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India lessons for US pupils

- UGC lines up unique crash course with scholarships

New Delhi, July 30: India’s arts, culture and growth story will be showcased in a crash course for some 200 American students under a first-of-its-kind scholarship scheme starting next summer.

The Connect India programme, finalised by the UGC, will be offered at 15 universities, including Jadavpur University and Calcutta University in Bengal. The others include JNU, University of Mumbai, Banaras Hindu University and Osmania University.

The fellowship programme, which aims to help US students understand India right from the Indus Valley ages to the contemporary period, is being launched under the India-US higher education partnership.

The partnership was announced last year when then HRD minister Kapil Sibal visited the US but the UGC took a while drawing up the scheme.

“The idea is to tell American students about the India story. It will also enhance diversity on campuses as Indian students will benefit from such multiculturalism,” UGC chairperson Ved Prakash said.

He said the course would be spread over four to six weeks and would include visits to local communities and villages. The host universities will facilitate interaction of the international students with civil society organisations working on community development and women empowerment.

Trips to sites of historical importance are also planned, as is participation in a variety of cultural events and yoga sessions.

“We have asked the universities to accommodate 10 to 20 students each. The first batch is expected in May next year,” Prakash said.

The Indian Council of Cultural Relations (ICCR), an autonomous body, offers scholarships to foreign students to come and discover India, but hardly gets any response from the developed countries. Also, its courses last a full academic year, which makes it less attractive for students from countries like the US.

“In our university, there are about 100 foreign students pursuing graduation and post-graduation courses under ICCR scholarship. They are all from developing countries mostly Afghanistan and Kenya,” said P.V. Valsarajan, dean of students’ welfare at Calicut University.

Under the latest scheme, accommodation, food and expenses on local visits will be taken care of by the host university. The students will pay for the airfare, visa and medical expenses.

The 15 universities selected for hosting the programme will identify at least three “host families” in the vicinity to help familiarise the students with local culture and assist them in local trips.

Prakash, the UGC chief, said the crash course would offer lessons on India’s political and financial systems, society and administration.

But some questioned the plan in the absence of reciprocity. “When the UGC will spend so much to educate American students, it is natural that they should come up with similar scheme for our students. But unfortunately there is no reciprocity,” former UGC secretary R.K. Chauhan said. Prakash said the UGC may ask the Centre to discuss a similar scheme for Indian students with the US.