GW spotlights India as next global partner

Correction appended

The University has set its sights on expanding academics and research in India, a rising global power that program directors say should make up a bigger part of GW’s international focus.

Associate Provost for International Programs Donna Scarboro said she met with a U.S. State Department official last week to discuss the agency’s “Passport to India” program, which incentivizes student travel to India through research projects, grant opportunities and dual degrees.

Details of GW’s development in India – even areas of research, types of programs, locations and funding – have not been worked out yet, Scarboro said. She said her office would need to identify a group of in-house experts who could advise on the country’s cultural nuances.

“If you ask why India is important to GW, you’re asking the question why India important [to the world],” she said. “That’s why I want to move students through there, so they can answer the question of why is India important in the world and what are India’s struggles and strengths and hopes. They can have a nuanced picture of that country.”

Nationally, India typically sends the second-most students to the U.S. behind China. But with 27 undergraduates and 222 graduate students at GW last year, India trails China and South Korea as the largest feeder countries at GW.

“It’s not just about moving students and faculty around – it’s about having an impact on important issues that affect that region,” Scarboro added. “We want to know what the issues are.”

The University already has research centers on Indian studies through the GW Law School and the Elliott School.

Shelley Gentry Jessee, a study abroad adviser, said the University’s connections with India have swelled in the last three years, with new study abroad possibilities in Delhi, Pune and Hyderabad.

But only 23 students, including graduate students, chose to study abroad in India two years ago, with “steady” interest of about four students per semester in the country for the past three years, Jessee said.

“India is still a non-traditional destination and a developing country,” she said. “Not all students are prepared for the cultural differences India presents and choose to study in other, more popular study abroad destinations.”

GW will need to grow in India whether or not the country is identified as a site for expansion in its strategic plan, which administrators will release Tuesday, Scarboro said. Officials involved with the plan have so far floated expansions in China, France, Brazil and sub-Saharan African countries as possible areas of attention.

Several schools that GW considers its peers have extensive programs and exchanges in India. Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business runs corporate education programs in the city of Ahmedabad in western India, and Northwestern University’s McCormick School of Engineering works with top technology firms in Mumbai.

The new attention toward India comes after a surge in the number of graduate students attending the University from overseas, as well as directives from both American and Indian leaders for colleges and universities in each country to deepen their connections.

Adam Grotsky, executive director of the New Delhi-based United States-India Educational Foundation, said “these are exciting times to engage with India.”

“[India’s] universities and institutes of higher education have attained global recognition as a result of their significant contribution in research and development,” Grotsky said, calling India “a major knowledge-based economic power.”

The University has typically relied on pre-existing ties to countries they’ve eyed for expansion. For example, GW School of Business Dean Doug Guthrie, a China scholar, has helped lead development of a graduate degree program there. GW’s large South Korean alumni base has also given it opportunities to grow more in that country, Scarboro said.

Less than four months ago, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and India’s education minister Kapil Sibal met for the U.S.-India Higher Education Dialogue in Washington to explore avenues for the countries’ universities to work in tandem.

But the Indian government announced in August that it would narrow opportunities for partnerships with Indian schools, allowing only schools in the top 500 of the global rankings to add exchange programs in the country.

Deepa Ollapally, associate director of the Sigur Center for Asian Studies at the Elliott School of International Affairs, said the University should prepare for challenges like competition from other U.S. schools and India’s bureaucratic government, which she called “the biggest obstacle.”

“Its not easy to set up real partnerships with Indian institutions,” Ollapally said. “This also has to do with long-standing mindsets against foreign involvement that continue in the academy and bureaucracy.”

Cory Weinberg contributed to this report.

This article was updated Oct. 1, 2012 to reflect the following:

The Hatchet incorrectly reported that 23 undergraduates studied abroad in India last year. In fact, 23 students, including graduate students, studied in the country two years ago. 

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