We are faced now by new opportunities and hopes. Universities eager to be a part of the globalised higher education market should be open to ways of increasing collaboration with other universities. We need to call for a reality check among universities on the competition offered by China and other western universities and we have to be clear that world-class universities are defined by output not input, and need to produce high-class graduates over the years. This means that it would take a while before institutions in countries with developing economies are able to build reputations as strong as those of many institutions in the West. It is therefore important to historicise and contextualize the issue and decide priorities for teaching and research.
These are indeed exciting times of exchange and development, and educational institutions in India are endeavoring to remain at the forefront of the academic world at a very competitive juncture for education - locally, nationally and internationally. The new HRD Minister, Kapil Sibal, has already taken the decision of inviting overseas universities to begin operating from within India. We cannot continue working in narrow traditional conditions of academic knowledge. The urge has consistently been to internationalize teaching and research with the singular purpose of planning the future of education in career training as well as providing professional opportunities within an environment that is in keeping with international standards. To counter the self-insulation of academic institutions from the larger and more varied political and cultural realities of our time, we need to address issues in the real world. Universities renew and renovate themselves only if they contain people for whom intellectual freedom matters.
The global scenario is fluid, replete with processes of interventions and assimilations, cultural encounters and scientific collaboration in research and teaching. Dialogue across cultures in the academe becomes a civilizing and a humanizing agency of beneficial social consciousness, thereby enhancing the idea of an international community with wider social concerns and effects. In a cosmopolitan diasporic set-up, there is the urgency to leap the fences of a narrow nationalism, overcoming any racial antagonism. Today’s world of globalization is symptomatic of shifting ethnic and cultural contours where expatriate aloofness has to give way to plural cultural affinities and a common vocabulary of a global literary community belonging to many nations.
Punjab University, Chandigarh, for instance, is fast striving towards renewing links with other universities around the world and improving the infrastructure which is essential for the enhancement of exchange programmes. With an academically vibrant environment, a glorious record of such concrete inputs from the faculties of allied departments, the university is already setting significant trends in the field of education and interdisciplinary studies. It is committed to mutual cooperation and opens its academic life to other universities abroad, signing memorandums of understanding (MoUs) with various universities in Canada, France, the UK, the US and South Korea for promotion of healthy exchange programmes in different areas of research and teaching taken up by this university.
By signing a number of MoUs, the university ensures that vigorous plans for the future are in place. But it needs to be noted that it does not only collaborate with rich universities of the West; by helping upcoming universities in the neighborhood, the university adopts the role of an academic guide and sets out to compete in the global education marketplace. It is indeed creditable that Panjab University recently signed an MoU with Pokhra University, Nepal, indicating that it is forthcoming in helping to promote research and teaching in upcoming universities in our neighbourhood. This, I feel, is in keeping with India’s education and foreign policy. The bonds of ethnicity and culture which hold together the peoples of this region are more enduring than the barriers of political prejudice that are often erected. An exchange programme can bring together active citizens of various countries that can become even stronger agents of change if organised and motivated. Our attempts are to keep connected, mobilised and active in organising further international exchange.
So that they do not gather dust, it becomes essential to periodically review the academic contributions made by entering these exchange transactions. For instance, the Centre for Canadian Studies at Panjab University can be requested to prepare a detailed report on the outcome of the MoU signed with Simon Fraser University, Canada, containing information about the nature of the collaboration that has taken place, the funds received from the Canadian university, the work done till now on Canadian studies and how it has helped this university by way of teaching and research. The attempt of signing MoUs should be to provide an intellectual legitimacy to the larger pursuits of the university. I feel such exchange programmes must benefit the teachers and students of this university in the pursuit of research and knowledge and therefore, not remain mere documents or facilities for a few concerned people who use them for their own benefit.
The university has a well-deserved reputation of being a centre of intellectual and cultural activity and is a leader in the key areas which make it internationally renowned for its excellence, access and global reach. With an interdisciplinary environment, teaching and research take place under trained specialists who are in a position to present their work to interested audiences, make links with departments and institutions internationally, engaging in seminars, workshops and joint ventures. Such academic culture alleviates the potential isolation of graduate life by encouraging interdisciplinary teaching and research, enabling access to intellectual life beyond the narrow confines of one’s own area of study.
The university thus looks forward to a community that consists of students and visiting faculty from across the globe working in every imaginable discipline and field of research. These are the moving forces of our civilization in areas of politics, the environment, scholarship and teaching, the arts, finance, medical science or social policy. The aim is to give the very best.
It is crucial to maintain our academic reputation so as to be in a position to go global. A university’s brand, reputation and quality of teaching come first. Teaching quality is the highest priority for students around the world. The university’s reputation, its research quality and the department’s reputation come next, followed by personal safety. Only then comes the choice of the country. We should, therefore, not allow ourselves to become complacent in the area of teaching or research, ensuring all the time that the number of exchange programmes remains constantly on the rise. It is the celebration of diversity and transcultural activities such as these that sustain education and international relations.