Four years ago, Sheila Embleton, then York University’s vice-president academic, travelled to India for the first time. Dr. Embleton, who helped create York’s first-ever India strategy, is now president of the Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute, and this past December she left for her third trip to the subcontinent in just six weeks. In a few short years, Dr. Embleton went from knowing very little about India to becoming an expert.
Her story is emblematic of Canada-India academic relations, as Canada’s postsecondary institutions move en masse to seek new links with Indian universities and businesses. But even though Canadian political and business leaders, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper and several premiers, have travelled to India in search of deals, many Canadian institutions are unsure how to tap into the country’s potential.
Canada-India academic relations are poised to grow in two main areas: exchanges and partnerships. Both are spurred by India’s burgeoning economy, which is driving the demand for higher education there, says Ryan Touhey, a professor of history at St. Jerome’s University on the University of Waterloo campus and a former Shastri Institute doctoral fellow.
Dr. Touhey says the country’s growing middle class now includes at least 200 million people, meaning millions of families are in a position to give their children a higher education. There are a lot of children. India’s population is now well over one billion, and its population is young. Even though the country recently decided to boost its higher education budget by 40 percent and create literally thousands of new institutions, the sector cannot grow quickly enough to meet demand.
That is creating opportunities for Canadian universities seeking to boost enrolment. Pari Johnston, director of international relations for the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, says a lot of the interest is driven by recognition of common ground: India is a diverse democracy where English is widely spoken. And the Indian diaspora in Canada is being leveraged to mobilize academic linkages.
But Ms. Johnston says that Canada doesn’t attract as many Indian students as we might – something she and others blame on a lack of a coordinated effort in Canada and active recruiting by other countries. Dr. Touhey, in a 2009 paper prepared for the Canadian International Council, noted that in 2007-08, “the Canadian High Commission in India had only $50,000 to promote education opportunities in Canada. This is a pathetic figure.” A meeting sponsored by the Shastri Institute a year ago suggested Canada should triple to 15,000 the number of undergraduates coming here from India each year.
While the quality of India’s institutions can be uneven, the good institutions are world-class, something that Dr. Embleton noticed on her first trips. India is looking for partnerships, not aid.
Recently a number of postsecondary institutions in Canada have signed deals with India that point the way to future agreements.
The University of Waterloo and the Canada India Foundation (CIF), for example, have announced a joint plan for a $10-million endowment to fund, among other things, CIF chairs for Waterloo faculty members and visiting chairs for India scholars.
York’s Schulich School of Business just launched the Schulich MBA in India, the first MBA program to be delivered in that country by a business school from elsewhere. The inaugural class of the Schulich MBA in India was to be held on Jan. 4 of this year.
Indira Samarasekera, president of the University of Alberta, says universities hoping to create partnerships have to be strategic and identify areas in which they have a competitive advantage.
U of A has targeted health and energy. This has led to recent deals with IIT Bombay, Tata Consultancy Services and New Delhi’s Petrotech Society.
Université Laval has also started developing partnerships with India in targeted areas, including French-language teaching, translation and certain aspects of health. “We function on a project basis, whenever we get an idea or a contact,” says Richard Poulin, Laval’s international relations director. “We don’t have a great number of partners. But our experience has shown us this can bring in excellent students.”
Mario Pinto, vice-president research at Simon Fraser University, says entering the Indian market will require a recognition of, and ability to adapt to, the Indian way of doing things. In China, he says, “you can deal with a government authority, there’s a chain of command and everything falls into place.” But in India, relationships are often very personal and depend on trust. Dr. Pinto also says that if partnerships are to develop, “at some point there has to be money on the table.”
Dr. Samarasekera says that point is now. So many countries are going into India right now, she says, “that unless you are coming with a serious proposal that includes money, you won’t make much progress.”