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NEP has brought international education to the forefront: University of Essex officials 

1st Jul 2022 06:31 PM | Abhipsa Mohanty

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A 22-member UK University delegation visited India early in June to explore opportunities under the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020. Director of Communications and External Relations from the University of Essex, Vanessa Potter, along with the university’s Director of Student Recruitment and Partnerships, Sandeep Sharma, were on a visit to Hyderabad about that time. And we were more than glad to catch up with them and learn about all that the University of Essex has been up to, specifically when it comes to India. 

For instance, at a time when international universities are clamouring to set up offshore campuses, this public research university has a slightly different approach. It is secure in its knowledge that they want to leverage the creativity in the partnerships that they have and will take up. Plus, they've had an office here for over a decade now.

Also, their success in the field of research is well-known. One of their strengths which will surely help them attract the 2,000 Indian students they hope to attract in the academic year 2022-2023. Also, the array of scholarships they offer will surely help.

In a conversation with EdexLive, they share their exciting opinions on the NEP, talk about the University of Essex’s partnership goals with Indian varsities and, most importantly, talk about the opportunities awaiting Indian students in the UK.

What are your opinions on the NEP and what does the University of Essex say about it?
Sandeep Sharma (SS): The new NEP changes everything around partnerships. What the National Education Policy has done is that it has brought international education to the forefront. It has also created a really big opportunity for British universities, especially for Essex, because we have had our presence in India for ten years.

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Earlier, we were working with Institutes of Eminence (IoEs) like IITs, OP Jindal and Amity University in the absence of regulations. But the NEP has opened the arena to everyone now. We will wait for the government to come out with the specifications on partnerships.

Vanessa Potter (VP): We have had an office here for the past ten years and we have been actively trying to develop partnerships but it has been limited — both in the case of public universities and also private universities, to an extent. There has been an interesting shift under the NEP, with the recognition of internationalisation as a part of the agenda.

Going by the World Rankings, there has been a tremendous success for Indian universities and it has come about because of international partnerships, phenomenal research and also world engagement. So, the NEP brings strategic success for Indian universities and also foreign universities, among which the University of Essex is very well-positioned.

We very much welcome the NEP and we continue to wait for a mutual recognition, because that is a significant step further. We are ready to develop new partnerships and deepen the ones we have already fostered.

What are the provisions of the NEP that you find most interesting?
SS: What essentially affects the British universities is that the NEP now allows foreign universities to set up campuses in India. We are already speaking to institutions at GIFT City in Gujarat. However, Essex is in no hurry to jump into partnerships and open campuses in India. However, the implementation and framework is yet to be worked on. So we must work towards a successful partnership than congratulate ourselves on this move just yet. It needs a lot of work to make it a success.

VP: We’ve historically not done offshore campuses. And the pandemic has given us opportunities for creativity in terms of transnational education arrangements. So it’s about presenting those opportunities in India. We will not be setting up offshore campuses, though some universities will be doing do. What we will be doing is looking for creativity in the partnerships that we will take up. It’s exciting. Sandeep is exploring opportunities. There are some institutions with great experience in partnerships while some do not. So we understand that it is going to take long in developing partnerships.

Would you agree that the NEP has opened new arenas for innovation? What is your opinion?
VP: Yes, I agree. If I speak of other countries, then we have a portfolio of different types of partnerships, like student exchange programmes, joint PhD supervision, joint teaching and many more. There is no end to creative programmes.

Historically, it has been seen that international universities pick out brilliant students away, not really thinking about the benefits. But we have never done so. We want mutual benefits, and want partnerships that work for everybody involved. I am trying to bring some creativity into the partnerships. Campus life is exciting, but I also think that the online teaching, where students and staff collaborate from miles away is also exciting.

And I am trying to see if we can work out creative solutions in this area, where students from partner universities can work on real-time issues relevant to them even from afar. And there are a lot of opportunities here.

Speaking of partnerships, the UGC recently initiated running dual-degree programmes in partnerships with foreign universities. What is your take on it?
SS: We welcome the move. But we are already working with 29 partnerships and have links with institutions like Osmania University and JNTU. So we’ll be focusing on these first, but we are open to new partnerships under this UGC policy. We want educational institutions to know that they can approach us regarding this.

VP: Partnerships are about working with the right people. So, our approach is to build on the relationships and opportunities that we have. Also, we are looking to partner with universities that are like us. Be it in terms of research excellence, teaching excellence, interdisciplinary approach, subject strength or synergy — there has to be a commonality.

University of Essex features in the Top 25 in the Sunday Times Good University Guide 2022. Tell us about some of the most interesting research topics that are being worked on in the university now.
VP: That’s tough. There are a lot of interesting researches being carried out in the university. But I can give the example of the Institute of Public Health and Wellbeing that was launched in March this year and people are working on research there to bring out real-time applicable solutions to the health and wellbeing implications of the pandemic and also researching on other diseases. Our centres of excellence are Human Rights and we take an interdisciplinary approach, so there are some interesting researches going on in Data Analytics, which is an important area.

SS: It has to be considered that research should be industry-oriented. So, we spent the last three years developing interdisciplinary programmes at Essex. You can study Economics and Genomics with Data Science, Politics with Data Analytics at Essex, along with a lot other interdisciplinary programmes in both UG and PG levels.

VP: We go to leading centres of excellence and take a multidisciplinary approach. We have, as Sandeep said, tried to align new subjects which can become emerging research areas. We have also launched new programmes after that, as per demands of applicants who wish to use and understand real-time research as a part of their academic study.

So would you say that a multi-disciplinary approach is the reason for your success in the field of research?
VP: That is one of the reasons. We have a specific approach. All of our academic staff is research-active. We have a continued commitment to our staff for having time to research, which is really tough in all universities. We are trying to provide a supportive base for all academic staff. Also, our research is focussed on real-time issues, so that is a key for success in the area.

Most of our courses at the Graduate level provide an opportunity for a research project to support a leading area of academic research. And again our Master’s programmes have an integrated research area. There are many other reasons for our success, but it’s mostly about creating a strong research environment — a supportive environment where people have the access to leading world research.

SS: What we are proud of is that our researches are accessible to industries through a knowledge transfer partnership (KTP). We are number one in the UK for KTPs. If an industry or a start-up needs solutions for a problem, they can tap into our research database and approach for solutions.

How do you think the visit from the 22 UK University delegation pans out for India?
SS: What is important for UK universities to understand is that India is a complex place. A visit from the delegation is a start, an introduction.

VP: It is a good start. I think this means that there is a fabulous recognition of India as an assertive, strong education partner. I think that’s a very good place to be for India. It is a big win for India because you have institutes of eminence, fabulous research and amazing students. But I think there’s also an opportunity for a different approach to education for students to experience.

Studying in the UK is a different experience because our Indian students tell us that. Independent research, critical thing, analysis, and creativity — they are things the UK is renowned for in the education system. Working in partnerships, there are things we can support in Indian institutions. And I also think we can learn a lot from working with Indian institutions.

Tell us something about the Indian students at Essex. Are there any specific courses that they choose? What about scholarships?
VP: From this academic year of 2022-23, we are enrolling 2,000 Indian students. And the University of Essex is a medium-sized university, so this is significant. We pride ourselves on the diversity of our international student community. Indian students form a large part of this population. We have seen more undergraduate interest from Indian students. Areas like Psychology, Literature, Bio-Science are attracting interests.

SS: Tech is also a field that has seen a major increase of students. FinTech, Computer Science, Robotics, Data Science and Business are also fields that many students are opting for. We offer a 25-30% scholarship on our fees to academically meritorious students for both UG and PG levels. It is open to all.

VP: It is interesting that so many Indians have always been interested in studying in the UK. There are a lot of job opportunities available, especially after the UK left EU. This along with the fact that people have a great time here might be the reasons. People are welcomed here with open arms. People to do well need to be happy and our students are happy.

Are there any programmes aimed at making the Indians more comfortable?
VP: We have a very active campus in terms of cultural activities. The Holi celebrations are a great example. We host a two-week welcome for all our students. There is an Indian society and there are many events organised by them like visits to London. And what is interesting and joyful is that Indian society does not have only Indian students.

We also have a student ambassador programme. If a student has problems or needs guidance, they can be approached. They can also do so on social and digital platforms. We also have programmes on celebrating cultural and religious events and how we support them. We arrange activities and celebrations for students who stay back on the campus during Easter and Christmas holidays.

We embrace all our international communities. We understand that people care about these things apart from education. You come to a university to experience diverse cultures, and it’s about communities looking after each other. I think we do it very well.

What would you say about your USPs?
VP: I think that Essex is a dual-intensive university, so research and education excellence, where we offer a transformational education. We offer life-changing opportunities throughout people’s student experience. And we want people to come in and change their world. There is also the opportunity to meet people from all around the world. Once you join the family of Essex, you can’t get rid of it (laughs).

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