Home / Education / News /  Fewer international students in US will mean loss of cultural diversity: Thomas F. Gibbons

New Delhi: Thomas F. Gibbons, dean of the School of Professional Studies at Northwestern University in the US says change in immigration rules and the noise of restriction on student mobility will be counterproductive for US. “What worries me is a loss of cultural diversity," he said. In an interview, Gibbons, who was recently in India, also spoke about Northwestern’s tie-up with Bridge School of Management, trends in adult higher education, online education worldwide and gainful employment rules in the US. Edited Excerpts:

How do you assess Bridge School’s progress over the last few years?

Bridge School is shaping a new frontier in higher education. My perspective is coming from my long experience in the professional school space. Higher education today is going through a tremendous change. There is a new way of how it is being delivered, how it is structured and the credentials. Online education is a big part of that and has extended the reach of that.

We have partnered with Bridge School to develop a programme in biz analytics. It is very much a mainstream programme of one year. In US, biz analytics has become very big and here too it is becoming big in so many fields ranging from finance to marketing, from risk management to healthcare. We are looking at a programme on visualization as a specialization in analytics. The aim isto help people, companies, and organization take hard data-based decisions.

So, you feel Bridge is shaping into a solid professional education school in India?

Absolutely. Their partnership with Northwestern University is a clear indication of commitment to quality. What it is also doing is connecting candidates with employers. We at Bridge School are increasingly building partnership with employers, employers’ groups. That’s the key.

How do you see the growing noise of protectionism, change in immigration rules in the US and its impact on international students and campuses?

I think the enrolment of international students is down in a lot of universities. Students are asking what’s going on? Restriction on seven countries has created a situation where students are saying maybe we should look at Britain, Australia and Canada.

A state of uncertainty will impact education export revenue in the US and universities will be impacted adversely?

I am not concerned about any loss of money. What worries me is a loss of cultural diversity (in universities). A Chinese student, an Indian student brings a world perspective that is rich. It benefits our students... Can we find another student to replace Indian students? Some universities have this issue but that is not the issue in our university. The issue is, our students get cheated of (not getting a) global view.

Adult higher education market in the US is a mature one. What’s your assessment of the adult higher education market here in India?

I think it will leapfrog. The model of just going for a degree is a linear model. Increasingly, it is the unbundling of credentials (which is important). We have seen it in the US, I am seeing now in India. It’s not about just a degree but a learning experience. It is the accumulation of new knowledge as you go on. Indians are realizing the importance of new knowledge, addition of credentials for career growth.

You are an online education specialist…do you see online education becoming mainstream, leaving aside its quality concerns?

MOOCs (massive open online courses) is different than the online education I am talking about. MOOCs are programmes with very little interaction because they are massive. That is more like a text book. I am talking about online education which is interactive—there is an element of synchronous and asynchronous learning. You can build adaptive learning, gamification in this to have interaction between students, among students and faculties. Yes, it is becoming mainstream in the US, in the West. In India, I am seeing this hesitation that we used to see 15 years ago in the US —is it good and this despite the 15 years of technological advancement. We generally like blended programs— 70% online, 30% face-to-face.

Coming to a campus may be the best experience but all cannot do that always…It does not mean online is inferior. You have family, jobs and at the same time you want professional growth.

The gainful employment rules impacted educational institutions last year. The belief was after Donald Trump assumes office that rule against for-profit institutions will get revised. What’s the current status?

The rules are for for-profit institutions. If it applies to not-for-profit institutions, it will be a challenge to them too. I am not a job bag…I want students to think, apply the knowledge. Employment is certainly a priority but not my highest priority. The previous administration pushed out some for-profit institutions, some others were given warnings. These regulations were designed to clean up their (some for-profit institutions) acts.

Will there be a change in the rules?

I think so. There is a space for for-profit institutions. They have adopted innovation, they championed online education before the other universities, provided access, they reached out to populations that universities were not reaching out to. The only problem was, for some, money became their sole motivation. So, some bad apples got caught.

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