, an India/Australia specific Endeavour Award for student mobility could be established similar to other country specific scholarships rolled out in the past i.e. Norway. Ideally the scholarship would support mobility study of varying lengths to ensure positive uptake and encourage institutions to consider non-traditional forms of engagement (virtual, internships, service learning, volunteering).
Leverage Institutional alliances: establish a consortium
Australia has overcome student mobility barriers with other countries by creating organised pathways for international study. Until the Australian Consortium for 'In-Country' Indonesian Studies (ACICIS) was established by Murdoch University in 1994, mobility between Indonesia and Australia was almost non-existent. This consortium now provides access to student mobility for institutions from both countries regardless of the institution's membership status with ACICIS.
Utilising this previous experience, it is recommended that both nations collaborate to create a similar framework. The Australian Universities International Director's Forum (AUIDF) in conjunction with its Indian counterpart may be best placed to identify lead institutions from both countries to initiate the first phase of this cooperation.
Increase familiarity and understanding between countries
To break down misperceptions and cultivate better cultural understanding, measures to increase the familiarity between India and Australia is essential. Carefully targeted familiarisation tours, in conjunction with peak industry bodies and/or government, would help to create a foundation for more meaningful, long term partnerships.
Identify academic areas for joint collaboration
Both Australia and India thrive in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) academic areas, so it is logical to consider aligning student mobility programs that augment degree offerings across these disciplines. Possible mobility models might also integrate workplace learning options or build a semester block of study at the nominated overseas institution.