Indian campuses get a foreign flavour

Opportunity brought Tatiana Alejandra Cardona to Phagwara, 335km north of New Delhi. This past summer, during her arduous search for a job, Cardona, who hails from Colombia, stumbled upon an online advertisement for faculty positions at Lovely Professional University (LPU), a private institution.

Cardona, who is 23, recalls that “the university appeared very big”, and since it was new, she thought, it might offer teaching opportunities. Teaching excited her, but so did the prospect of travelling to India. “Its job openings were so, so, so important to me,” she says. A year after she graduated in industrial engineering from Universidad Tecnologica de Pereira in Colombia, she joined LPU in July to teach microeconomics and quantitative techniques to management students.

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At LPU, in this small Punjab town, Cardona met somebody unlikely—a fellow Colombian. Diego Armando Hernandez had joined the previous month; he too, had been looking for a job back home, but couldn’t find one that allowed him to teach.

Adding diversity: Sharda University faculty member Peter Waugh (right). He arrived in India earlier this month from Britain to pursue his interest in silicon photonics. Photographs by Pradeep Gaur/Mint

“We realized there were two issues which were causing institutions, especially business schools, to hire white faculty on campus: lack of credibility and a limited faculty pool, since 10% of institutes in India have 90% of the best faculty available,” says Jagmohan Bhanver, chief executive officer of the Indian Institute of Financial Management (IIFM), a business school with seven campuses in India. IIFM hired five foreign teachers this year.

At the year-old Manav Rachna International University (MRIU) in Faridabad, the import of foreign teachers has been institutionalized. Yulia Doctor of Russia, who dresses in smart business suits, is MRIU’s window to its “international” appeal. A 23-year-old graduate in linguistics and languages from Moscow—and the first and only foreign faculty member at MRIU—Doctor teaches German and Russian to students. But that’s not her only brief.

As manager (protocol), Doctor, barely into a month of employment at MRIU, was also asked to receive delegates from Germany. She knows the importance of this work all too well. “I speak German, and when people from the West visit the university, I make them feel at home. My being here makes the university international.”

Similarly, many universities have hired consultants to help bring foreigners into the institution. Sharda University, in Greater Noida, has a team of consultants to help attract foreigners; at LPU, a “Division of International Affairs” formulates the university’s strategy, which includes collaborations with foreign universities, international student exchanges and faculty recruitments.

International edge: Mansi El Mansi taking a class at Sharda University in Greater Noida.

“The fact is, they are quite excited about teaching in India, and we are very serious about faculty acquisition,” says Aman Mittal, chief executive of LPU. “In fact, last year we were very aggressive about it. I myself have studied in the United Kingdom and we want to give our students a different classroom experience.”

There are some who criticize this new trend, and who read into it an exploitation of a certain colonial mindset. “According to the Indian common psychology, the words ‘white’ (or) ‘foreign’…represent intellectual superiority,” says Srinivasa Rao, assistant professor in history at Tiruchirapalli’s Bharathidasan University. “Secondly, it (the import of foreign faculty) could also amount to the arresting of the brain drain, money drain and removing the colonial ‘brand’ over the colonized.”

Rao thinks that foreign teachers now find India to be “a good destination for exploiting the colonial cultural construct… Getting a job in higher educational institutions is a time-consuming process in Europe and America. Here, if they are willing and if the government allows, they could stay forever, get respect for being foreigners, and also get higher salaries compared to Indians.”

The employment of white professionals is not singular to India, though. In 2004, a study on race in the US labour market by Harvard University professors Marianne Bertrand and Sendhil Mullainathan concluded that white-sounding names receive 50% more callbacks for interviews than African-American ones. This gap was found to be uniform across occupation, industry and employer size.

To explain his choices, Prem Kumar Gupta, chancellor of Sharda University, refers to an in-house study conducted to find out why India hadn’t yet emerged as a global education hub. “One of the reasons we found was that we didn’t have ethnic diversity on our campuses. We don’t promote colours and cultures,” he says. “Second, we realized we hadn’t yet graduated from our fixed, rigid academic curricula.”

Thus, when Sharda University opened last year, one of its priorities was hiring foreigners to teach and also to train Indian faculty in international classroom practices. “Foreign faculty today are not just setting the quality benchmark for us; they are also helping us collaborate with foreign universities abroad,” Gupta says, explaining how pedagogy at the university is now more interactive than passive spoon feeding.

One Sharda University faculty member from overseas is Peter Waugh, who arrived earlier this month from Britain to pursue his interest in silicon photonics. Waugh jokes that he landed in India because he “didn’t fit into the UK education system”. He received his PhD only in 2008, after 11 years in the electronics trade, and is at pains to explain how there were few teaching positions in British universities.

At Sharda, though, Waugh is looking forward to setting up a photonics lab. His colleague Mansi El Mansi, with 17 years of teaching experience in Britain, joined Sharda University last year and has now decided to extend his contract with the university by another year.

Anshuman Singh, a first-year B.Tech student at Sharda, admits that he was attracted to the presence of foreign faculty, but he also bears testimony to the quality of classroom experience. “They ask many questions in class and encourage you to speak,” he says. “They make you feel that you are not at just any other university.”

Gupta admits that roughly a dozen foreign faculty members last year were sent back because they didn’t meet the teaching quality expected of them. “One can’t come here thinking that one is British or American and it will work for him,” he says. “(C)olour of skin won’t ensure quality. Last year, we hired 25 people; this year, we could hire only 10.”

The argument finds an echo in the general faculty crisis in India, which has deepened with the growth of the education sector. While the 472 universities, 22,000 colleges and thousands of other technical institutions in India represent a growth of 25% over the last five years, the country needs 803 more universities and 31,830 more college-level institutions in the next 10 years. The number of students is expected to rise to 42 million by 2020, which would require 4.2 million teachers, according to estimates available with the ministry of human resource development.

At IIFM, Bhanver says what is more challenging, after the recruitment of good faculty, is retaining them. “We provide time for quality research” and “a curriculum that constantly evolves,” he says, while admitting that most foreigners like to come as part-time faculty to deliver a course module or two.

William Byrnes, one of the five foreign faculty members hired by IIFM this year, is in demand not just in India but also in his home country. Taking time out of his work as associate dean of the Thomas Jefferson School of Law in California, Byrnes teaches compliance and ethics at IIFM. “The advantages we bring to the table for students is cross-disciplinary studies, and they also have the option of an American experience,” Byrnes says. “For students who can’t go to America for a year, we create opportunities here.”


Earlier published in Mint.

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