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'US wants to open its doors to Indian students'

March 26, 2007 19:05 IST

"America wants to open it doors wider for Indian students," said Karen Hughes, United States Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, at a luncheon on Monday sponsored by the Indo-American Chamber of Commerce at the Taj Hotel's Crystal Room in Mumbai.

Hughes leads a delegation of eight American experts on higher education that will be in India this week. The other members include Thomas Farrell of the State Department and six university presidents from the United States. The purpose of the delegation is to concretise relationships between the private sector in India and US universities, in hopes of a mutually beneficial partnership.

The core thrust of Hughes' speech was that as bilateral trade and business agreements between India and the US continue to increase, so too will opportunities for higher education partnerships. She said that the current Bush administration has, "encouraged US students to study abroad in places like India, and also has brought Indian students to the US." She mentioned Bush's new program designed to sponsor American students to study abroad, particularly in South Asia, in the hopes of increasing awareness and mastery of local customs and languages.

In the future, she added, "America wants to open its doors even wider for Indian students…and the two multi-cultured and tolerant democracies will work together in the future." Furthermore, she said that, "The government is committed to informing students in India about the many options and the wide breadth of higher education in America…next year we will sponsor an electronic education fair that will feature internet and video designed to teach Indian students about American universities."

Hughes did mention two obstacles that are currently hampering the process -- one an American problem and one an Indian problem. First, she said that the, "9/11 terrorist attacks on America necessitated stricter immigration and visa laws... levels of international students decreased following the attacks, but in the last year the numbers have begun to climb... the process is being stream-lined in order to place students at the front of the line…"

The second problem relates to the Indian government's ambiguity regarding the role of private enterprise in education. Hughes lamented, "The Fulbright program, designed by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in the 1950's, is dated... the legislation in India does not allow private companies to contribute to the Fulbright program, India is the only nation that does not allow involvement from the private sector."

Afterwards, Hughes and members of the delegation answered questions from the audience and members of the IACC. One of the topics discussed was the possibility of cooperation between Indian and US universities that would allow Indian students to earn American recognised degrees while living in India. Apparently, bureaucracy in both countries has inhibited this process thus far, but both sides seemed optimistic and pledged to further discuss ways to conquer the red-tape and strengthen inter-university relationships.

The event highlights the increasing awareness between the leadership of the two nations, as both sides are committed to higher education and the necessity of teaching students from a "global perspective."

As Hughes herself said, "It's important to teach students how to function in the rapidly changing global economy, and it's important to teach them about different cultures and different histories."

Matthew Schneeberger in Mumbai