HOLLAND-INDIA: Strengthening education links

The main associations of universities in the Netherlands and India have signed an agreement to strengthen scientific cooperation in education and research. Both countries stand to benefit from the agreement which has been described as a perfect match in more than one sense.

The Association of Universities in the Netherlands, a group of 10 research institutions, and the Association of Indian Universities, a giant conglomeration of 285, signed the agreement on 16 July. The Dutch see India as an interesting partner for their universities because of its strongly growing economy and the big investments India is putting into higher education and scientific research.

For their part, universities in India have insufficient places to enable all the talent to be educated while the Dutch institutions are suffering from a shortage of talented students, especially in science.

Only about one in 10 Indians in the college-going age group is actually enrolled for tertiary education and 45 students compete for every single place available in the undergraduate programme in the prestigious Indian institutes of technology.

The Indians and the Dutch make a perfect match in another sense as well. As the Times Higher Education Supplement reported in 2007: "The Netherlands emerges as continental Europe's principal power in higher education."

The brighter students in India can compete with the best in the world and, as more than 50% of masters courses in Holland are taught in English, most Indian students will not face a language problem.

Apart from student and faculty exchange and joint educational and research activities, the agreement has a clause on free flow of research information: "The parties will promote among their members open access to scientific and scholarly publications."

This is an area where the Dutch universities are doing well while Indian universities have a long way to go. The partnership between the two countries is likely to be highly successful, as is shown by a joint master's programme in computer science and engineering offered by the Manipal University and Eindhoven University of Technology, with support of Philips.

Similarly, Wageningen University and the MS Swaminathan Research Foundation have long established research ties in agriculture and life sciences while Maastricht University will shortly open an office in Bangalore to recruit talented students and researchers.

"While economic ties between both countries have been strengthened in the last decade, there is room for new and more intense forms of cooperation in higher education and research," says Professor Sijbolt J Noorda, President of the Dutch association of universities. "I see possibilities for partnerships in many fields, including vaccine development, biotechnology, hydrology and social economic development."

The two associations will work together under the Student Research Convention. The Indian association will select a number of talented students in a national competition who will then be offered a place at a Dutch university. Many Dutch universities have put forward a substantial number of paid positions and scholarships for PhD students from India.

The Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research, the national funding council, is also in favour of further bilateral collaboration and will launch a programme to support new initiatives. The ground for the bilateral agreement was prepared when a 12-member high-level Dutch delegation headed by Noorda made a week-long visit to India four months ago. They visited top educational institutions and met with leading academics and government officials in New Delhi, Bangalore and Mumbai.

Apart from Dutch association representatives and top universities, the delegation had members from the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, the Royal Dutch Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research, and the Netherlands Organisation for International Cooperation.

The Dutch set out to woo Indian students by creating a web portal - www.http://dutchsciencecareers.in - for student, scholars and researchers from India to find the various options for support in research collaboration and studying in Holland.

The Netherlands appear to have discovered India rather late. There were only 162 Indian students in Dutch universities in 2005, out of the more than 139,000 who went abroad for higher studies, according to the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development's Education at a Glance 2007.

The new agreement may not change the number dramatically but the Dutch are probably more interested in the quality of the exchange.