Guest Editorial: Study Abroad
By Rajdeep Guha
The university system of education traces its roots to the medieval period and was established to transmit specialised knowledge and provide training for a few key professions. The contemporary university has outgrown its original scope and is now the most important institution in the complex process of knowledge creation and distribution. The modern university is also home to a wide range of journals covering every discipline, books and databases that communicate knowledge worldwide. Furthermore, nowadays universities have also taken on a political function in society, serving as centres of political thought, political action and political training.
From the 20th century onwards, the role of the university has grown for a number of reasons. As industrial and economic activities expanded, more sorting mechanisms of the workforce were required. Moreover, when entirely new fields of studies emerged, universities were called upon to provide not only training but examination and certification. Additionally, in the last century, the middle class has witnessed a tremendous growth, thanks to rapid industrialisation and a variety of socio-economic factors. The middle class, seeing that academic qualifications are necessary for success, has thronged the universities in large numbers. In developing countries like India, the Philippines and Bangladesh, academic institutions have mushroomed in every corner of the country. Unfortunately, barring a few elite institutions, the academe is not in a very good shape in the developing world. Original research is almost on the decline. Worldwide, approximately two percent of the industry turnover goes to research development activities. In India, however, the percentage of turnover that industries have allocated for research is very less. Lack of adequate funding, political interference and infrastructural lacuna are the other issues plaguing the academic sector in India.
In recent years, we have seen how in India, students who score as high as 90% in their school leaving exams do not get a seat in their college of choice. There is an unnecessary burden of clearing various entrance exams to get an admission into engineering and medical colleges. Thanks to this immense competition, Indian students, who can afford to live abroad and study, migrate to the developed world. A foreign degree often becomes the passport to success for students from the developing and underdeveloped nations. Furthermore, in today’s pluralistic world, which is characterised by multicultural influences, a foreign education invariably ensures that a student comes across diverse cultural strands which ultimately serve as an asset when s/he enters the workforce.
The academic flexibility that a student enjoys in Western universities is another significant advantage of a foreign education. In most American, European and Australian universities, dual degrees are common. Furthermore, there are summer school programmes where a student can learn a new skill or language and, at the same time, get credit for his/her degree programme. This flexibility is unheard of in India. We are still trapped in the rigours of the decades-old syllabus and age-old learning techniques.
But in the recent past, universities in USA, Europe, Australia and Canada have faced a number of challenges that threaten to derail the structure of the education system. One of the pivotal issues plaguing the higher education system in the Western world is the availability of funding. It is estimated that public institutions will be particularly hit hard by state funding constraints. Cuts in allowable federal research overhead costs in the US and reduced corporate giving have already started taking a toll on the financial health of institutions of higher learning. Students are the worst victims of this trend. Finding a scholarship has become increasingly difficult and competitive. Doctoral candidates too have been affected by fund cuts. Completing a Ph.D., which takes an average of 3.5 years in most countries and 6-7 years in the US, has become a costly proposition nowadays.
A direct consequence of the decline in government funding can be seen in the increasing privatisation of public colleges and universities. At the nine-campus University of California, for example, state funds dropped from 37 percent in 1981/82 to 26 percent in 1996/97, with much lower percentages at some campuses. The drop has continued till date. A number of countries have imposed higher tuition fees, especially for graduate and professional courses to overcome this financial crisis. Unless sufficient financial aid is provided, low-income students and historically underrepresented ethnic groups may be excluded from institutions of higher education. Cost cutting has affected the faculty recruitment process as well. Although till date, relatively few tenured faculties have been terminated, institutions have reduced new hires and offered early retirement incentives to senior teachers. Many universities have recruited part-time professors, post-docs at much lower salaries and benefits to overcome the vacuum.
In spite of all the financial worries that foreign universities now face, they still attract thousands of students from the sub-continent and other developing nations. This is substantiated by the fact that hundreds of foreign education fairs are regularly organised in the metropolitan cities of India and there are scores of study abroad consultancies who counsel students and provide them every kind of assistance with their application process. Not only that, embassies and high commissions of different countries have set up a separate department which functions as a counselling and information centre for students willing to migrate to the respective country for higher education. USIEF, British Council, DAAD organise free seminars, webinars and info-sessions for guardians, students and teachers of different schools. In a nutshell, over the years, the process of relocating to another country for higher studies has become more organised and the system has been corporatized per se.
Keeping this in mind, we thought that an issue of Café Dissensus could be allocated for covering the different aspects of foreign education. We aimed at investigating the advantages of receiving a foreign education, its merits and pitfalls and the socio-economic effects that a foreign degree entails. Hence, the thrust of this particular issue is to cover the education scenario in as many countries as possible. Although USA, Australia and other European nations still remain the favourite destination for students worldwide, there are rookie countries that have managed to make a toehold in the increasingly competitive world of higher education. Kuwait, Ireland, New Zealand and other such countries have already managed to get a slice of the world market. Nations such as Spain and Japan have aggressively started to market their education. These countries have eased their visa procedures and many of their study programmes are being offered with English as the medium of instruction.
Adrián Gutiérrez and Alejandra Garcia Fuertes from the Embassy of Spain, New Delhi, have provided a detailed overview of the higher education system in Spain. Their article contains a number of hyperlinks which potential students will find tremendously useful. Dr. Abid Akbar Vali, one of my colleagues at the University of Otago, New Zealand, and a friend of mine who presently teaches at the American University of Kuwait (AUK), Kuwait City, captures the different facets of education at AUK. It is interesting to note that a traditionally conservative society like Kuwait is embracing Western system of education. This paradigmatic shift, although at a very nascent stage, certainly signals the deconstruction of some stereotypes concerning the region what we call the Middle East. Dr. Cy Elza Mathews, who now teaches in Japan at the university level has encompassed in his article the overall university system of education in the country. It is indeed exciting to know from Dr. Mathews that the Japanese government has initiated study programmes which are taught in English. Wayne Angus in his article attempts to make the readers aware about the advantages of pursuing a degree programme in New Zealand. In her informative article, Laura Smit has provided an outline of the higher education system in the Netherlands. Furthermore, she discusses some of the parameters for admission which are checked by the university admissions committee in her country. Meenakshi Batra, Director India, University College Cork, Ireland guides us through the Irish higher education system. She also lists some of the factors which should motivate students to consider Ireland as their study abroad destination. Manaf Kottakkunnummal, who is now pursuing a Ph.D. in South Africa, shares with the readers the details of his doctoral application process.
As aforementioned in the earlier paragraph, USA remains one of the favourite countries for higher studies. Hence, this issue would have been incomplete if the country was left out from the ambit. In an interview with Aashima Sethi, we come to know the details of the American higher education system. In another interview, Dr. Kiranmoy Das, who completed his Ph.D. from USA and taught there for a few years before coming back to Kolkata to join the Indian Statistical Institute as an Assistant Professor, underscores the supremacy of the American pattern of education over others in terms of freethinking and research potentials. In an interview, Sushmita Sircar corroborates that American higher education is better owing to the emphasis on original thinking and superior quality of research.
Mahmood Kooria’s article again provides an insightful glimpse into his research journey as well as the advantages of pursuing a research degree from a Western university. The next article, whose writer prefers to remain anonymous, gives some practical tips to potential doctoral students on the application process.
Chitrita Chaudhary has offered some practical tips to write a winning Statement of Purpose (SoP) which is one of the most important documents in an application package. She has shared her own SoP in order to provide an instance to the readers of how a good SoP should look like. We have another SoP on board, the writer of which again prefers to remain anonymous. This SoP will provide a clearer insight into the strategies of writing an effective Statement of Purpose.
Transition to another country as a student can always be a difficult and complex process if we take into account the unfamiliar terrain, culture, people, food and language. From my own experience as a postgrad student at the University of Otago, I can tell that studying in a university, several thousand miles away from home, can in itself be very challenging. In one of my two articles, I have framed a checklist of the things that a student should do after s/he arrives in a foreign country. Furthermore, the write-up encapsulates the important areas of concern that every student experiences before s/he leaves for her/his higher studies in a foreign country. Although the essay principally focuses on North America as the destination country, the issues discussed can be related to any other Western country as well. Last but certainly not the least, a letter of recommendation or an LoR is another important document apart from the SoP. In the other article that I have written, I have provided a thorough insight into the ABCs of writing an LoR. Often teachers of schools are in the dark about the content of an academic LoR. Hope my article throws some lights on strategies to write a strong LoR.
Finally, Soma Chatterjee’s article talks about the role of international student migration for higher education and how it contributes to nation-building in the West. While giving a broad outline of major western higher education destination countries, she focuses particularly on the Canadian experience.
We are really excited about this issue since the scope is very different from what has been published in Café Dissensus so far. We welcome feedback and suggestions from our readers.
After completing an MA in English from the University of Calcutta, India, Rajdeep Guha went to the University of Otago, New Zealand to pursue an MA (Thesis) in English. He submitted his thesis on his chosen area of specialization and then, returned to India in 2013. Since then, he has been working as IELTS and TOEFL trainer in New Delhi, India. His e-mail id: firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more stories, read Café Dissensus Everyday, the blog of Café Dissensus Magazine.