Updates - From the Office of the NYIT President
Dec 04 2010
NYIT and India: Prospects for Collaboration

Good afternoon. What a pleasure to return to India. This is an exciting time to be in higher education – a time of rapid change and evolution on a massive scale – and an equally exciting time to be here in India. President Obama’s recent trip here reminded many of us about the great possibilities for collaboration.   

From what I have seen during my visits, India is about to become a laboratory for the boldest experiment ever in higher education.  Allow me to repeat that, because it is not hyperbole:  the boldest experiment ever in higher ed.  Right now, 220 million children in elementary and secondary school are hurtling through the Indian pipeline.  Soon enough they will try to squeeze into universities here that can accommodate no more than ten million.  That creates a demand to build campuses at an astounding rate in the next decade – by the hundreds.  It’s absolutely unprecedented in history.  Will it be possible?  Not based upon the university model of last century. 

I want to talk about that challenge in a moment, but first I will start with a few observations about higher education in the United States.  Back at home, we are finally – belatedly, I’d say – having a full-bore discussion about the direction of higher education.  The consensus is that American universities need more real-world courses, more experiential education, more of a global vision.    
As you look at the screen, I’d like you to think about those three points.  I have, and I am pleased to say that my university, New York Institute of Technology, NYIT, emphasizes all three. 

First, our courses embrace the real world, whether we are training architects and engineers in the latest in sustainable design or teaching doctors and nurses techniques for preventative healthcare in rural Haiti.    
Second, although experiential education is almost a cliché in American education circles right now, we were pioneers.  For years, NYIT matched students with high-quality internships and jobs that let them test classroom lessons against day-to-day realities of the workplace. 

And third, I mentioned global education.  Over a little more than a decade, I have had the privilege of opening NYIT campuses in five countries: China, Canada, Bahrain, Jordan and United Arab Emirates.  We have determined, however, that being a global university--a new breed of 21st-century university-- means far more than having permanent sites around the world. It involves a cross-border exchange of ideas, students, and faculty on a regular basis.  We achieve this through distance learning, semesters abroad, visiting faculty and students, and international conferences and collaborations.   

At NYIT, a not-for-profit private university, we educate 15,000 students-- about half of them graduate students--to be professionals.  We only graduate professionals from our seven schools.  Engineering, Architecture, Management, Arts and Sciences, Education, Health Professions, and Medicine.  Our quality hubs are our two New York campuses—in Manhattan and 28 miles away on Long Island, but our ideas, our students, or faculty know no borders.  And, yes, in addition to the three distinguishing characteristics I have noted already, we exemplify what is admired about America universities—a blend of teaching, research, and service, a focus on innovation and entrepreneurship, small classes with active learning, and, of course, exceptionally accomplished faculty.   We have students from 50 states and 106 nations, the largest contingent of international students are from?  Right: India.

So what does all this seemingly American experience mean for India?  Let’s return to what I call India’s historical opportunity. Lawrence Summers, director of the U.S. National Economic Council, made a wonderful prediction. In thirty years, Indians will look back and declare, “This decade from 2010 to 2020 saw the emergence of India’s John Harvards and Leland Stanfords and John D. Rockefellers, who created institutions.”  The challenge, though, is not about bricks-and-mortar.  I fear building buildings may well prove insufficient and unaffordable.

What are the two greatest challenges facing higher education over the next 30 years?   Not campuses and buildings.   They are 1) sufficient quality faculty, and 2) an affordable model to create human capital on a global scale. 

As someone who devotes considerable time to recruiting the right faculty in a half-dozen countries, I assure you that the people part of the equation is especially important and we are facing an enormous storage of high quality professors that cannot be changed overnight and becomes increasingly critical as the years pass and the need rises.  The quality of a university is defined not by the architectural style of the buildings or the beauty of the landscaping or even broadband speed. It is defined by the men and women who teach. My colleagues at our far-flung campuses can tell you that it’s a seller’s market for top faculty around the globe. India is already seeing this at your Institutes of Technology, where faculty vacancies increased from 877 to 1,065 in just one year.

Just as great faculty can help a university soar to new heights, inexperienced and under-trained faculty can limit a university’s greatness.   No matter how grand the endowment or funding is, there’s never been a world-class university without world-class faculty.

I can tell you that we at NYIT have hired 20 percent more faculty in the past decade, so we have thought carefully about how to expand while maintaining our quality.  We might have a few lessons to share.  While we have taken great care in developing our curriculum and training faculty, we also eagerly harness technology – as our name indicates.  We spread the teaching of faculty members with virtual classrooms and distance-learning programs, so that one dynamic professor can reach students in several locations at the same time.  

For India or any of the major developing nations that are trying to educate millions, staffing as well as building a contemporary teaching and learning delivery system will be an enormous challenge.  Education leaders in India will have to offer individualized education and yet take a cold look at education as a commodity that benefits economies of scale. Quality faculty, state-of-the-art facilities and technology, all cost a great deal.  And who can afford to pay for them?  We need models, including collaborative ones like those NYIT has implemented, to provide affordable 21st-century education for the Millenials. Achieving the right balance will be difficult, no doubt. Surely we will consider all sorts of innovative solutions, from shared faculty to telepresence to video on demand featuring the best lectures, as well as collaborative tools that let students and faculty around the world work on problems together. 

If you talk to our undergraduates and grad students from India, I think you will hear that we are finding the right balance. They tell us they like our accessible, enthusiastic faulty, but they like the distance education, too. They savor the hands-on education we offer, along with the wide field of vision – the global view from 40,000 feet.  

These men and women are making a mark in the business world even before they graduate.  This August, Shail Choksi, an M.B.A./finance student from Gujarat, became the first student to receive the national Rajiv Gandhi Rastryia Ekta Samman award in India for his business achievements and innovations. He is also one of our most active students in New York, as founder and president of the Indian Graduate Students Association, International Student Ambassador, and research intern with the dean of the School of Management.

Prachi Khetani is a Management Information Sciences Major from Mumbai who won a trip to Geneva for a two-week internship because of her participation in NYIT’s annual Corporate Challenge, which asked students to come up with new social media and marketing ideas for a Swiss watchmaker. During her internship, Prachi did an exacting market research project comparing their watches with their competition.

Our Indian alumni are leaders in finance, IT and marketing.  For example, Siddharth Puohit is the chief executive architect for IBM, and a member of the team creating IBM’s new Global Business Solution Center in Bangalore. Information Week called him “the new face of IBM.”

As you know, India is the leading place of origin for international students studying at U.S. colleges and universities including at NYIT.  However, India is the 17th destination for American students, after Argentina, the Czech Republic and Austria.               

We hear increased talk from Washington about a trade imbalance, but I worry about the brain imbalance.   Americans would benefit from spending time in India to get a sense of the culture of our largest democratic partner.

I will leave you with this thought:  I hope we can find some meeting of the minds –perhaps some form of partnership from a full campus to dual degree and exchange programs – that combines NYIT’s mission and the educational needs India’s emerging population.  We have a mission to become the first truly global university; India needs to ramp up higher education at a breakneck pace while still providing a top-quality education for the next generation of knowledge workers.

We are talking about something that goes way beyond brick-and-mortar enclaves; we are talking about the aspirations of a people. You have young population that’s determined to build solar houses and harness the power of the wind; they want to reduce landfills; they want to tread lightly on the planet.  Along the way, they hope to create the jobs of the next century. 

I respect those aspirations.  In fact, I believe we will be able to work with you to make them a reality in our lifetimes.

Thank you for hosting me.