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Helping India with its ambitious education plan


College leaders speak at a workforce development conference last month in New Delhi, India.​

About 25 community college leaders traveled to India last month to advise government officials and education leaders as they implement an ambitious plan to upgrade the nation’s technical education system. India has made a commitment to establish 200 community colleges over the next few years.

The U.S. college leaders participated in a conference hosted by the Indian Ministry of Human Resource Development in New Delhi, which showcased community and technical college models from Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, Australia and New Zealand, as well as the United States. 

The U.S. delegation, representing a dozen community colleges, was led by Tara Sonenshine, under secretary for public diplomacy and public affairs at the U.S. Department of State, and was organized by the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC). The intent was to help Indian officials understand best practices and models in workforce development, said Alice Blayne-Allard, associate vice president for international programs and services at AACC.

Skilled workers needed

Sonenshine told conference attendees that community colleges can be a crucial resource in educating India’s “youth bulge”—the nation has 600 million people under age 25—for meaningful jobs in a nation with a shortage of skilled workers.

“India recognizes the proven success of the U.S. community college model and the critically important, dynamic relationship in our country between education and industry,” said James Moore, deputy assistant secretary for South and Central Asia at the Department of State.

“The sheer scope of the endeavor is unprecedented. They are creating something completely new—a whole new system of 21st century community colleges, which they expect will serve 40 million students,” Blayne-Allard said.

India’s minister of human resource development, Pallam Raju, told the group the new colleges would be set up within existing colleges and polytechnics and would offer “credit-based modular courses to facilitate mobility of learners into the employment market,” the Times of India reported.

What seemed to impress the Indian government most about the U.S. system is “how closely we work with industry, our career pathways and community colleges’ advisory councils that ensure job training meets employers’ needs,” Blayne-Allard said.

“There are challenges,” reported DeRionne Pollard, president of Montgomery College in Maryland, which has already established a partnership with India. “This new model of higher education only works if there is community engagement, business investment and credential stacking,” she said. “There also must be a commitment to equal access to higher education for all.”

A focus on three industries

The Indian government wanted the conference to focus on three main industries, according to Blayne-Allard, so the U.S. participants were selected with those areas of expertise in mind. Leaders from the Coleman College for Health Sciences in the Houston Community College System and Grossmont College (California), for example, gave presentations on their healthcare programs.

Kapi‘olani Community College (Hawaii) and Tidewater Community College (Virginia) leaders spoke about their institutions hospitality programs, and leaders from Macomb Community College (Michigan) and the Kentucky Community and Technical College System gave presentations on their automotive programs.

“Being a part of this significant initiative is in keeping with our mission and our values and also recognizes the college’s unique set of expertise in training automotive service technicians,” said Shoreline Community College (SCC) President Lee Lambert, who delivered a keynote address at the conference.

SCC has a large “original equipment manufacturing” program in partnership with Honda, GM, Toyota and Chrysler dealership networks for training technicians in auto repair and service, Lambert said. The Puget Sound Automobile Dealers Association is based on the SCC campus, and the college provides non-credit training for up to 10,000 auto dealer employees a year. 

India has a growing car market, and “we’re in a position to help them develop similar programs,” said Lambert, who also chairs NC3—the National Coalition of Certification Centers, a public private partnership of industry, government and education.

He would like to continue the dialogue with Indian officials about which elements of SCC’s automotive programs they would like to adopt. But first,  he said, there needs to be an assessment of India's current training programs to determine where gaps exist and what needs they have in terms of curriculum, faculty development, and equipment.

According to Lambert, India’s biggest challenge in implementing the initiative will be governance, including decisions about the role of the central government versus the states, the role of local government versus state government and how all the players will work with industry.

The Indian initiative will produce what Lambert refers to as a “demographic dividend.” As a nation with a huge population of young people, “India is not only going to be the source of talent for its own economy, but also for the world,” he said.

Ongoing collaboration

The idea for the conference on community colleges grew out of a series of  collaborative efforts between the U.S. and Indian governments on education issues, according to Moore of the State Department.

These include the 2012 Higher Education Dialogue; the Obama-Singh 21st Century Knowledge Initiative, a $10-million program funded by both nations focusing on research, faculty collaboration and exchanges; and a visit to several American community colleges last spring by Indian state government leaders.

“The very high quality of our delegation of educators last month sent a clear signal to our Indian friends that the United States will be a valuable partner” as India implements its plan for developing new community colleges, Moore said. The State Department will act as a catalyst in this effort by facilitating visits of Indian officials to U.S. colleges in 2013 and 2014 and arranging additional joint conferences.

“We very much hope that AACC will continue to play a leading role in promoting contact between U.S. community colleges and Indian institutions,” Moore said. “The exchange of faculty and students enriches the educational institutions in both of our countries.”