Post-Covid, Students Are Looking North East For World-Class Higher Education

Assam Down Town University

New Delhi, September 3: Post-Covid, NE students and their parents are considering whether to go far for higher studies or study in a nearby college that can provide world-class higher education with excellent infrastructure.

North-East India: A burgeoning education hub

“My daughter, Lilia, completed her graduation from Delhi University but has recently moved back to her home state, i.e. Assam. Lilia is passionate about fashion designing and is currently pursuing a career in this field from a top private institute in Guwahati. The college is well-equipped with modern amenities, just like any other college in India’s metro cities, and the faculty is excellent and cooperative. She is also getting opportunities to showcase her creations and network with senior professionals in the industry, even as a fresher. Security-wise, she feels a lot safer in here. We are hopeful that the days ahead will be brighter.”

Those words by Manjari Kalita, a parent, clearly capture the desire of every parent for their children as far as education is concerned – quality, safety, and practicality. These three requirements are now the instrument used to determine what higher institution is best for a child.

Indeed, education in North East India is coming of age. This is a widely shared opinion among stakeholders in the region. For Narayan Chandra Talukdar, Vice-Chancellor of Assam down town University – one of the most prestigious institutions offering more than 64 different programmes and with over 8000 students from 10 Indian states as well as Bhutan, Nepal, Bangladesh and as far as Rwanda, Nigeria and South Africa, the goal is to standardise the education system to meet global standards and compete favourably.

“North-East India, especially Assam, is fast emerging as a leading name in the field of higher education. Today it occupies an important place among the famous seats of higher educational institutions offering inclusive and equitable quality education leading to sustainable development and growth of the students. Assam has several management, medical, and engineering colleges catering to the region’s growing needs and the country as a whole. Moreover, many reputed universities of the state have ushered in a new era of education in diverse disciplines providing rich career options to the region’s students. I encourage the young minds to take up this opportunity of choosing their area of study from the vast options available in our region.”

The North-East Indian states of Assam, Sikkim, Nagaland, Manipur, Arunachal, Mizoram, Pradesh, Tripura and Meghalaya have begun an educational resurgence geared towards building a system that works not just for the people of India but for anyone across the globe seeking the requisite skill and international exposure required to function in today’s world.

Attracting foreign students

These tertiary institutions are opening new vistas from regular bachelor programmes and newly-initiated courses like BCA, BBA, Sericulture, Travel and Tourism, Environmental Science, among others, and several other professional courses to choose from frontiers for quality learning and research. Another significant angle to consider is the region’s cultural diversity that exposes international students to a whole new experience. Its enormous natural resources and biodiversity, and relatively high literacy rate further project India’s North East region as a truly global enclave.

This much was corroborated by the Joint Director, SCERT, Assam, Dr Jayanta Kumar Sarmah when he observed that “the North East region has a natural setting with a wide range of resources for real-time learning. On this strength, and with this God-gifted opportunity, North Eastern states may design specific courses with contemporary demand for quality life and living across the country. One of the most significant potential areas is agricultural science, focusing on biotechnology and forestry.

“When I was a student in Assam Agricultural University, I had the opportunity to meet many students from other states, and even from some other developing countries. They enjoyed learning here in Assam. The government needs to take the initiative to provide world-class facilities in the institutions to run one or two specific need-based course(s), which will have a tremendous impact on socio-economic development. This will entice students from other states and countries,” he notes.

According to current statistics, most of the international students come from Nepal, Afghanistan, Bangladesh Africa, Bhutan, Nigeria, Lao, Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Iran, with many of them seeking the B-Tech engineering degree, and a large number of many others taking the BBA degree in Business Administration. Other popular undergraduate courses for international students are Pharmacy, Medicine, Computer Applications, Fashion, Sociology, Dentistry and Nursing.

Driving the wheel of change

Former Union Human Resource Development Minister Dr Ramesh Pokhriyal said recently that the government seems committed to providing quality education and the improvement of infrastructure in India’s educational sector, especially for students of North East India. He listed several actions taken by the government in recent times, including approving the sum of Rs 986.47 crores for a permanent campus at Sikkim University at Yangyang. With 300 acres of land valued at Rs 15 crore already allotted by the government of Sikkim, the authorities seem poised to upgrade the educational system in the region.

The sanctioning of the revised cost estimates of NITs at cities like Arunachal, Mizoram, Pradesh, Meghalaya and Nagaland is also worthy of note. If everything goes according to plan, these institutions will come into full effect at their respective permanent campuses by March 31st 2022. These efforts give parents and stakeholders some hope that North East India may soon begin to compete alongside the top institutes across the country. Already, many institutions stand out in the region.

For this Guwahati-based educator, Randhir Gogoi, the last decade has witnessed the emergence of North East India as a new educational hub with numerous state and non-state universities and colleges being established. “These institutions, both government and private, provide world-class infrastructure and teaching resources that have been able to retain local students to a larger extent than ever before. Furthermore, auxiliary services like new libraries, bookshops, recruitment fairs, even paying guests and private hostels have added to the educational infrastructure in the region, along with generating employment and new incomes for people.

Assam’s exemplary footprints

In Assam, the government has been credited with putting in place groundbreaking innovations to promote educational excellence. No wonder the state has three universities– Tezpur University, Gauhati University. And Dibrugarh University- in the top 100 universities of India, according to the National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF) ranking. In the same vein, there are three Assamese institutions in the top 100 engineering colleges of India. That is quite a feat by Assam, which is looking to take the lead.

In North-East India, the best hospitals and medical colleges are also found in Assam. But the Assam government is not yet resting on its oars, as they’ve gone ahead to announce the construction of four additional medical colleges in the state. This is part of an ambitious Rs12000 crore project initiated by the government to improve several public infrastructures in the state. As the state’s finance and health minister, Dr HimantaBiswaSarma revealed that the project is one of the highest ever capital investments in Assam.

First-hand perspectives

The words of Nani Gopal Mahanta, Academic/Education Advisor to the Assam Government and Professor and Head of the Department of Political Science and Director of Global Studies Centre at Gauhati University, provide a personal perspective to this trend. “At the South East Asian Studies department at Gauhati University, I was able to bring together 30 students from foreign countries – Nepal, Laos, and Thailand. They got to study for one semester at our university. In that particular semester, there’s a paper on Indian Studies Programme, for which they stayed here for six months with a credit transfer facility. After the completion, the credit gets transferred to the parent university.

“Also recently, I had the opportunity to interact with 30 international students in Dibrugarh University. Most of the students are from Africa, Latin America, and Afghanistan. With the opening of Act East Policy, several opportunities have sprung up. The policy is not just related to trade and commerce, as is widely known, but also for people to contact. We’ve had three batches of international students studying in our university so far.”

Mahanta further adds that because of the Covid-19 situation, things are going slow. Still, he is hopeful that as the situation improves, more students from across the globe would show interest. “While we’re doing our best to promote our education and culture, the government too has a big role to play. They need to provide scholarship opportunities to international students. In other parts of India, for example, Delhi, Mumbai, Pune etc., their respective governments offer scholarships and other perks to international students. We need to do the same; introduce similar incentives. When international students come and study in the North East region, they become ambassadors for our culture. This way, we could reach out to a wider mass,” he said.

Speaking on the need for growth in the sector, Dr Jayanta Kumar Sarmah acknowledges the present stipulation for technology embodied in higher education. He says State Educational Technology Forum (SETF) should be created to provide a platform for enhancing technology to improve learning, assessment, planning and administration, both for schools and higher education. Considering the massive migration of talented students from Assam and other North-East states to other parts of India and even abroad to receive better education, effective governance and leadership in the state’s education department are needed to create a culture of excellence and innovation within the system.

“I would prefer my kids studying here in Assam because, in the present times, our state is at par with the other states boasting of providing world-class education and state of the art infrastructure. We have many good names in the educational scenario offering courses ranging from engineering to management, allied health sciences, humanities, medicine, law and many more. The hostels are equipped with all the modern facilities, and much attention is given to the overall development of the students. The placement records of the institutions give an insight into its profile and brand image. This makes it a lot easier for us, the parents, to choose the right place of education for their children. Above all, I feel that studying at one’s place saves much of the unnecessary hassles caused by issues like travel, food, homesickness, language problem and many more,” says Mr Roy, a parent of a student. He studies at Assam downtown University.

“The consistent efforts of AdtU to be at par with the global standards in education has resulted in a higher inflow of students from other states like Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Kashmir, Chennai, etc. apart from the northeastern states to our university. AdtU offers the best experience in campus life, placements and industry exposure”, added Narayan Chandra Talukdar, Vice-Chancellor of Assam down town University.

As the wind of change continues to blow through the universities, colleges and institutes of higher learning in North East India, it is imperative to sustain the tempo and honestly give the region the attention it deserves to be transformed into a centre, not just for leisure tourism, but for educational tourism as well.

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