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Volume 72, Issue 68, Tuesday, November 28, 2006


University looks to forge ties with India

The Daily Cougar

Globetrotting UH students may one day be leaving tracks at the Taj Mahal after a recent tour of Indian universities by four Cullen College of Engineering administrators. 

"It's pretty clear to us that we can no longer live in silos in the world," Larry Witte, team leader and associate dean of undergraduate research for the college, said.

Witte said UH is considering forging relationships with four of the five Indian universities visited from Nov. 6 through 10 to create opportunities for exchange graduate and undergraduate students, collaborative education programs and collaboration between faculty. The team visited IIT-Delhi, Delhi College of Engineering, Maharaja Agrasen College, Banaras Hindu University and Rajiv Gandhi Technical University.

Although no formal action was taken, an informal memorandum of understanding was signed between UH and RGTU to explore an educational partnership. 

"It will allow exchange of teachers and students between both the institutions, besides starting a dual degree course under which both the universities would provide degrees to students," RGTU Vice Chancellor P.B. Sharma told India eNews.

"We are looking forward to a better tie-up between (RGTU) and Houston," he said.

Witte said he is starting to establish informal negotiations with the Indian schools to help all parties decide what programs and collaborations they would be interested in pursuing.

UH will likely not pursue a partnership with IIT-Delhi, Witte said, as the school has a small enrollment and a well-established graduate program.

The majority of the schools the UH team visited responded positively to their ideas, team member and UH associate dean of engineering technology Haider Malki said.

"Most of them were very enthusiastic and willing to form such a partnership," he said.

In one proposed program, called a three-one, students would spend three years studying in either the U.S. or in India, and then switch for a final year of studies to earn a Bachelor of Science.

A one-to-one program would provide a similar opportunity for master's students who would do work for half of their degrees at UH and half in India, Malki said.

"India is one of the most technically and scientifically advanced nations in the world," he said. "Indian students will benefit by completing their graduate studies at U.S. universities and will be able to work on the advanced research projects. We will benefit by having access to some of the most talented students to work on research programs and increase the number of students in the graduate programs."

Before such programs could be implemented, however, Witte said careful degree and course planning would have to occur in which both the U.S. and Indian universities would compare degree plans and decide which courses should be taken where. 

"You can't have students heading this way or going the other direction without knowing exactly what courses they'll need to take," he said.

The schools are also looking into offering accelerated master's and doctorate programs to students interested in going beyond their bachelor's degrees.

"If you already know you want a Ph.D., you can skip the (Master of Science)," he said. 

Witte said the trip also served to encourage Indian students to consider attending UH for their graduate degrees -- the UH delegation touted the University's financial aid opportunities and Houston's climate and relatively low cost of living compared to schools on the east or west coasts.

"Obviously we're interested in recruiting good graduate students," he said.

Another plus to students coming to the U.S. is the engineering job market, especially in Houston, Witte said. Many engineering students in India end up with software jobs, he said, but in Houston students are more likely to procure careers directly related to their engineering degrees.

"The engineering market we have is incredible for our students," he said.

The benefits don't go just one way, Witte said, noting UH students studying to India would gain valuable cultural insight at the Indian universities, which all teach in English.

He added that American students might be less eager to participate in the exchange than India's students.

"I'm guessing it will be harder to get students from here to go there. That's just an economic fact of life," he said.

Although both sides have expressed interest in pursuing closer ties, Witte said forming any relationship between the schools will be a lengthy process involving proper agreements and approval between academic and government officials on both sides.

"It has to be carefully planned out. It has to be a win-win situation," he said.

Business aside, Witte said the trip presented the team with a taste of the culture of India and attracted a considerable amount of local media attention.

"We were treated like royalty," he said, describing being filmed, photographed and presented with giant bouquets of exotic flowers as the team arrived at press conferences and appearances.

Malki said he was awed by the country's rich scope and history.

"I was overwhelmed by the warm welcome and rich culture of India," he said. "We visited Bhopal, one of the oldest cities in the world, and witnessed the second most populated country and the world's largest democracy."

UH has already begun forging educational ties similar to the ones being sought in India with a university in Turkey, and Witte said the engineering college is considering an exploratory trip to North Africa and has expressed interest in programs in Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt and Libya.

"We're on the global front now," Witte said. "We can't just sit back and wait for people to apply."

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