‘Twinning’ courses gain currency as foreign education costs soar

Aug 19, 2013 by

Source: Times of India

MUMBAI: A foreign education never really pinched the wealthy. But since the 1990s, a prospering Indian economy also propelled middle-class students’ dreams of earning a degree abroad.

However, the weakening rupee has suddenly made that desire seem beyond reach for many. So a third option is gaining popularity — twinning programmes, which promise an international degree while cutting the dollar bill.

Manipal University’s International Centre for Applied Sciences (ICAS) already has 175 candidates who have sought admission this year. They will pursue two years of engineering education in Mangalore for Rs 8 lakh and then fly out to any of the 70 partner universities — US, Australian, British, German, Canadian or French (where they pay approximately US $40,000/year) — and graduate from there.

With foreign currency getting expensive, universities offering twinning programmes are seeing a surge in student enrolment. In 1994, ICAS was built to accommodate about 200 students; only six students had signed up then. For long, the centre saw a steady rise in students and about 150-odd candidates joined last year. “I feel we will have around 250 students by the end of this year’s admission season,” says ICAS director GMJ Bhat.

Jalandhar-based Lovely Professional University has had a similar experience. Two years ago, 48 students joined its twinning programmes; this year there are 80 of them.

Other universities have the same story to tell. As Bertrand Guillotin, director of the international program office at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, notes, “Education remains the best long-term investment you can make, regardless of currency fluctuations.” But while twinning courses improve accessibility to higher education, they also potentially retain a slice of the £8 billion (US$13 billion) leaving India with foreign education-seeking Indian students.

With that, international universities wanting to attract Indian students are also open to signing partnership agreements with Indian colleges. In an email interview, Roseann O’Reilly Runte, president and vice chancellor of Carleton University, says, “Students benefit from such programs as they represent less time away from home and reduced costs in terms of tuition and residence.”

At the other end, she adds, universities benefit from the close collaboration of faculty members which can also result in productive joint research projects. “Higher education benefits from increased collaboration, good use of resources and the sharing of goals in terms of educational outcomes. At Carleton University and the Centre we are currently working on some twinning arrangements with universities in India and elsewhere in the world,” says Runte.

She, like many other university heads TOI wrote to, is confident that this arrangement is popular and the number of twinning arrangements will grow in time and that they will benefit everyone.

A study conducted by the Association of Indian Universities (AIU) revealed an upswing in the number of foreign education providers in India, from 144 in 2000 to 631 in 2010. Of these, 49 are operating under twinning arrangements, with MBA and hotel management being the most popular courses. But UGC regulations which came in the backdrop of the parliamentary standing committee’s report on foreign education providers noted that only 32 out of 49 twinning arrangements had the required approvals.

That’s probably why experts ask students to be cautious. Philip G Altbach, director, Center for International Higher Education at Boston College, feels that candidates must carefully evaluate the quality of twinning programs to ensure that the courses and other academic experiences are well integrated, which sometimes is not the case.

“If a student is looking mainly for a degree, then a twinning program might work well. If, on the other hand, he or she is looking for a deep academic experience abroad, then a full degree is preferable of course. I worry that many twinning programs are commercially based to earn money for the sponsoring universities rather than providing a fully integrated academic experience,” he says.

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