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“America has been tested and we have come out stronger for it.

We will repair our alliances and engage with the world once again.

Not to meet yesterday’s challenges, but today’s and tomorrow’s. 

We will be a strong and trusted partner for peace, progress and security.”

Joe Biden, 46th President of the United States.


These words ushered in a new era of hope and relief as President Joe Biden took charge  – announcing the return of an open and welcoming United States of America. There is no denying that previous administration’s restrictive policies towards International students have left the international education stakeholders apprehensive about America’s standing as the beacon of knowledge, openness and equal opportunity. However, with the swearing in of President Biden, a new tone of hope can be seen within the International community. In this article we explore exactly what this may look like for the US-India education corridor in particular.

Institutions in the United States endured through three years of falling international applications. This can be attributed to among other things to a series of damaging policy decisions by the Trump administration for International Education: travel ban, major overhaul of student visa rules, revisions to the H1-B visa and a fear for the permanent removal of OPT (post study work opportunities). As per the Open Doors 2020 report by the Institute of International Education (IIE), the overall number of international students in the United States, including both enrolled and OPT students decreased by 1.8% in 2019-2020 – the first recorded decrease in 13 years. When it comes to India, the number of Indian students studying in the US declined by 4% to 193,124 in 2019-20. 

Over the next four years, we are expecting a reversal of the dipped numbers on the back of optimism being seen in India that America is again open to welcoming students. There is hope that the administration will undertake reform of the immigration system, elimination of discriminatory bans and offer new options for graduates to stay back in the country for post study work opportunities. In fact, compared to 2019-20, the number of international applicants has already increased by about 9% this year according to data from the Common App, as of January 22. 

We believe that the US and Indian government should use this historic occasion to make a far wider commitment to the bilateral ties, specifically around education – a commitment that is rooted in the core tenets of accessibility, sustainability and advancement of research. 


Accessibility

Indian students studying in the U.S. contribute over $30 billion to the U.S. economy. Most of the Indian students arrive in the United States for their Masters’ programs and end up staying back for their OPT duration. While the number of overall students from India studying in the US is one of the highest in the overall numbers (second only to China), we believe that there is potential for more Indian students to access a US Higher Education, regardless of their socio-economic background. This can be made possible by engaging in new types of TNE partnerships through which students can complete part of their education in India and part in the United States. In addition to this, with the explosion of ed-tech adoption in India, thanks to International and various home-grown companies and accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, American institutions will have an opportunity to provide their courses at a more affordable price point to a greater number of students in India. The government of India has already signalled its commitment towards these two measures in the new National Education Policy wherein it plans to invite greater engagement of International institutions in India through cross-border partnerships, allowing ‘operation of the top 100 International institutions’ in the country and also expanding India’s digital capabilities in education to offer high quality education to more students. 


Sustainability and Advancement of Research

Soon after his arrival in the White House, President Biden issued a series of executive orders on climate change including re-joining the Paris treaty, prioritising science-based policy across federal agencies and pausing oil drilling on public lands to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. These moves are a great relief to nations committed to sustainability across the world, including India.  The Biden administration has also acknowledged that climate change mitigation cannot be done in siloes, and therefore, a new climate world summit will be organised by the administration to bring together global leaders and discuss new ways of approaching climate change, beyond climate targets. To make the most of this shift in attitude, India needs to invest in R&D to build expertise in renewable energy, sustainable agriculture, forestry and water management. There can be great convergence in this domain between Indian and American institutions through new programmes such as the Fulbright Kalam Climate fellowship – aimed at engaging scientific and technical research scholars from India and the US. More partnerships like these along with federal re-prioritisation of investments in research related to SDGs will be required to accelerate towards a sustainable future for the planet.

India has also recently embarked on an ambitious plan to bring all funding and mentoring research initiatives in the country under a single funder – the National Research Foundation (NRF). This would significantly enhance the value of “Make in India”, lead to locally owned cutting edge and strategically valuable technology, and in turn develop domestic research and innovation to help accelerate the progress of India’s stated national and UN Sustainable Development Goals


Conclusion

There is great scope for expanded partnership between the United States and India and we believe that the two nations should consider restarting the U.S.-India Higher Education Dialogue – an annual government to government dialogue that can address some of the above mentioned opportunities, policy restrictions that disable greater alignment and discuss new avenues to partner with each other. This G2G dialogue should also invite members from some of the leading institutions in both the United States and India along with corporates that can advise on which skills are most needed out from our graduates today.

The appointment of Vice President Kamala Harris has the power to inspire millions of students currently studying in India regarding the potential of an international education  and its power to transform the life of an individual as well as their future generations. Harris’ mother, Shyamala Gopalan, a cancer researcher and civil rights activist from Chennai applied to a master’s program in nutrition and endocrinology at the University of California, Berkeley, and ended up earning a PhD from the university. She constantly inculcated the importance of service, equal rights and a good education in her two daughters. We look forward to witnessing how Vice President Harris will use the learnings and wisdom of her late mother to build a better future for Americans and citizens worldwide.

We at Sannam S4 look forward to supporting more US institutions as they look to expand their engagement in India and also Indian institutions that are keen to partner with US universities. We are committed to contributing to the deepening of people to people engagement as the new administration builds back America’s position in the world.


To learn about some of the new ways institutions from both countries can partner with each other, do check out our upcoming webinar being hosted in partnership with the US Consulate General of Mumbai, focused on ‘Establishing Linkages and Opening Doors for Students: Joint Degrees and Articulation Programs with U.S. Higher Education Institutes’. 

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