An international partnership

An international partnership

An international partnership

Twinning programmes are fast catching on with Indian institutes and students alike, with more and more families beginning to appreciate the benefits of this option.

As colleges and universities worldwide wait for India’s lawmakers to approve a bill granting full access to the country’s vast education market, some institutions are reaching Indian students through twinning programmes.

Twinning, where participants complete part of their studies in their own country and the rest abroad, is not widely known in India. But local partners of foreign institutions — usually from Britain, the United States and Canada — say Indian students and their families are starting to appreciate the benefits of this option, which includes lower costs than a full overseas degree and a readymade peer group.

At Ecube Global College in Mumbai, which has offered entry to undergraduate engineering and Computer Science programs at Newcastle University in Britain since 2010, the adjustment process begins with the way academic sessions are structured.

During the first year in Mumbai, classes do not exceed 10 students and professors are trained by Newcastle University. The following year, students can enter their second year at Newcastle.

These efforts have paid off, according to Hitesh Juthani, whose son, Vivek, is about to enter the third year at Newcastle, having completed his first-year studies in Mumbai in June last year.

“Vivek was keen on pursuing engineering from a reputed UK university, but we were worried about sending him away so soon,” Juthani explained. He said that after spending his first year in the twinning programme, Vivek has “settled well at the university and is doing well academically.”

Twinning programmes can bring significant savings compared with the cost of obtaining a full degree abroad, especially when participants spend more time in India. A three-year Bachelor’s degree at the India campus of Britain’s Leeds Metropolitan University, for example, costs just over 1.5 million rupees, or $27,000, including travel and living costs for a mandatory six months in Britain — well below half of what it would cost to study for the same degree as an overseas student in Leeds.

The campus, set up in 2009 in collaboration with the Jagran Social Welfare Society in Bhopal, draws many students who were not accepted at the top Indian business schools but whose parents are willing to pay to ensure the quality of their children’s education, said Abhishek Mohan Gupta, whose family manages the institute.

Gupta, an alumnus of Leeds Met, said the partnership with the British university gave students an edge. “The exposure is to a global curriculum,” he said. “With more and more international companies coming in, this particular thing is very much required now.” The course content and teaching methods in Bhopal are identical to those at Leeds Met, which also sends teachers to its Indian branch for short stints.

The University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, which joined up last year with SKIL Group, an infrastructure company, to create the Strathclyde SKIL Business School in Noida, a suburb of New Delhi, makes an effort to make the experience in the two countries as similar as possible.

“There is face-to-face teaching not only with Indian faculty but also with foreign faculty from Strathclyde,” said Simrat Joshi, the chief operating officer in New Delhi. The school did not enrol enough students this year for the twinning programme to function, but it plans to open it again next year.

Joshi said that most students who follow a twinning programme aimed to return to India afterward, partly because of the poor job market abroad. She said the programme gave them overseas exposure but also allowed them to understand the needs of employers in India by studying most of the time there.

These students are very different from the ones seen by GMJ Bhat, the head of twinning programmes at Manipal University, one of India’s best-known private institutions, which began such programmes in engineering in 1994.

Undergraduates who spend their first two years at Manipal in Karnataka target top US institutions, like the California Institute of Technology and Johns Hopkins University, and typically plan to build a career abroad.

“So far, we never had a case where the student graduated and came back to India for a job,” Bhat said.

The advantages of the twinning system are not just for students. For universities outside India, still legally unable to set up campuses on their own in the country, partnerships with local institutions can be cost-effective.

“Foreign universities don’t want to set up new campuses, to spread themselves too thin,” said Shalini Sharma, an adviser at the Confederation of Indian Industry. “They are facing funding shortages.”

Like other observers, Sharma does not expect lawmakers to pass the Foreign Universities bill during the current session of Parliament, which started August 8, 2012, and is expected to conclude on September 7, 2012. The draft law, which would allow overseas institutions to set up their own campuses and to grant degrees, was introduced more than two years ago.

Since then, only a handful of institutions have dared to go ahead and set up their own campuses in anticipation that the law would be passed. One of these institutions is the Schulich School of Business in Toronto, which set up a joint programme with the S P Jain Institute of Management & Research in Mumbai three years ago. It is now working to set up its own campus in Hyderabad.

When the school is ready next year, Schulich, which is a part of York University in Toronto, will end its partnership with SP Jain, and if the law still has not been changed, it will probably look to offer business degrees with the help of another Indian partner, said Subhabrata Basu of Quest Partners, a Mumbai firm that is advising the school.

As the concept of twinning has grown, meanwhile, there have been calls for more regulation, largely because of concerns about the quality of the education. This summer, the Universities Grants Commission told Indian education providers that they could form partnerships only with institutions that were among the top 500 in the Times of London’s Higher Education World University Rankings and the Shanghai Jiao Tong University Rankings.

But many foreign institutions working with Indian partners do not figure in those rankings. For instance, Chitkara University in northern India has a six-year association with George Brown College, a college in Toronto, and is starting another programme with Vancouver Island University. If the regulation on rankings is implemented, these arrangements will have to end.