PM Manmohan Singh, who, later this month, is scheduled to make what may be his final official visit to Washington, is one of the architects of the much-trumpeted India-US civil nuclear deal, signed in October 2008. But Singh’s greatest contribution to the India-US relationship might not be the nuclear deal that his government painstakingly negotiated with the administration of President George W Bush.
In fact, his greatest legacy in bilateral relations may be the education initiative he launched with President Barack Obama. The two nations have cooperated very closely in higher education and have made huge strides in the past four years.
The signature Obama-Singh 21st Century Knowledge Initiative, announced in 2009, has been quietly bringing together dozens of higher educational institutions from both countries. Well Begun At the outset, the initiative is a very ambitious enterprise launched with very modest resources.
So far, each side has committed $5 million apiece over five years to facilitate partnerships between institutions of higher education in the two countries. The quality of institutions that have already become part of initiative, and the scope of their partnership, speaks volumes of its potential.
From the US side, in the first year, it attracted heavyweights such as Rutgers, University of Montana, Cornell University, University of Michigan, Brown University, Duke University, Plymouth State University, University of Pittsburgh, Virginia Tech and Drexel University. In the second year, the initiative roped in Harvard School of Public Health, Ohio State University, University of Massachusetts (Amherst), University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill), Tennessee Technological University, Washington State University, University of Minnesota (Minneapolis) and University of Nevada (Las Vegas).
The Indian partners include Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai, Mahatma Gandhi University, Banaras Hindu University, IIT-Kanpur, IIT-Delhi, Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore, University of Pune, Aligarh Muslim University and Annamalai University. Together they are doing research in a number of cutting-edge areas including renewable energy, sustainable development and agriculture, and food security, among others.
Ohio State is teaming up with Aligarh Muslim University to train faculty members in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Montgomery College, a community college just outside of Washington, DC, is helping India set up 200 community colleges in the country.
These “will begin primarily as workforce development units,” said Indian-American Sanjay Rai, vice-president and provost of the Germantown Campus of Montgomery College, in a recent interview. “We have targeted specific sectors of the job market – like healthcare and nursing – that need employees and have jobs to fill, for the students,” he added. Community colleges, which are government-funded two-year schools, are a huge part of the U.S. higher education system.
With their emphasis on skills training, no doubt, these colleges have the potential to change the educational landscape in India. Of course, Montgomery College will not be the first American school to help set up quality educational institutions in India.
Two similar previous experiments had stunning successes in India: the IIT system received a lot of help and encouragement from the MIT during its founding days; Wharton School of Business was involved in the setting up of the IIM. If Montgomery College’s initiative is half as successful as that of its two illustrious predecessors it would be a remarkable accomplishment.
Singh and Obama should be credited for making education one of the centerpieces of the India-US relations, given that it is not what many pundits would consider a “big-ticket item,” which would be endlessly debated and dissected on television. But keen students of the bilateral relations would know that educational cooperation has historically played a huge role in bringing the two countries together.