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India needs congenial climate for foreign students

India needs congenial  climate for foreign students
Highlights

The whole of last week I spent my time at R.E.C, Warangal, and benefiting from my interaction with the faculty and students on the campus regarding the latest trends in teaching-learning processes, facilities for learners, programmes for promoting life skills and molding learners into responsible and contributing global citizens for the 21st century.

Michaela Cross, an American student at the University of Chicago, has written a powerful account of her study abroad trip to India last year, during which she says she experienced relentless sexual harassment. Upon her return, she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and is now on a mental leave of absence .She titled her story "India: The Story You Never Wanted to Hear."

The whole of last week I spent my time at R.E.C, Warangal, and benefiting from my interaction with the faculty and students on the campus regarding the latest trends in teaching-learning processes, facilities for learners, programmes for promoting life skills and molding learners into responsible and contributing global citizens for the 21st century. I met many foreign students, and in a way it made me happy to see that our educational institutions are being sought for higher learning. It made me recall some of my observations of how the developed countries are wooing foreign students to their universities and what some of my learned acquaintances abroad feel about the current trend of ‘international’ classrooms and how they call for a different kind of accommodation in many aspects.

If we too wish to join the bandwagon in earnest, our educators, policymakers and student community need to make a good start which would take us ahead and not be passive in our approach as it would reflect poorly on our progress, our image , our economy and even our culture .

According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, the number of international students studying worldwide nearly doubled from 2.1 million to 4.1 million over the past decade. All developed countries see international education as an important growth sector that provides widespread economic, cultural, academic, and diplomatic benefits. The British government has a new strategy to recruit 90,000 more international students by 2018 and the U.S is also being pressurized to rethink on its policies so as not to be left behind. We are in no way a challenge to these nations as we unfortunately do not have any universities which top the international rankings consistently but we too have an increasing number knocking on our doors.

As the grants from the UGC seem to be dwindling, forcing universities to generate their own finances, attracting foreign students has become an attractive option just like offering courses in the distance learning mode. But the adage ‘beggars can’t be choosers’ need not apply to us. We have our strengths which we need to improve further and our weaknesses to be eliminated. Unlike most of the foreign students who go to the U.S or the U.K with a secret or undeclared intention of settling there, many of the foreign students coming to us have the intention of benefiting from their studies here and using it to improve their own country’s economy.

So, we must try to be methodical in our policies, zealous to maintain and improve our academic standards and see that this endeavor to accommodate foreign students enhances our international image. Mostly students from SAARC countries, our neighboring countries like Bhutan, Nepal, Myanmar , Pakistan, Afghanistan , Vietnam, Maldives and developing countries like Congo , Kenya , Uganda, Tanzania, Sudan, etc, prefer our universities as they offer good education in I.T, life sciences, health care, etc, with an affordable fee structure . So, though the fee structure may seem exorbitant to native Indian, the facilities offered and the ambiance in Manipal University, the Manavrachana International University, and Amity University are welcome.

The OMG Student Exchange Program, an initiative of 14 universities in Ontario, Canada and 11 institutions in Maharashtra and Goa, supported by the Ministry of Training, colleges and universities of the Government of Ontario is also flourishing. But what about our other universities? How is our teaching method? What is our selection procedure?

We do not yet have a national policy for screening before admitting foreign students. Even our universities are not clear about any standard screening methods. A mere 60% in the core subjects is deemed good enough for students to apply. The medium of instruction in their countries is not English for many of these learners. So, they face an uphill task after coming here. The challenge is not just for the students but even for the faculty in the universities.

Most of the advanced countries rely on the TOEFL, IELTS or GRE examinations to check the Language skills, make the students write at least a one-page essay on why they chose the specific subject and the particular university. Are we not being too liberal in accepting students who know not how to communicate in English which is the medium of instruction for us? If we accept such students, should we not conduct a bridge course in the subjects and a certificate course in English before admitting them full scale? Won’t the students who fumble in English and lag behind in their subjects feel deprived, embarrassed and be poor ambassadors of our educational policies?

Recently I read an article on how the faculty in Osmania felt about these problems and I only add here that this problem is echoed elsewhere too. Our teaching methods need to become globally acceptable, not for somebody’s sake but for our own good. My former students who are now working at Stanford observe that for any given problem, our Indian students are good at theory, the Chinese counterparts work out the problem in a lab while the American students are confident of how it can be applied in real life based on the former’s reports. It just shows how our focus is mostly on accumulating knowledge for marks or examinations. Students from Asian countries may be comfortable with our existing pattern of studying for marks but many others who have learnt by doing, feel lost here. When the world is moving to skill-based, project-driven, practical learning methods, we should embrace them for the benefit of all.

Cultural interaction, study of the local problems and the different ways in which hurdles are overcome by the locals is always an additional education to all students who come to our democratic set-up. They will surely carry back these memories and become better humans. At the same time, I like to add that education is no longer a short-term personal goal but a national investment and the passing political problems must not hamper the academic year and its progress. Being politically conscious need not necessarily mean sacrificing the present as well as forgoing the future.

Democracies like the U.S and the U.K safeguard their academic years and the interests of the foreign students irrespective of their internal political turbulences. It is appreciable that some Indian universities have conducted special examinations for foreign nationals when the local unrests disturbed the academic calendars, because the future of these students should not be jeopardized for no fault of theirs. As the possibility of recurring unrests seems imminent, it seems advisable for all the universities to be armed in this regard. Hostel facilities , infrastructure facilities , steps to acclimatize them to Indian culture and steps to educate our students to accept global cultures leaves much to be desired and done. Surprisingly many Indian students shift to the local tongue when they wish to comment on these students and that gives a very bad impression. The International Student Cell in every college must work for the comfortable stay of these students.

Michaela Cross, an American student at the University of Chicago, has written a powerful account of her study abroad trip to India last year, during which she says she experienced relentless sexual harassment. Upon her return, she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and is now on a mental leave of absence .She titled her story "India: The Story You Never Wanted to Hear."

The increasing incidents of such nature reflect poorly on our culture and human standards. If we intend to send the right signals globally, let us take utmost care in all these aspects and make India the safe and competitive destination of choice for more and more students.

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