Indian American academic and scholar represents the American government in advancing U.S.-India university partnerships
Akhlesh Lakhtakia is a professor of engineering science and mechanics at The Pennsylvania State University and an expert consultant on U.S.-India higher education partnerships.
He has high regards for the Pennsylvania State University (Penn State), an institution he has called his academic home for four decades. With an impressive academic record, he has authored 27 books and published 940 journal articles, presented 420 conference papers and contributed to 34 book chapters.
Born in Lucknow, Lakhtakia holds a B.Tech. degree from the Indian Institute of Technology (Banaras Hindu University) and a Ph.D. from the University of Utah. Lakhtakia is also an expert consultant on U.S.-India higher education partnerships and is the chair of the U.S. members of the U.S.-India Higher Education Partnerships Committee. This government-to-government organization was created in May 2023 as part of the U.S.-India Education and Skills Development Working Group. As a Jefferson Science Fellow at the U.S. State Department, Lakhtakia was in India for a two-week visit in December 2023.
Excerpts from an interview with The Emerging World.
Question: Please tell us about the U.S.-India university partnerships that are already in place and what we can expect in the months ahead.
Lakhtakiya: With 4,500 higher education campuses in the United States and approximately 55,000 in India, the substantial presence of the five million-strong Indian diaspora virtually guarantees a high level of academic and research collaborations between the two countries. Currently, these collaborations are mostly informal, usually occurring between Indian and U.S. researchers, frequently with roots in India.
However, over the past two years, several new partnerships between U.S. and Indian universities have been formalized. These include 2+2 and 3+1 programs at the undergraduate level. Private Indian universities such as O.P. Jindal Global University, Shoolini University, Mahindra University, Christ (Deemed to be University) and Amrita University have signed agreements with various U.S. universities.
India’s National Education Policy of 2020 (NEP 2020) encourages Indian universities to formulate and implement twinning, dual-degree and joint-degree programs with top-ranked international universities. Programs like 2+2 and 3+1 can be easily supplemented by undergraduate twinning programs.
I am glad to note that within the last four months, several U.S.-Indian university collaborations have emerged or are in advanced stages of negotiation, thanks in large part to many Indian American professors at U.S. universities. Among the U.S. universities that have made rapid strides are the Illinois Institute of Technology Chicago, the University of Dayton, New Mexico State University and Penn State. On the Indian side, Vellore Institute of Technology, Shoolini University, National Institute of Technology Trichy and Vishwakarma University stand out as exemplary partners.
Question: What discussions did you have with stakeholders during your recent trip? Is there any outcome that you would like to share?
Lakhtakiya: I visited Bangalore University, Christ (Deemed to be University), the University of Hyderabad, Mahindra University, Woxsen University and IIT Hyderabad. I had meetings at the National Institute of Technology (NIT) Patna, the University of Lucknow, the National Stock Exchange Academy and GLA University. I met the vice-chancellors of seven universities established by the Government of Karnataka in 2023. The Association of Indian Universities organized an interactive session with university leaders in and around New Delhi. I also met the chair of the University Grants Commission.
The overwhelming impression I received was that Indian universities are eager to collaborate with U.S. universities on degree programs as well as in research.
Question: How do U.S.-India higher education partnerships benefit Indian students?
Lakhtakiya: A key factor contributing to the greatness of U.S. universities is the international composition of their campuses. Educators and researchers from all over the world gather at U.S. universities, along with undergraduate and graduate students. The diversity of perspectives, objectives and goals ensures that concepts are carefully examined, leading to universal conclusions, especially in the STEM arena. Indian students will experience this on U.S. campuses during their semester-long visits, which are essential components of twinning and dual-degree programs.
Question: What do U.S. universities look for when they seek partners in India?
Lakhtakiya: U.S. universities are looking for inquisitive, prepared and adventurous students and faculty members when seeking Indian partners. They are also seeking stable and long-lasting relationships in their focus areas to both complement and supplement their own strengths. The idea here is that one plus one will add up to three or more!
Question: By 2025, Indian students studying abroad are expected to spend up to $70 billion. How much of this pie is expected to be spent on a U.S. degree?
Lakhtakiya: Experts count expenditures differently, leading to differing estimates. Let us take $7 billion as the amount spent by Indian students in 2022 in the United States. The number of Indian students in the United States grew by 35 percent from 2022 to 2023. If that growth rate is maintained, Indian students will spend $17.2 billion in the United States in 2025. That is one-quarter of the pie.