Economist Nandan Nawn shares his experience of attending the Fulbright-Nehru International Education Administrators Seminar in New York and his understanding of U.S. and Indian higher education institutions.
Nandan Nawn is an associate professor and coordinator, Internal Quality Assurance Cell of the department of policy studies at The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) School of Advanced Studies in New Delhi. In 2018, he participated in the Fulbright-Nehru International Education Administrators Seminar, at the Institute of International Education in New York. The program aims to provide Indian college and university administrators the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the U.S. higher education system.
Excerpts from an interview with Nawn about his experiences during the Fulbright-Nehru visit and how these experiences helped his work in India.
Please tell us about your participation in the Fulbright-Nehru International Education Administrators Seminar (FNIEAS) in New York.
I was among the 15 educator administrators from India selected for FNIEAS 2018. FNIEAS is designed to enable participants to gain experience on selected aspects of higher education institutions: international education exchange, fundraising and development, career planning, diversity in higher education, community colleges, the accreditation process and internationalizing the curriculum. The selection included different types of institutions: public four-year colleges associated with a university (State University of New York at Stony Brook, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill), private four-year independent universities (Duke University, New York University, Columbia University), private four-year liberal arts colleges (Lehman College), institutions with religious origins (Elon University, Manhattan College and Meredith College), all-women college (Meredith College), community college (Bronx), specialized institution (Fashion Institute of Technology) among others.
As an international educational administrator, what were your expectations?
To gain field-specific knowledge vis-à-vis administrative processes followed in the higher education institutions in the United States and the capacities required to administer such processes, be it human resource, physical infrastructure or technologies. I expected to hone my interpersonal, intercultural and leadership skills besides improving my ability to function in a multicultural academic environment. I was also expecting to widen my network among the researchers in fields other than my own, through my participation in this seminar. I could fulfill each, reasonably well.
How do you think your participation in this seminar will help your work at your home institution?
Soon after my return, I was made the coordinator of the Internal Quality Assurance Cell of the university [TERI School of Advanced Studies]. I have started looking at the structures and functions in the existing arrangement. Various learnings from FNIEAS, ranging from placing logo of the institution on the cleaning cloth for spectacles or to-do pads (as was in New York University) to ensuring full and effective implementation of existing regulations, are in different stages of progress.
What fundamental differences did you find in the approaches of educational administration in the United States and India?
Difference between regulatory purview and scope between India and the United States: There is no such institution in the United States like the University Grants Commission (UGC) of India that oversees each and every aspect of higher education, from accreditation and funding to framing regulations. Individual accreditation bodies are much more relevant in the United States, particularly for imparting technical education. In India, there are bodies like the Medical Council of India, the Bar Council of India and the All India Council for Technical Education, but with a purview much narrower than that in the United States. However, most of the institutions that offer technical education similar to community colleges in the United States are not considered within higher education institutions in India.
Colleges in the United States can grant degrees, which is not the case in India. Further, the process for seeking license to grant a degree vary across U.S. states, but not in India. Ranking in U.S. higher education institutions is mostly based on discipline, degree, etc. or even feature (say, largest corpus), unlike in India. There are not many federal regulations, akin to those framed by UGC, which are applicable to all institutions. In many instances, there is a differential fee structure for students belonging to the same state and those who do not. Such differentiation does not exist in India.
Administrator, with or without academic responsibility: In the United States, there is a possibility of having “pure” administrators engaged with a specific task, say, fundraising or project management. These academic administrators do not have any teaching commitment. Here, faculty members double up as academic administrators. In the United States, rules allow someone without a Ph.D. to become a vice chancellor or president, which is not possible in India.
There is no equivalent post of a registrar at U.S. higher education institutions. Its closest equivalent, the chief operating officer is usually a faculty member. Switching between only teaching to only program-related roles to only administrative roles for faculty members is a common practice. In India, the teaching responsibility of those holding administrative positions always remain, and only occasionally at a lower level.
Services extended to students: In general, the importance given to services offered to students is significantly higher in the United States. They cover both paid services, like laundry, to unpaid ones, like facilitating formation of religious or ethnic groups. Many such services do exist in India, but are not termed so.
Scale of funding and project management: The number of staff associated with activities like fund mobilization in large universities (500 in Columbia, for example) is an impossibility in an Indian institution, even for a privately funded one. The importance extended to cultivate alumni and philanthropists to generate funds is much more than in India.
Branding of the institution: While every institution that we visited gave us materials like a bag, pen and pads with the university logo on them, the most interesting was a pouch from Cornell Tech with a cleaning cloth for spectacles with its logo. This attention to reaching the eyes of the audience is amazing. In India, higher education institutions are slowly gearing up to brand themselves, particularly the newer ones. However, such branding is mostly confined to advertisements, and not in terms of materials.
Importance of online education and distance learning: For reaching out to the audience separated by physical distance, many U.S. institutions have made considerable investments. The variety of online and distance education programs offered by even relatively small institutions, like Lehman College, is far ahead of the current level in India.
How do you plan to use the learnings from this visit in your work in India?
Participants of the FNIEAS 2018 remained closely connected afterwards. We are expected to meet soon to discuss preparing short write-ups on the applicability of the learnings in the Indian context. It is expected to contribute towards charting a roadmap for Indian higher education institutions—incorporating best practices and organizational frameworks from U.S. institutions tweaked to suit the culture-specific needs to our own institutions. These experiential learnings may be published as policy papers, if not together as a book.