Group Interview with Prof. Suku Bhaskaran & Prof.Kim Anne Menezes | GD Goenka World Institute | Lancaster University

Q1. As a true global citizen, what are the fundamental differences in the way education in imparted domestically and internationally?

Suku  Bhaskaran: My response would sound opinioned. I think I am justified as what I am offering is my perspective and there can, naturally, be other perspectives to your question. As Socrates said, “True wisdom is in knowing that you know nothing”. So I would not want to take the position of a “know all” but offer some candid insights with recognition that there would be other perspectives to the question that you pose. 

As a generalization, I am of the opinion that the system of higher education in our country is substantially different to that abroad, maybe the curriculum is somewhat similar but not so contemporary but the core emphasis is on teaching and not on learning outcomes. In my opinion, this is a very substantive and, maybe, not so evident difference.

I feel that much of this focus on teaching has to do with the school feeder system in regard to the quality of students being made available to higher education institutions. Why? Most developed countries are highly urbanized. For example, in the UK 88% of the people live in urban areas; in Australia about 90% of the people live in urban areas. Income distribution is far more equitable and access to good quality primary and secondary education is very high. The quality of teacher training, and research into teaching and learning and teaching and learning practices is high priority. Consequently, there is a pool of well-trained school leavers who selectively apply for higher education. In my opinion, the situation in India is very different. Only 33% of the population lives in urban agglomerations. There is wide disparity in income distribution. Therefore, in my opinion, the higher education opportunities in our country is ‘elitist’ and does not provide sufficient opportunities to very able students from socially and economically disadvantaged groups because they do not have access to good schools and cannot afford outside the class room coaching that the more privileged students have access to.

Prof Kim: Based on my previous observation, I believe, note this is my opinion, a system of coaching centres and systematic rote learning based on a pre-eminent focus on attaining the assessment thresholds in exams rather than holistic learning has evolved. The consequence is that, we have attracted many students into elite institutions whose perspective to learning is very narrow. As the President of India, the Honorable Pranab Mukherjee, recently pointed, out students in the best science and technology institutions go on and do postgraduate studies in management and take-up management positions (he in fact said go on to sell detergents) rather than pursing advanced study in their discipline, getting into research and advancing knowledge in their discipline.

I also observe that class attendance tends to be low even in the higher ranked non-residential institutions and therefore peer-to-peer learning, an important foundation of learning in the developed countries, tends to be almost non-existent here.

Parental influence in course choices and choice of where to study also appears to be far higher in India than in developed countries. In my opinion, this curtails young schools leavers from independent decision-making and motivation required to excel in what they want to do. I think this impacts on personal development and therefore their growth as individuals. Maybe, to some extent, this explains why students shift from science and technology in their undergraduate studies to management courses when pursuing advanced study.

Yet another difference is the pre-eminent focus on pursuing master’s level education and then look for employment rather than to seek employment after undergraduate studies. Consequently, the type of students coming into Master’s programs or the Postgraduate diploma programs cannot readily relate theory to practice. Thus, in the MBA and even postgraduate science and technology courses, there is too much focus on theoretical knowledge rather than on the practice of management or practice of science and technology.

Q2. Students aspiring to undertake admission abroad often view it as a stepping stone to also be gainfully employed in the host country. Given the transitions in global immigration policies how do you perceive this school of thought?

Suku Bhaskaran: It is sad, if this is the motivation to study abroad. I can understand if students go abroad to study because research infrastructure and support is of higher quality and therefore they can pursue their research in a more conducive environment or because of the differences in the learning experiences they choose to go abroad to study.To answer your question more directly, advanced countries with their ageing population and insatiable need for skilled managers and technocrats would always look to access these skills worldwide. Recent policy changes and/or trends in countries such as the USA and UK are, in my opinion, nothing more than aberrations. In the longer-term, I believe that the trend will be free flow of investments, trade and resources including human resources. The development of these countries would suffer if they followed through, in the longer-term, with these restrictions. I will not be perturbed by short-term events.

Yet another point to note is that immigration would be possible as long as the student undertakes a program of study that is recognized in regard to where the student undertook studies and the program that the student successfully completed. By where, I mean the institution from which the student earned the qualification and not the country where the student pursued the qualification. For example, students studying at G D Goenka World Institute are pursuing qualifications from Lancaster University. The programs mirror those offered at Lancaster University and the programs are under the oversight of the United Kingdom’s Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education. The students are awarded qualifications by Lancaster University. Our students have gone on to do advanced study in the some of the very best institutions worldwide and some have taken up employment abroad.

Q3. Partial coverage of an educational program domestically and internationally balances sustainability and exposure. What are the key advantages of such a program with G D Goenka World Institute | Lancaster University?

Prof Kim: We offer students who attain prescribed criteria to transfer to Lancaster University in the final year. Some students, on their own, move to Lancaster University or other highly ranked universities in the UK, Australia and elsewhere even after the first year. The Lancaster University brand name and consequently recognition of the quality of the learning experience makes this possible.

Also, there is this requirement of completing prerequisite modules before a good quality institution abroad will admit a student from Part 1 onto Part 2 of their program. The Institution abroad, just as G D Goenka World Institute | Lancaster University does, will map the course content to ensure the course coverage meets the requisite standards. Because Lancaster University qualifications offered through studying at G D Goenka World Institute mirror that of Lancaster University (United Kingdom), this transition is easy and from past experience, top tier institutions abroad do not have reservation in admitting students who have completed their Part 1 of the Lancaster University program in India.

Suku Bhaskaran: The key advantage, in my opinion, is that there is a more manageable transition to a different system of education. Thus, doing part of the course at G D Goenka World Institute before transitioning to a good institution abroad, not necessarily Lancaster University, could mean the students gain the skills and are able to continue, with greater confidence and ease, the courses abroad. What are these skills? critical thinking, retrospection and analysis, evidence based discourses, ethical academic practices and conventions such as attribution of sources of information, and independent learning.

Q4. Overseas education often is questioned on grounds of recognition of degrees in India, making it a huge concern of decision makers. How significant is this challenge and how can we overcome it?

Suku Bhaskaran: Regrettably, this is a great concern and often the concern is ill founded. There are no doubt ‘shonky’ institutions and one has to be careful. However, if the degree is awarded by a well-ranked international university this should not be an issue. University rankings are freely available in the public domain and therefore students, parents and others can easily check information and make informed decisions.

Lancaster University, for example, is among the top 1% of higher education institutions worldwide, a testament to its high quality standards. Students who have studied for the Lancaster degree at G D Goenka World Institute go on and take up good career positions or go for advanced study, including on scholarships, to some of the best institutions worldwide. This is affirmation of the acceptability of the qualifications.

However, the fact remains that in the last seven years we have only enrolled less than two hundred students annually. Outside of India, Lancaster operates in three other countries; almost all of them more recent operations than India, and each of these other locations admit at least a thousand quality students annually. The slow takeoff in India is something I cannot understand.

What should be done? Well we should retrospect on the genuine benefits of being able to access quality education from top-tier global higher education institutions and make an informed decision. Qualifications from top-tier institutions would be of high quality, would be validated by appropriate agencies, would feature in higher education league tables and therefore validating the authenticity and quality of the Institution and the program should not be an issue.

By studying in India, students will be paying about one-third the tuition-fee and living expenses that they would pay by going abroad to study. The country benefits through limiting the outflow of foreign exchange that students would need to spend on tuition fees and living expenses. The country benefits by saving on expenses in establishing more public universities and thereby making good quality higher education available to more people. The country benefits through accessing good quality education and education practices from top-tier institutions abroad. The country benefits through being able to draw on good quality academics from abroad. The country benefits through being able to, as Malaysia, Singapore and other countries have done, access good foreign students. I fail to understand who benefits from not allowing highly tiered foreign universities into the country.

Dr. Suku Bhaskaran is the Director of G D Goenka World Institute | Lancaster University.

Dr Bhaskaran has more than 20 years international experience in teaching, research and academic administration. His qualifications include PhD, Monash University (Australia); Master in Business (Research), Victoria University, Australia; Graduate Diploma in Social Science, University of Tasmania (Australia). Dr. Bhaskaran is widely published and has consulted for industry and government agencies. He has lead-managed and completed large numbers of training, research and consultancy projects in several countries including China, Myanmar, Indonesia, Thailand, South Korea, Malaysia, Australia, USA and India.

Professor Kim Anne Menezes is the Dean of G D Goenka World Institute | Lancaster University.

She has nearly 10 years experience in teaching, research and academic administration and also several years industry experience in the USA. Her qualifications include PhD, University of Texas at Austin (USA) and MS (Applied Science), Bowling Green University (USA).