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* Shoreline joins state trade mission to India
India Samira.jpg
Samira Pardanani of Shoreline Community College shakes hands with
Minister of Human Resource Development, Communications and Information Technology, Mr. Kapil Sibal durig a trade mission in October to India. More photos

By Samira Pardanani
Director, Admissions and Immigration Services

Representing Shoreline Community College and the education sector on Gov. Chris Gregoire's October, 2012, trade mission to India was an incredible experience. India is strengthening its vocational and technical education sector to help close a large skills gap, making this is a very favorable time for Washington’s community colleges to engage with the country and its higher education and skills development sectors.

Having grown up in India, it was all the more significant to participate in discussions that stand to benefit both countries. I felt my connection to India definitely helped open doors even wider. Even though all of our partners in India spoke English, speaking the language does help communication, but even more importantly, demonstrates understanding of the culture, traditions and circumstances of the country and its people. India has changed dramatically in the 22 years since I lived there, yet some things remain quintessentially Indian. Today’s young generation of Indians exude much more confidence and optimism about the future and are bubbling with entrepreneurial ideas. What remains unchanged is the hospitality and warmth that was shown to us.

Along with me, representatives from Everett and Green River community colleges joined the trip. Our goals were:
  1. Explore options for partnerships with India, especially with regard to India's plans to build community colleges.
  2. To promote our community college system in India and attract Indian students to our campuses.  We were very aware that while there are many opportunities in India, there are also challenges and that progress is not often linear in this complex country.
To our delight, progress toward our first goal far exceeded expectations. The education sector was front and center during the trade mission. Gov. Gregoire didn’t miss a single opportunity to promote our excellent community colleges and her pride was obvious. The topic of education and the skills gap problem in India seemed to come up in almost every meeting.  Some of the other delegates joked that education was coming up so often that they were just a bit jealous.

There appears to be an increasing realization in India of the urgent need to establish solid vocational and technical expertise and certifications for its young population. India has more than 50 percent of its population below the age of 25 and more than 65 percent below the age of 35. The Indian government is acutely aware that systems need to be set up to provide quality education to fulfill the aspirations of the country’s youth. The sentiment that kept coming up is to ensure that the demographic dividend does not become a demographic disaster.

We met with some key officials, including the Principal Secretary of Education in Andhra Pradesh, Mr. M.G Gopal. Perhaps more importantly, we spoke with the national Minister of Human Resource Development, Communications and Information Technology, Mr. Kapil Sibal, who is a major player in India's government. He has the daunting task of expanding access to millions of Indians. He is the man behind the $35 Aakash tablet initiative that is slated to spread access to education in India over large swaths of its population.

Mr. Sibal and Gov. Gregoire had a very productive discussion and he was very receptive to collaborating with Washington State for India’s community college initiative. He immediately recommended establishing a panel with three members from Washington and three from his ministry. I believe that a successful collaboration has the potential of bringing huge benefits to both partners.

Good progress was also made toward our second goal: Bringing Indian students here through a 2+2 program where students can complete the first two years of a Bachelor’s degree at a community college and then transfer to a four-year university.  While on one hand India is looking to build its own community colleges, the concept is still quite unfamiliar, especially community colleges as a pathway to university. In addition, there is a perception that the U.S. may be reluctant to issue visas for students who want to attend community colleges.

I am optimistic, especially considering that community colleges have faced the same challenges in Hong Kong, Indonesia, Taiwan and China, all countries that now send large numbers of students to Washington community colleges. The value that community colleges offer – lower tuition, individualized services, small class sizes and excellent faculty – make community colleges an excellent option for Indian students just as they are for students from around the world.  It is only a matter of time that Indian students discover this foundation of the U.S. educational system which the Economist magazine has described as “magnificent.”

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