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University presidents return from week-long mission to India

New partnerships and scholarship programs unveiled on the trip, and participants vow to deepen their relationship with India.

BY TARA SIEBARTH | NOV 22 2010

The visit by 15 Canadian university presidents to India in mid-November was seen by participants as a successful foray that could begin a deeper engagement by Canada’s postsecondary institutions on the continent.

“I think this mission has been very successful,” said Tom Traves, president of Dalhousie University. “Coming as a group, we’ve made a major impact in ways that we never would have if just one or two of us had come representing our own institutions.”

The seven-day trip to New Delhi and Pune, organized by the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, marked the largest delegation of Canadian university presidents to travel abroad together, with federal Minister of State (Science and Technology) Gary Goodyear as part of the mission. This visit followed a workshop about engagement with India that AUCC organized for university presidents in June 2010.

One of the mission’s goals was to foster partnerships between Canadian and Indian institutions and to encourage more of the 225,000 Indian students who study overseas each year to come to Canada. In 2010, 3,000 Indian students were studying at Canadian universities.

“I want to ensure that when those students are contemplating their choices for gaining a high quality education, Canada is among the destinations they consider,” said University of British Columbia President Stephen Toope, on behalf of the delegation, at the 2010 Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry Education Summit.

With that goal in mind, the Canadian universities collectively announced $4 million in new scholarships and institutional partnerships. The centerpiece was a $3.5-million program that will provide up to 51 fellowships for Indian graduate students who took part in 2010 in the MITACS Globalink program, a summer research internship program for top Indian undergraduates.

The week-long visit also saw the launch of a new alumni network, ICAN, aimed at Indian students who have studied in Canada and returned home. This network is being supported by the Canadian High Commission in New Delhi.

“We hope to become a resource for new Indian students wishing to go study in Canada, so that they can ask questions and get advice,” said Amit Tacker, who earned an engineering degree at Carleton University in 2001 and is a founding member of ICAN.

Calling the mission an “effective catalyst for extraordinary collaboration,” Professor Toope noted, “We all recognize the importance of a deeper engagement with India, for the individual Canadian universities that form this delegation, and also more broadly for the entire Canadian higher education sector.”

The call for deeper engagement came up often during the Canadian delegation’s various presentations and meetings. Early in the visit, India’s Minister of Human Resource Development Kapil Sibal thanked the delegation for the 50 new awards, and then put them in context of India’s need. “The numbers are mind-boggling, even to me,” he said.

Currently, 220 million kids attend school in India, he said. By 2030, 40 million to 45 million Indians will want access to higher education. And within 10 years, India will need at least 800 more universities, on top of 525 currently, as well as 40,000 more colleges, on top of 26,000 today.

If something is not done to address this, India will face an even greater talent shortage, said Amrita Dass, director of the Institute for Career Studies in New Delhi, who spoke to the delegation about the talent crisis in India. As an example, she said that 900,000 students graduate with an MBA every year in India, but only 10,000 are employable because many are forced to attend schools that aren’t of high quality.

“While India’s advantage is its huge talent pool, Canada’s advantage is its world-class education, which prepares versatile and employable graduates for the knowledge economy,” said Dr. Dass.

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