Africa seeks India's academic aid

Africa seeks India's academic aid

India’s pledge to help set up a string of higher education and vocational training institutions in Africa — a main part of an initiative to bolster the country’s role there — is finally taking shape, with the first site expected to open its doors in less than a year.
The African Union, which is carrying out the programme with India, has chosen Burundi as the host university to train professionals to plan and manage the growth of higher education. “We plan to start the first batch in the first quarter of 2012,” said R Govinda, vice chancellor of India’s National University of Education Planning and Administration (NUEPA).

Govinda visited Burundi last month, almost at the same time that a delegation from the Indian Institute of Foreign Trade was in Uganda to meet potential partners for a business school in the capital, Kampala.

“I was surprised to see the interest on the other side,” said L D Mago, the institute’s registrar. The India-Africa Institute of Foreign Trade, which Mago says will be set up over the next five years, will offer full-time and part-time master’s of business administration programmes.

Computer software

Also in the planning stages is an organisation that will offer courses in computer software. Housed in Ghana, the India Africa Institute of Information Technology will be developed with the help of Educational Consultants India, a state-run consulting firm.
The move to provide business, technical and scientific training, along with measures like a high-speed communication network for distance learning and telemedicine programmes, is the result of the first India-Africa Forum Summit in April 2008, which was held by the prime minister, Manmohan Singh.

“We are trying to share the Indian experience for the betterment of Africa,” said Gurjit Singh, joint secretary for eastern and southern Africa at the ministry of external affairs. He said India was working with the African Union to set up vocational and educational institutions and to run them for the first three years.

If Africa is looking outward to develop its higher education system, “India is perhaps in the best position to help,” said Pankaj Jalote, director, Indian Institute of Information Technology, Delhi. Jalote said institutions in the United States, Australia and Britain were “extremely expensive and work with extremely elaborate infrastructure,” whereas their Indian counterparts “can do a fairly decent job with far fewer resources.” Also, what is taught at Indian institutions “may be more transportable to Africa” than what students learn in industrialised countries, he added.

As part of the education initiative, India has nearly doubled the number of scholarships for African students to more than 500.

Students participating in the education initiative will not only gain knowledge, but they also will develop good will for India,  Mago said. “Those students who will be taught by Indian professors, they will look for and identify opportunities for companies in India,” he said, adding that “once they are taught by Indian professors, naturally they depend on that country.”

More than just educating people, Indian institutions in Africa will be “doing research that is appropriate instead of just replicating existing programmes, said Govinda.

The NUEPA will help to bolster formal degree-granting institutions. But India’s educational initiative in Africa also emphasises other skills. Among at least 10 vocational training centres that are being planned over the next two years is the India-Africa Diamond Institute, which is expected to be set up in Botswana and will train people to polish diamonds.

While degrees are important, students ultimately want to be employable, said Prateek Chatterjee, NIIT.

India’s higher education institutions appear to command much respect in Africa. But can the country afford to export a scarce commodity? Government officials freely admit that India’s higher education system is inadequate. According to the education minister, Kapil Sibal, India needs to more than double the number of its colleges and universities by 2020 in order to maintain rapid economic growth.

“The Indian higher education system needs to be ramped up by a factor of 10,” Jalote said. “Already the academic institutions are stretched so thin.” But while sending professionals overseas may look like something India can ill afford, the government may be ‘balancing priorities’, he added.

“The issue here seems to be of a geopolitical nature,” Jalote said. “China is moving in, so I can imagine the government of India wanting to do something not to vacate that space.”