As the education scenario post Covid changes drastically, students in India's Northeastern states are increasingly choosing a university or college closer to home. Stakeholders, ranging from parents to educators, say region-based universities have emerged as viable higher education contenders, as opposed to learners migrating to other states in the Covid era.
A burgeoning education hub
"My daughter, Lilia, graduated from Delhi University but has recently moved back to her home state Assam. She is passionate about fashion designing and is currently pursuing a career in it 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 gets to showcase her creations and network with senior professionals in the industry, even as a fresher. Security-wise, she feels a lot safer here," says Manjari Kalita, a parent.
Quality, safety, and practicality, are the parameters prospective students weigh institutions on, and Kalita says local universities fit the bill.
Education in North East India is coming of age, this is a shared opinion among the region's stakeholders. For Narayan Chandra Talukdar, Vice Chancellor of Assam down town University - a prestigious institution offering over 64 programmes and with over 8000 students from 10 Indian states as well as Bhutan, Nepal, Bangladesh and as far as some African countries, the goal is to standardize 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 a number of management, medical and engineering colleges catering to the growing needs of the region 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 students of the region. Young minds are encouraged to choose their area of study from the vast options available in our own region."
The North East Indian states of Assam, Sikkim, Nagaland, Manipur, Arunachal, Mizoram, 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
From regular programmes like BCA, BBA, Sericulture, Travel and Tourism, Environmental Science, among others, to several professional courses, these tertiary institutions are opening up new vistas for quality learning and research.
The cultural and natural diversity of the region exposes foreign students to a whole new experience.
Joint Director, SCERT, Assam, Dr Jayanta Kumar Sarmah observed that "the North East region has a natural setting with wide range of resources for real time learning." One of the biggest areas of potential is agricultural science with special focus on bio-technology and forestry. "The government needs to take the initiative to provide world-class facilities in the institutions to run one or two specific need-based courses, which will have a tremendous impact on socio-economic development. This will definitely entice students from other states and countries," he notes.
For 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 are able to retain local students to a larger extent than ever before. 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 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.
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 says: "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 people 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 currently going slow, but he is quite 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 needs to provide scholarship opportunities and perks to international students, like is done in other parts of India. When foreign 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.
According to statistics, most of the foreign 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 degrees. Other popular undergraduate courses for foreign students are Pharmacy, Medicine, Computer Applications, Fashion, Sociology, Dentistry and Nursing.
"I would prefer my kids studying here in Assam because in the present times our state is at par with the other states in terms of education and infrastructure. Many good names in the educational scenario offer courses from engineering to management, allied health sciences, humanities, medicine, law and more. The hostels have modern facilities and the overall development of students is a focus area. The placement records of the institutions give an insight to their profile. This makes it a lot easier for parents to choose the right place of education for their children. Above all, I feel that studying at one's own place saves unnecessary hassles caused by issues like travel, food, homesickness, and language problem," says Mr Roy, a parent of a student learning at Assam down town University.
"The consistent efforts of AdtU to be at par with the global standards in education has resulted in higher inflow of students from other states like Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Kashmir, Chennai, etc apart from the north eastern states to our university. AdtU offers world-class experience in terms of campus life, placements and industry exposure," added Narayan Chandra Talukdar, Vice Chancellor of Assam down town University.
As winds of change blow through institutions of higher learning in North East India, stakeholders stress on giving the region the attention it deserves to be transformed into a center for educational tourism.