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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Before going to a Foriegn University

No man is an island




   Adecade back higher education abroad for Indians quintessentially meant studying in Harvard, Oxford and Cambridge. But the dynamics of education have undergone a paradigm shift today. Firstly countries across the world are investing in education, particularly higher education, with the objective of attracting international students. This is being done with the dual objective of promoting international ties and attracting foreign investment. Universities are also offering innovative schemes in terms of financial aid. 


   Secondly, earlier most students who went abroad to pursue their higher education degrees did so for the love of learning and receiving a degree. Hence, earlier it was mostly the exceptionally bright and academically oriented students who went abroad. Today, education is becoming more application-oriented and viewed as an investment in terms of securing a job. Hence, there is a proliferation of students of varying academic calibre who are going abroad to pursue their education. For these students it is not just about getting a good academic degree but getting it in the right environment that makes all the difference, in terms of opening up vistas for personal and professional development. 


   Most Indian students feel that studying in a university abroad will give them a multicultural exposure, and this is one of the key reasons they attribute towards their decision to pursue higher education abroad. Ironically though, this objective gets sidelined when they start the application process. "I, like many of my friends, thought that by pursuing my postgraduation in the UK I would have better prospects in terms of industry interface and networking with professionals. Factors which would eventually help me secure a good job in a multinational company," says Rohit Gupta, who pursued his MBA from Nottingham University Business School. 


   He adds: "I chose Nottingham University because it is ranked among the 10 best universities in the UK. However, once there, I realised that Nottingham was more of a university town and there was hardly any multinational firms based there. The business landscape in Nottingham is characterised largely by traditional enterprises like dairy and textile weaving. As a result, although I got a good education, I suffered in terms of networking. On the other hand, a friend of mine who attended King's College London got the best of both, education and exposure. This ultimately helped him secure a good job profile at Barclays Bank." Sahil Rajvansh, who is studying at the Notre Dame University in US, echoes similar views. 


“Notre Dame is a university town and everything is university-centric. There are hardly any big firms and enterprises. In choosing Notre Dame I was focussing only on its rankings and now I regret my decision. Winters are particularly boring and depressing, as everything shuts down early because of the snow,” shares Rajvansh. 


   According to Rajvansh, universities that are not located in upmarket towns and cities should necessarily focus on building a strong placement cell. He elaborates: “There was a time when I was contemplating transfer to another university. However, the fact that Notre Dame University has a good reputation in terms of facilitating placements made me reconcile to my situation and I stayed on.” 


Reiterating the importance of location, Neha Jain, who pursued her Bachelor's in Finance from San Francisco State University, says her education abroad went beyond the course content owing to the advantage the university enjoys in terms of location. She opines: “A university should be located in a place that has a professional environment.” 


   According to Jain, a university’s location can be beneficial in two ways: “Being in the vicinity of corporate firms facilitates easy reckoning for an institute. It then becomes easier for firms to approach the institute in terms of placements and internships. Secondly, if a university is located in a professional hub there is a strong likelihood for students to meet professionals in informal settings.” Jain, for example, managed to secure an internship in CNET Networks, a Fortune 500 company, when she met a senior executive from the company while travelling in a bus in San Francisco. 


“Earlier most students who went to Canada for higher education preferred to study in the universities of British Columbia and York. But there has been a noticeable shift in the recent years with more and more students opting to study in the universities of Nova Scotia and New Finland,” says Hazel Siromani, vice president, CECN Global Schools. 


   “Moreover, students are not limiting their options to the MTV (Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver) cities as they are realising that the cost of living is far more economical in smaller towns,” she adds. According to her, it is in fact easier for Indian students to acclimatise themselves in smaller towns, as these towns are more welcoming towards Indian and South East Asian students. Speaking on the criterion of rankings she says that rankings can be a cursory consideration at best. Students can refer to universities, which are highly ranked, but they should necessarily do a thorough background research on the university’s faculty and course content before applying to it. “Canadian universities on their part are not very conscientious about rankings and there are only a few ranking agencies,” she adds. 


According to Luna Das, educational advisor for north and northwest India, USEFI, the ranking and brand value of a particular university is a fairly subjective concept. This holds true especially because rankings are done by private agencies. She says that before taking a university’s rankings into account, there are other things students need to consider. “While the location of a university is definitely important, it is equally important to consider the accreditation of the institute and the kind of opportunities it can offer in terms of financial aid,” informs Das. 
She further adds that while most students stress on rankings, they tend to overlook the weightage accorded by the university to the course they are going to pursue. Rashi Mahajan, for example, who pursued her Bachelor's in Political Science at Pisa University-Italy, is a case in point. Rashi admits that while she chose the university on account of its international recognition, she did not bother to learn more about the political science department in particular. 
“Pisa University is known for its computer science courses both, at the Bachelor's and Master's level. And I soon realised that a large part of the university's funds are directed towards research, faculty development and infrastructure building of the computer science department. Although the political science department is one of the relatively older departments at the university, the course is somewhat restrictive and outdated,” says Rashi. 
According to Shikha Mohanty, education and trade manager, Embassy of Ireland, universities in Ireland do not endorse the concept of rankings. Despite this, Ireland is recognised for its technical institutes, which are located across 14 counties. “It is accreditation, location and quality of the course offered in comparison to other universities which should guide students in terms of their selection of a university,” she says. 


So, Das stresses that students should talk to current and former students of a particular university/course before enrolling. “In addition, students should also consider the quality of the faculty, level of research fundings and the overall acceptance rate of the university in terms of international students. It is also advisable to check the total enrolment capacity of a university. Some undergraduate universities have huge numbers in one class and thus, students often suffer in terms of individual attention,” advises Das. 

   The climatic condition and social environment of the place where the university is situated are also important. Das adds: “Students from southern and western India should be particularly cautious about choosing universities in very cold places in the US like Pittsburgh, Boston and Chicago.”


Sunil Sharma


Dil Se Desi Group


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