Partha Ray

Exclusive Interview With Mr Partha Ray(Director, Central European Countries, Ministry of External Affairs)

The Bologna Process: Mechanism of promoting intergovernmental cooperation amongst 48 European countries in the field of higher education.

At times when you meet a person who is so full of good vibes and positive energy, you surely feel the person has made your day.

This indeed happened with me, today, when I met Mr. Partha Ray, Director, looking after bilateral affairs of Central European countries and India, in the Ministry of External Affairs, New Delhi.

Is there any program for our professors to attain excellence in their respective fields?

My answer is yes.

Details are in the conversation…

 

Excerpts from our conversation regarding The Bologna Process :

Ms Sujata Mehta: You are working with Ministry of External Affairs. What’s the twist behind this as you have studied pure science?

Mr Partha Ray: I was born in Calcutta and I remember distinctly that during my formative years, any student studying subjects other than pure, material or life science was considered to be below average. 

My initial ambition, when I was in school, was to become an engineer   I studied in Irish and Scottish missionary schools where I developed a special liking for Physics. And by the time I passed out of high school, I decided to study Physics in my undergraduate course. My ambition changed and I aspired to become a physicist. 

During those three years, I had the opportunity to meet people from every stratum of society and visited many places across India. I also had the opportunity to observe from close quarters how the government machinery works through my father who was a civil servant.

I started aspiring to work for the people and, therefore, by the end of my college education, I decided to make my career in the government. 

Bologna Process

 

 

Ms Sujata Mehta: As the very first question, I want to ask you about The Bologna Process. It is something Indian Higher Education should know in detail. Kindly share its very basic but must know details.

Mr Partha Ray: The Bologna Process is a mechanism promoting intergovernmental cooperation amongst 48 European countries in the field of higher education.

It’s a concept of standardizing the education system in Europe to a very great extent. It’s like going to the grassroots level to ensure there will not be much of a difference or rather very little difference between the system followed by one country and the system followed by another.

Though Bologna Process is fundamentally a European initiative, its borders are not limited to Europe. It encourages mobility across borders. 

The Bologna Process was launched with the Bologna Declaration in 1999 in Italy. At present there are 48 member signatory states which are now collectively called European Higher Education Area (EHEA).

Under the Bologna Process, countries have introduced a three-cycle higher education system after high school (12 years of formal schooling), i.e bachelor’s (three years), master’s (2 years) and doctoral studies (3 years)

In Bologna parlance, they named this three-cycle system as LMD, that is, Licence, Maitrise and Doctorat, in the French language. 

The standardization is also applicable to Foreign Language courses, where they’ve divided language studies for foreign learners into three levels, each level having two sub-levels.

Thus, under the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, they have the A1-A2, B1-B2 and C1-C2 levels corresponding to Basic User, Independent User and Proficient User, respectively. 

The numerals in each alphabetic category denote lower (1) and upper (2). Thus, a German who has studied Spanish as a foreign language and who has obtained the level of B2 is considered to be an independent user of the Spanish language with certain benchmarked achievement to his credit. C2 being the highest level give one a proficiency like that of a native speaker.

Not only this, in subjects like pure and applied science (Physics Chemistry, Engineering etc.) Bologna has structured the curriculum in a very strategic and intensive model.

When it comes to liberal arts or social sciences, subjects like History and Political science, philosophy etc. each country, owing to their different national history, polity and ethos, are given some liberty. It is understood that the system cannot have a watertight compartment of subjects. 

Let’s understand this with an example

The history of Germany is different from that of, say, Albania. There cannot be any parity between these two stories of civilizations, obviously. So there has to be some room for every country to be able to write their history and culture the way these have been shaped in those countries.

Despite these limitations, Bologna Process has tried to make a standardized model of education.

My experience of over a decade in three different European Union countries, namely, France, Ireland and Romania has been such that I’ve always been allocated Educational and Cultural portfolios apart from the usual portfolios of politics, economics, consular etc.

Bologna Process

Ms Sujata Mehta:  In your opinion what significance does Bologna Process hold in the 21st century?

Mr Partha Ray: 21st century is all about mobility. You may be working in one country today and in another next year or in six months, say. If you intend to move with your children, then they should be studying in a system that will enable them to transfer whatever is learnt in an educational institution in one country to another educational institution in the next country. This is where relevance of Bologna Process comes into limelight. 

Such transfer of subjects already learnt between two universities of two different signatory countries is called European Credit Transfer System (ECTS).

For one year of undergraduate studies, you get 60 ECTS. Thus there are 180 ECTS for a three-year undergraduate degree and 240 for a four year one. Similarly for two years Masters, there are 120 ECTS and 180 again for a three-year Doctorate degree.

Now let us take an example as to how this ECTS works..

Suppose a student has studied 1st Year of the three years Bachelor of International Business (BIB) in Ireland and then decides to move to a university in Romania, he would have obtained 60 ECTS in Ireland.

In Romania, he will be directly admitted into 2nd Year of the same course, i.e. BIB. In case he intends to change the discipline, say, he intends to now study Bachelor of Economics (BE) course, then he will get credit transfer for those subjects he has already passed in BIB which are common to 1st Year of BE course.

In case most of the subjects are common, he will be directly admitted into 2nd Year of BE course and in that year or the following, he will have to pass the subjects not taken by him in his BIB course.

The whole idea is to bring about parity for the smooth transition of students and professionals. A PhD degree holder from one signatory country and one from another signatory country in the same discipline will be at par.

This obviates any possibility of speculations, as a person holding a Phd degree from any university in Germany can’t be considered superior when compared to a person having the same degree from, say, a smaller non-European Union country like the Republic of Moldova. 

I believe that the world will be following the Bologna system sooner or later, albeit in a different name. The concept is undoubtedly good. 

The present situation is such that people nowadays boast about being from a certain renowned University and degrade others coming from no so well known university. The notions of superiority and inferiority will be abolished with this system as the standard would be the same everywhere.

Ms Sujata Mehta:  So do you think that such a concept can be followed in India too?

Mr Partha Ray: Yes, it can be. But, then you have to have some structural adjustment.

This is because when you are talking about standardization and parity, you have to have institutional parity, infrastructural parity, teaching faculty parity etc. All these standards need to match in every institution.  

For instance, 

Let us believe that the Bologna process has taken over the whole world and is acting as an umbrella. But there in the EU member states, they have far better infrastructure in their universities and better intellectual capital compared to the lesser developed countries in the region.

Remuneration of the teaching faculties should also be matching, or else universities will not be able to hold back expert faculties.

If we wish to implement such a system in our country, I believe we would need some upgradation

  1. The entire infrastructure; the infrastructure as far as the universities are concerned, the laboratories, electronic devices and technological advances must be brought at par with international standards. 
  2. The professors; you need to have teaching faculty with similar training and education to impart training to students. Parity in faculty capabilities is something we need to be really serious about.

So we have to upgrade the quality of teaching faculty commensurate with international standards and also simultaneously upgrade the infrastructural capacity of institutions at par with international standards.

 

Bologna Process

SM: Is there any program for our professors so that they can attain excellence in their respective fields?

Mr Ray: Today, academia is closely related to the industry. No education is considered to be good or complete if the products are unsuitable to the industry, that is to say, unemployable.

Today’s high rate of unemployment is precisely for the reason that you learn some outdated things in the universities, whereas, the employers need some different skill sets.

One, and perhaps the only way to tackle this problem is to have the regular interface of the academicians with the industry specialists.

This is a two-way, win-win situation as the academia will come to learn from the industry specialists what exactly their needs are and incorporate those elements into the university curriculum to make their graduates cent percent employable.

On the other hand, the industry specialists, who were students long time back, need to be informed about the latest research finding on subjects under their competence. This can only be provided by academic research scholars. 

Having said that, I now come back to your question;

Is there any program for our professors to attain excellence in their respective fields?

My answer is yes.

You definitely have heard about the GIAN Scheme of our government – Global Initiative of Academic Networks.

Through this scheme, our government aimed at tapping the talent pool of scientists and entrepreneurs, internationally to encourage their engagement with the Higher Educational Institutions (HEI) in India.

So as to augment the country’s existing academic resources, accelerate the pace of quality reform, and elevate India’s scientific and technological capacity to global excellence.

In order to incorporate the best international experience into our systems of education, enable interaction of faculty with the best academic and industry experts from all over the world and also share their experiences and expertise to motivate people to work on Indian problems, this Scheme develops over international summer and winter vacation term.

These are the academic terms when the students go on recess and the teachers are free to indulge in exercises of competence building. Under the scheme, we have collaborations with a plethora of institutes under which professors are provided with an opportunity to teach or conduct research for one semester, two, or a whole academic year at an overseas university.  

Bologna Process

SM: I’m very curious to know those countries we are already partnered with?

Mr Ray: Many. To name a few, we partnered with countries like Canada, Germany, Ireland, Romania, USA, UK and countries in Latin America and Caribbean. We have pockets of strength in our educational system; the IITs, the IIMs, the universities declared as centres of excellence, where American companies regularly come for talent hunt.

Why do they come? They, ideologically do not need to. But the question remains, WHY.

 

SM: Academic exchanges, civil society interactions and people-to-people contacts need to be promoted to develop a symbiotic relationship. How far have we been able to build strategic relations with Europe post cold war?

Mr Ray: Diplomatic relations are established between independent countries. India attained Independence in 1947 and the second world war ended in 1945.

Therefore, India established a relationship with the changed borders of European countries from 1948 onwards. But, European history doesn’t end with the demarcation of borders after the second world war.

Example, USSR disintegrated, Yugoslavia disintegrated, Czechoslovakia disintegrated, all these happened post-cold war. Therefore, Indian diplomacy has had to re-establish diplomatic relations with the newly formed states in a democratic way paving equality not only of religious minorities but also gender.   

Currently, our relations are smooth. India has always welcomed and supported smaller European countries in the UN.

EU is the largest trading partner for India and is also the largest giver of foreign direct investments to India. However, despite repeated consultations with EU, the EU-India FTA still remains a distant dream. 

In today’s world, political diplomacy is with restraint, replaced with other modern aspects Soft diplomacy, Cultural diplomacy and Digital diplomacy etc have taken over. We have a separate wing called (Indian Council of Cultural Relations) ICCR which deals with our cultural relation, educational relation. It is an autonomous body under the aegis of MEA.

They have a program called “Distinguished Visitors Program” under which the ICCR facilitates visits to India by Professors, Scholars, Intellectual Academicians, of various universities, colleges. 

The programme ICCR arranges a 10-day programme where they meet Indian experts of their respective fields and are provided with an opportunity to a firsthand view of the developments in India.

Under the programme various sessions such as lectures, round table discussion, meeting with Ministers and senior Government officials take place. Sightseeing to Indian historical places and monuments are also scheduled.

Then we have people to people and cultural programs which includes sending communities of dancers, singers and not the commercial groups but those community-driven small groups who excel in our cultural heritage to other countries in order to spread awareness about our culture and to also build up ties with them.

ICCR is also tasked with the establishment of  University Chairs or commonly known as “Chairs of Indian Studies” in many foreign universities. They teach subjects from politics & economy to society & culture

Bologna Process

SM: What the count of universities/institutes has partnered until now? Also any future additions in this?

Mr Ray: In countries like Slovenia and Romania, we have partnered with 2 universities in each of these countries so far. We have quite a few partners in the Czech Republic too.   

Yes, the partnerships are based on MOU’s with individual universities. These agreements are for a period of five years and are extended as and when it is necessary.

SM: Please let us know about the programs that presently promote student exchange and mobility?

Mr Ray: Universities usually tie up amongst themselves and our role is quite limited. Many Indian universities have tied up with foreign universities. The executives come forward from each of these countries to evaluate standards of the facility provided by a certain university such as quality of faculty, the curriculum but fundamentally the infrastructure and vice versa. 

Take for example Waterford University in the city of Waterford in Ireland have tie-ups with not just one but 16 universities from north to south.

Trinity College ( University of Dublin) they have a tie-up with Thapar Institute of Engineering here in Patiala.
Lovely Professional University per say is quite a new university but it has many tie-ups across the globe. Bombay University, Jawaharlal Nehru University they all have major tie-ups with brilliant universities.

Delhi University, in fact, has a Romanian Chair and it has been in place for 35 years now.

Bologna Process


Ms Sujata Mehta: If we were to trace the history of bilateral relations between CEE and India, how would you begin?

Mr Ray: The history of Central European Countries is a much more recent one. If you remember the disintegration of Yugoslavia and that of USSR. Yugoslavia was also a founder of NAM with Josep Bin Tito in 1960.
But the present-day countries that I am dealing with are fairly new,

The present relations are good as India has always been at the forefront in accepting the states in the Committee of nations and the will to support them at the UN. So far we don’t have any troubles with Central European Countries thus the European countries are safe for Indian professors and students.

 

SM : The awareness about CEE as well as the EU in India is still limited. what are the measures that the ministry has taken to ensure higher visibility?

Mr Ray: The External Publicity and Public Diplomacy  Division under the  Ministry of External Affairs was set up in 2006 to educate and influence global and domestic opinion on key policy issues and project a better image of the country.

But this initiative was meant to be about our heritage’s publicity across the world but in order to solve our problem of internal publicity we decided to have MEA spokespersons and Joint Secretaries to sit down every Friday to publicize our programs and schemes with the respective journalists, embassy’s representatives along with the ambassadors.

We also have regular courses with Foreign Service Institute established in 1986 to provide necessary professional training needs of  Indian Foreign Service. We’ve also curated courses for the foreign diplomats in order to build friendship and cooperation amongst countries.

The Foreign diplomats are taken on a tour across India covering major sectors and know-how of our culture.

Bologna Process


SM: How can countries like Albania, Austria, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia be brought at par with the likes of Germany and France when it comes to facilities in Higher Education?

Mr Ray: The Bologna Process has left out a few countries. I’ll let you know that it’s not a watertight provision. They have tried to standardize but I think they’ve not been able to do so.  I’ll share my personal experience with you, My daughter grew up in Europe, she studied a year in Ireland as it was my last year in the country and I was to transfer to Romania. 

Keeping in mind that both these countries are the Bologna Member States and that they have ECTS i.e.  European Credit Transfer Scheme, to enable the performance of common procedures that ensure academic recognition of studies abroad. 

It carries out measuring and comparing learning achievements and transferring it from one university to another.

She had to complete her Bachelor’s programme with 60 credit and according to the ECTS she was to get into 2nd year of college in Romania. This wasn’t the case as they had 6 more subjects in that particular degree program. 

We were told that either she can pass those 6 extra subjects in her second year or she has to be admitted in the first year. 

Owing to my personal experience I can say that the system has not achieved the right level of standardization.

Coming to the question of migration and inflow of students to countries like Germany, we must keep in mind that it is a growing economy and attracts a lot of people, you have better chances there. 

We have to ask why people are not interested to go to other countries in the first place?

The reason people choose not to study in Albania is because it is still in the second stage of the economic development organization and the quality of university education is in the centre of analysis and critical discourses as of now.

Albania is a candidate looking to join European union membership. The EU has asked Albania to bring about structural changes in order to decrease economic parity. These countries have to scale up, aiming at the integration of these societies in the European regional developments.

In order to overcome these challenges, countries need to establish independent institutions. This is for the evaluation of the educational system, increasing academic autonomy, structure, finance and administration, securing the proper financial and human resources seems the most suitable.

Bologna Process

SM: How can the students get access to rules of procedure for applying under Erasmus+, Erasmus Mundus Joint Masters’ Degrees (EMJMDs), Capacity Building in Higher Education (CBHE) and various other programs?

Mr Ray: They need to go to the website in order to know the same.
The website is student-friendly where they have mentioned the required documents, rules of procedure etc.

Know more about Mr.Partha Ray

We have discussed the Bologna Process in detail, present programmes of and many other future perspectives about Central European countries Higher Education for Stay tuned with Eduvoice- The voice of Higher Education.

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