India-US partnership tackles MOOCs, community colleges

India and the United States have announced eight new partnerships in fields including health, technology, energy and sustainable development, and training of human resources – amounting to around US$2 million – as part of the second round of the Obama-Singh 21st Century Knowledge Initiative.

The announcement was made at the India-US Education Dialogue in New Delhi last week, chaired jointly by Human Resource Development Minister MM Pallam Raju and US Secretary of State John Kerry.

Each project will receive an award of approximately US$250,000, which can be used over a three-year period, with the objectives of cultivating educational reform including online education, fostering economic growth, generating shared knowledge to address global challenges, and developing junior faculty at Indian and American institutions of higher learning.

The partnerships include a Harvard-India Nutrition Initiative between the Harvard School of Public Health and the St John’s Research Institute in Bangalore; and agreements between Aligarh Muslim University and Ohio State University, and between Assam Agricultural University and Washington State University.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and US President Barack Obama announced the Obama-Singh Initiative in November 2009. Each government pledged US$5 million for the endeavour, for a total of US$10 million.


Four memoranda of understanding were also signed, including one between the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, and edX – a massive open online course (MOOC) platform founded by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University to offer free online university-level courses in a wide range of disciplines.

Thousands of Indians are flocking to MOOC platforms offering free online courses from the world’s top universities including Stanford, MIT, Harvard and Yale.

On EdX, Indians form the second-largest group. On Coursera, 8.8% of those enrolled are Indians compared to 27.7% from the US.

It is not just the lure of completing a course taught by a reputed international university that is pulling thousands of Indian students to MOOCs. Students see it as an opportunity to study with world-renowned professors, add to existing qualifications and increase job prospects.

With the transformation that MOOCs were bringing in the educational sphere, the Indian government planned on focusing closely on them, said Raju.

Community colleges

A second memorandum of understanding was signed between the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) and the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) to set up community colleges in India.

India has announced it will set up 200 community colleges over the next few years.

“We will share the best practices and hand-hold Indian institutes in establishing community colleges across India. These will be sector-specific, needs-based courses catering to the markets of specific regions,” said Alice Blayne-Allard, associate vice-president of the AACC.

Construction, hospitality, hotel management, healthcare and automobiles are key areas where the AACC will help Indian efforts, she said. According to Raju, the ministry was working with the AACC to develop a framework for community colleges in the country.

The Institute of International Education also released a white paper titled The US Community College Model: Potential for applications in India.

According to the government’s concept note, the community colleges will provide three-year undergraduate programmes with flexible course structures. The colleges can also provide short-term management courses similar to business schools to produce a job-ready workforce and entrepreneurs.

Such colleges will have boards with representation from industry to ensure desired standards – a model followed by Indian institutes of technology and Indian institutes of management.

“We’re going to look at the importance of community colleges to meeting the demand for higher education on the horizon. Five hundred million students in India in the next nine years may need opportunities for community college education,” said Kerry while addressing the meeting.

“Yet India, obviously, today has a huge shortage of classrooms, teachers and vocational programmes.”

The US stressed jointly working towards increasing the skills of students to face future challenges, and said this could be done through exchange programmes and partnerships between India and the US.

Under the Fulbright-Nehru programme, more than 18,000 scholars have participated in exchanges between India and America. More than 100,000 Indian students are enrolled in US higher education institutions.

The US also announced the launch of a new “Passport to India” initiative, to bring American students to India for a hands-on experience in the private sector.

With India’s foreign higher education providers bill still pending in parliament, most of the collaborations that have been announced are in areas outside the scope of the bill.

Ashok Thakur, secretary of higher education in the Ministry of Human Resources, said at the meeting: “Unfortunately, the foreign education providers bill is still with parliament, which is refusing to oblige us. But we have been working outside it, thinking laterally.”

He said that last year the idea of a twinning arrangement had been suggested. There had been some glitches, but restrictions had been removed. What was now needed was greater awareness about opportunities, and workshops between the US and India.

Raju told the Indian media last week the bill would be tabled in the upcoming session of parliament.