It is crucial to develop a two-way street for students from India and Canada, and strengthen the education ties of the two nations, says Prof Allan Rock, President, University of Ottawa, Canada while in conversation with Prathiba Raju of Elets News Network (ENN)
What are the similarities between Canada and India when it comes to higher education system?
Well, Canada is much like India on a smaller scale. Our post higher secondary system offers wide options from vocational skills training to law, medicine arts and humanities. It is a broad spectrum as you find in India. Our demographics are quite different from India as in next five years, we are expecting to see a decline in the university or college going young Canadians and hoping it would pick up by 2020. We are certainly not looking at the same numbers nor the same domain on the system that India has. But I think we have a great deal to learn from each other and that is the main reason I’m participating in the WES 2015. It is nice to learn more about how India and its institutions are confronting the challenges of meeting the market domains on one hand and educating the population on the other. We are happy to share the experiences we have in Canada. Exchange of viewpoints, perspectives and experiences would lead to a common advantage.
India is emphasising on skill education under a programme called Skill India initiative. How do you see it?
Skill development is an essential component, and there are no questions about that as many of the presentations in WES had focused upon the need for skill to meet the demands of India’s growing economy. We cannot overlook the importance of education in terms of developing the person and not just their skills. We also need to develop people in the workforce with a capacity of critical thinking, broad knowledge, humanities, social science and people who are able to write, evaluate options in terms of governance, administration and policy. All aspects of the education are important. We should also realise that education is for human development and people would be seen as a whole and not just as establishments.
Are you looking out for research opportunities in India?
Yes, the research collaborations between both the countries are terribly important and we are looking out for partners. The Canadian research intensive universities, for example, U15 Group of consortium of universities, should engage in world class research across the spectrum. The University of Ottawa particularly focuses on health, neuroscience, stem cell research, cardio vascular, and population health and cancer research. In science and engineering, we focus on photonics and development of new medical devices, not just that we have public policy, public administration, law, governance, human rights only, we also have a broad area of interest in research university. The University of Ottawa always looks for quality partners. I’m confident that many from India would engage. One of the important reasons for my visit to India is to look for collaboration and research with Indian institutions.
I’m interested in seeing even the Canadians come to India as well I think it will be a fabulous addition to the education of Canadians to spend time in the Indian institution. I hope we develop a two-way traffic.
We have not established a sufficiently strong relationship between Canada and India in the sphere of education and collaboration, whether through student exchange, mobility, or research partnerships. It’s astonishing to look at how close the two countries are in so many other ways. In 2014, about 31,000 Indian students attended higher education in Canada. That’s only eight per cent of the total international students in Canada that year. China sent three times and two-thirds of the students to Canada in higher education instiinstitutions and vocational colleges.
At the moment, there is no sufficient traffic between Canadian and Indian universities, institutes, and research centres. We need to broaden it. The reason for the lack of traffic is Canada’s fault as we haven’t really branded ourselves as a desirable destination in higher secondary education yet. We have some of the best universities in the world and the price for tuition is comparatively nominal compared to the UK and the US. We offer wide variety of education, right from vocational to the academic. For both the undergraduate and postgraduate, it is up to Canada, its university and government to let it be known in India. We are indeed a destination which is highly desirable for Indian students. At the same time, people like me should make sure that Canadian students have wide opportunities here in India.
I don’t have to leave the impression at a one way street.
What kind of collaboration are you looking for?
As of now, I don’t know whether our collaboration would include opening up branch campuses in India. However, I hope we will include research partnerships and transnational education, where we have perhaps common degrees being awarded for doctorate programmes with Indian universities and institutes. Above all, I hope that we broaden the bridge of education that connects both the countries. We have so much in common. There are now over a million Canadian in the Indian heritage that shows we have strong cultural ties. It’s very much to our mutual advantage to develop those ties in education and build it in a wonderful way.
What are your takeaways from the World Education Summit 2015?
I came to the conference to know about what the Indian education system has to offer and also learn from it. As the Indian education system is in a state of transition, it is trying to accommodate a large number of people who are in the demographic dividend, it is a challenge for the system to accommodate a huge lot. But I see a real determination in creating a system which has quality, accessibility and provides the kind of preparation India needed for tomorrow. I’m very impressed by the commitment and determination on part of the academic institution, industry and government as they work for the common cause.
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