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Altbach Updates BC On Higher Education Abroad

For The Heights

Published: Thursday, December 6, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 20:01

    The Center for International Higher Education at the Lynch School of Education (LSOE) hosted an up-to-the-minute field report from professor Philip Altbach this past Tuesday, Dec. 4.

    Altbach is a global expert on Indian and Chinese higher education. Tuesday’s conversation was stimulated by Altbach’s recent trip to Beijing and Delhi, where he attended an extended series of meetings and conferences with higher education leaders and scholars. Altbach has had a long scholarly history with the two countries.

    He completed his doctoral dissertation in India, where he studied student political activism in Bombay. He has kept up with higher education in India ever since, maintaining a column on the topic at the prestigious Indian newspaper and fifth largest English newspaper in the world, The Hindu.

    Altbach’s relationship with China goes back to the 1990s, when he led a group of teachers to Beijing as part of a project to research higher education, and he has returned to the country every year since then. He is also on the advisory committee of the Shanghai Rankings.

    During the conversation, Altbach discussed the improvements and innovations in higher education in both China and India that he witnessed during his visit, as well as the problems he believes still need to be addressed.

    In China, the National Academy of Education Administration (NAEA) has begun talks in order to discuss how to properly train faculty and administrative officials.

    “There is a sort of ideological purification that goes on at the NAEA,” Altbach said. “The government wants to make sure that these guys have exactly the right ideas about what higher education should be doing for the country.”

    Altbach emphasized that although China does a good job with its top universities, it struggles to bring the country’s less prestigious universities up to the same caliber.

    “China has pumped millions of dollars into its top 100 universities,” Altbach said. “However, it has severely underinvested in the bottom tier of universities, which is where 70 percent of Chinese students attend school.”

    In India, Altbach noted improvements in higher education with the development and expansion of technical universities.

    Shiv Nadar University, located in Noida, India, was recently founded and built by Shiv Nadar, the fourth richest man in India and the founder of HCL, a global technology and IT enterprise.

    “He wanted a world-class university in India, so he is building one,” laughed Altbach. “I believe that the university will be a success, with its strong leadership team, highly paid faculty, and brainpower of its students.”

    Indraprastha Institute of Information Technology in Delhi is also another one of India’s success stories.

    “The leadership there is very impressive,” Altbach said. “Their graduates are getting jobs in the IT sector within India, instead of being exported abroad to places like Silicon Valley.”

    Altbach is not optimistic about India’s push toward higher education, however, unless it can solve two major issues.

    The first is the country’s inferior infrastructure. Altbach said that when he was en route to one of India’s major research universities, his driver got lost in the archaic and undeveloped back roads. He ended up in a small village that looked like it could have been from the 15th century.

    The second issue is the university governance within the country. “The governance of India’s universities is horribly bureaucratic and nonfunctional,” Altbach said. “The vast majority of students and faculty operate in an environment where innovation is impossible.”

    Despite its shortcomings, Altbach emphasizes that higher education is big news in India and China—news about universities and the push for higher education is in the papers everyday.

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