Notre Dame International leads efforts to strengthen partnerships between higher education institutions in the United States and India

India Fulbright Visitors 1
Fulbright Nehru International Education Administrators pictured with Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C.

Home to over 1.4 billion people, India is now the world’s most populous nation. 

This is just one of the many reasons the time is right for a fresh look at partnerships between institutions of higher education in India and the United States—particularly collaborations that address pressing global challenges, both scientific and societal.

This past September, Notre Dame International (NDI) took a leadership role in facilitating that fresh look when it hosted a two-week 2023 Fulbright Nehru International Education Administrators program titled “Issues and Challenges of Higher Education in India and the U.S.”

Held first on campus and then in Washington, D.C., the two-week seminar was designed for senior administrators from universities across India—first to increase their understanding of the U.S. higher education environment and then to jumpstart institutional linkages and collaborations between Indian and U.S. universities, including Notre Dame.

The result of a successful grant application to the Institute of International Education, the seminar was sponsored by the United States-India Educational Foundation (USIEF). Several members of NDI’s Global Innovation Team worked together to design, plan, and administer the seminar—chief among them Jonathan Noble, teaching professor and senior assistant provost for internationalization and global executive director; Dhiraj Mehra, director of initiatives for India, Notre Dame’s Mumbai Global Center, and Maggie Dankert, director for academic strategies and partnerships. 

“Notre Dame International is humbled to have been selected to host the Fulbright Nehru International Education Administrators Program,” says Noble. “It was a meaningful opportunity to support the mission of the U.S. India Education Foundation to promote mutual understanding between the people of the United States and India through the U.S. Government's flagship Fulbright Program for educational and cultural exchange.” 

Notre Dame International designed the two-week executive seminar “Issues and Challenges of Higher Education in India and the U.S.” with the ultimate goal of developing stronger educational partnerships between universities in the U.S. and India. Towards this goal, the seminar included more than forty sessions with experts in higher education from the U.S. government, associations, and universities and colleges, including Notre Dame administrators and faculty, to advance mutual understanding of strategic opportunities to advance institutional partnerships and collaboration. 

Two critical policy shifts make the time right for increased collaboration between U.S. and Indian colleges and universities

“Higher education in India is at an inflection point,” explains Mehra. “It is one based on two critical policy shifts—fortunately, both of which are perfectly aligned with the mission and strategic goals of Notre Dame.”

In June 2023, the American Association of Universities’ taskforce on India issued nine recommendations for U.S-India collaborations—all promoting policies to facilitate new connections for joint research partnerships, dual faculty appointments, and increased student mobility between both countries and at all levels. 

In 2020, after extensive study and discussion, India redesigned its primary and secondary systems of education—moving to structures and aspirations more closely modeled on that of American universities.

“This emphasized the breadth of subject matter for all students and the importance of research for all colleges and universities. An additional component is a new national standard for transferring student credits,” he says. 

Mehra adds that three additional facts underscore that the time is right for increasing U.S.-Indian collaborations: People under the age of 25 account for over 40% of India’s population of 1.4 billion; India is one of the world’s fastest-growing economies; and the U.S. and India, both democracies, share fundamental values and ideals about free inquiry and the open exchange of knowledge and information. 

NDI as a builder of bridges between U.S. and Indian universities

“With these policy changes in the works and the embrace by NDI of its role as a builder of bridges, “explains Dankert, “we submitted our proposal for the seminar to the USIEF and were thrilled to be selected. We knew that Notre Dame, as well as many other U.S. institutions of higher education, could benefit from a deep dive with administrators from universities throughout India—and that we could all benefit from extending that deep dive to include our Fulbright colleagues in Washington, D.C.”

Ten administrators, some from universities with which Notre Dame has been long engaged—for example, the Tata Institute for Social Sciences—as well as from institutions with which the University is seeking new or deeper engagement, signed on for the two-week seminar. They met first for four days on Notre Dame’s campus to participate in seminars and meetings on topics ranging from “Introduction to Higher Education in the United States” to “University Strategic Planning” to “Introduction to Study Abroad.”

Welcomes were extended from University leadership, including University President Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., and Michael Pippenger, Vice President & Associate Provost for Internationalization. Meetings with South Asian faculty and students were also highlighted.

Then, the participants flew to Washington, D.C. for another round of high-level seminars and meetings, including one with the Indian ambassador to the U.S. and several others with Fulbright representatives. Participants also took site visits to Georgetown University, Gallaudet University, and Montgomery Community College—three institutions selected by NDI to introduce them to the full range of American post-secondary institutions.

The USIEF seminar expected to “supercharge” collaborations at Notre Dame and at universities throughout India and the U.S.

Seminar participants unanimously gave the seminar high marks.

Tanya Koshy, Senior programme manager of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, offered: “One of the most valuable lessons was understanding the U.S. higher education ecosystem and how the level of detail and strategic thought in each part ultimately is key to the success of an educational institution’s ability to achieve its vision and mission—whether that is to do with increasing access to students from different backgrounds, pioneering in cutting-edge research, raising support for the institute and it's programmes, or equipping students to be successful in their fields.”

She added: “An unexpected benefit was the peer-to-peer learning with Indian colleagues in formal and informal settings—which we don’t always have the opportunity to do in India! It was interesting to talk through shared experiences and different approaches to internationalization from an Indian perspective.”
As for Notre Dame’s perspective, Dankert cites several “big picture” benefits of the seminar. A prime one was the opportunity it presented to find “another way to shake hands with our State Department and Fulbright colleagues in Washington, D.C.”

Mehra expands on that point: “At the top of our list of aspirations at NDI is to build an even stronger connection with USIEF and the U.S. State Department so as to work closely with the Fulbright program and encourage even more applications—from faculty, staff, and students—both at Notre Dame and throughout India.”

Beyond goals to “supercharge” the Fulbright flagship program, Mehra notes that NDI aims for an array of collaborations: short-term research projects, student and faculty exchanges, and traditional study-abroad experiences.“Increasing the number of partnerships and collaborations is a win-win for India as a country and for Notre Dame as an institution,” he says.

“Through its overall mission and the research that is the embodiment of that mission, Notre Dame is a place that transforms—students, faculty, visitors, and society as a whole,” Mehra continues. “That is what resonates with India—a country with democracy as a foundation and one that is also home to more than 22 million Catholics. There are potentially hundreds of thousands of points of contact and possibilities for collaboration. We’re at the very beginning of a most exciting time.”

Learn more about Notre Dame’s Mumbai Global Center, now at work facilitating faculty delegations and scholarly exchanges, student visits, and faculty lectures and conferences. Thirty Notre Dame faculty are currently doing research In India; 80 undergraduate students have studied there since 2014; and 43 Indian high school students have attended Notre Dame’s summer International Leadership, Enrichment, and Development Program (iLED) on campus.

Originally published by Mary Hendriksen at on October 19, 2023.