Obama Leads U.S. Universities to India as Yale, Duke Build Ties

Yale University President Richard Levin
Yale University President Richard Levin, seen here, visited India last week to set up a joint program that will educate Indian college leaders. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

Yale University and Duke University are among dozens of U.S. colleges that India is recruiting to help educate its population with more than 550 million people under age 25.

Duke, Brown University and the University of Chicago are planning offices, research centers and campuses in India. The presidents of the University of Pennsylvania, Stanford University and Cornell University have traveled to India to raise money and establish collaborations. Yale President Richard Levin visited India last week to set up a joint program that will educate Indian college leaders.

President Barack Obama will make a three-day state visit to India, starting tomorrow, accompanied by U.S. university officials eager to strengthen their ties to the country. Institutions want to “get in on the ground floor” as India’s economy and education system mature and the nation becomes a global power, said Dipesh Chakrabarty, a University of Chicago history professor who is leading the university’s efforts to plan a research center in New Delhi, India’s capital.

“We see India as a tremendous opportunity for higher education,” said Robert Brown, president of Boston University and a member of the delegation traveling to India, where he aims to open a campus, in a telephone interview. “There’s tremendous demand, a growing population in the middle class, an English-speaking, well-organized educational system -- all the things that you need to interface with a private American university.”

Business Summit

Representatives of Boston University, Arizona State University in Tempe, and Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, are part of the delegation of academic and business leaders. The group was organized by the U.S.-India Business Council, a Washington-based lobbying group. Obama is scheduled to attend their business summit tomorrow, in Mumbai. During their visit, university officials will lobby for a bill pending before the Indian legislature that would allow foreign schools to open branches in the country for the first time.

U.S. institutions of higher learning have already expanded overseas, with campuses in the Middle East and China. India is the logical next step, said Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for public affairs for Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.

Duke wants to open a facility for Indian and U.S. students, although it doesn’t know where, Schoenfeld said.

“In an increasingly global world, it would be hard to have a truly complete education without having some experience with India and China,” Schoenfeld said.

Levin, president of Yale in New Haven, Connecticut, said on Oct. 28 during a trip to India that the institution would train Indian university leaders through a partnership with the Indian Institute of Technology in Kanpur and the Indian Institute of Management in Kozhikode.

Tata Group

U.S. college fundraisers are also eager to tap into the growing wealth of Indians. On Oct. 14, Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, received a $50 million donation for its business school from the Tata Group, a diversified Indian company whose interests include steel and chemicals. Harvard also got $10 million on Oct. 4 from Anand Mahindra, managing director of Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd., a Mumbai-based industrial company whose interests include automobiles, for humanities education.

Brown University, in Providence, Rhode Island, has formed an advisory council on India and is planning an office in New Delhi, said Matthew Gutmann, vice president for international affairs at Brown. The council is co-chaired by Mukesh Ambani, chairman of Mumbai-based Reliance Industries Ltd., whose interests include energy and materials. Ambani is also the parent of a Brown student.

Growing Demand

India needs 600 more universities and 35,000 more colleges over the next 12 years to enroll 30 percent of its potential students, according to Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal. The most-elite U.S. institutions won’t be the first to open campuses with degree-granting programs, he said.

“Harvard and Yale are world-renowned institutions,” Sibal said. “They have the best people come there, so they have no hunger. It will be institutions that have hunger. They are the ones that will come -- those that want to establish themselves as global universities.”

Arizona State is seeking to attract Indian companies to an office and retail complex called Skysong that the university is developing in Scottsdale, Arizona, said Sethuraman Panchanathan, the institution’s chief research officer, who is part of the delegation. Also traveling to India is Jaishankar Ganesh, dean of Rutgers School of Business-Camden, who said he’s exploring partnerships with Indian institutions.

Discount Land

Georgia Institute of Technology, in Atlanta, has looked at land for a facility in Hyderabad. The property was offered, at a discount price, by the government of Andhra Pradesh state, said Vijay Madisetti, the Georgia Tech professor leading the school’s initiative, in an e-mail. The university is waiting for passage of the Foreign University Bill before taking action, he said.

India’s gross domestic product expanded 8.8 percent in the three months ended June 30, the most since 2007 and the joint second-fastest pace among the world’s 20 largest economies, after China. Brazil recorded the same growth as India.

Only about 12 percent of children in India enter college, about half the world average of 23 percent and well below the 56 percent in developed countries, according to figures compiled by the Washington-based World Bank.

Legislative Session

India’s Congress Party-led government introduced the Foreign University Bill, which would allow foreign institutions to set up their own branches. Colleges would need to invest at least 500 million rupees ($11 million) to start up, and reinvest surpluses into their India-based programs. The legislature begins its next session on Nov. 9.

How the U.S. colleges in India will operate depends on the final provisions of the law and the availability of financing, said Boston University’s Brown. Unlike projects in the Middle East and China, where state or local governments have paid for U.S. campuses, the Indian programs of American schools need to find their own funding, Brown said.

Boston University is talking to a philanthropist about financing its campus, said Brown, who wouldn’t disclose the name of the potential donor or the locations he is considering. Boston University would initially offer master’s degrees in disciplines such as business, journalism and art, Brown said. The university may offer undergraduate degrees later, he said.

Andrew MacAskill in New Delhi at amacaskill@bloomberg.net.

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