‘Inclusive Universities Project’ Unites UMass Amherst and University of Pune in Boosting Higher Ed Access

Sangeeta Kamat

AMHERST, Mass. – The University of Massachusetts Amherst is one of four institutions in the country selected to partner with an Indian university under the 2013 Obama-Singh 21st Century Knowledge Program, a new U.S.-India initiative to support innovative collaborations in higher education in India.

UMass Amherst will be teaming up with India’s University of Pune on a project  titled “Inclusive Universities: Linking Diversity, Equity and Excellence for the 21st Century,” which will look at the changing demographics in public higher education in India and help identify policies and practices that promote inclusion and are responsive to new and vulnerable student populations.

The project will be led by Sangeeta Kamat, associate professor in the department of educational policy research and administration, with associate professor Ximena Zúñiga, coordinator of the social justice education concentration in the UMass Amherst College of Education, as co-principal investigator for the project.

The team will look at rates of access, retention and achievement by gender, caste and social class and first generation to assess patterns of access and outcomes, conduct campus climate research and generate “equity indicators” to assess institutional progress over time, says Kamat. Having studied and worked in both countries, Kamat believes that insights from diversity and equity research in the U.S. will be helpful in addressing disparities in Indian higher education.

Stating his enthusiasm and support for the project, the vice chancellor of Pune University, professor Waman Gade said “Pune is one of nine universities in the country that has been identified as a ‘University with Potential for Excellence’ . . . and is committed to the mission of inclusion and excellence by creating an appropriate environment for minority students and excluded populations to excel at the university.” He anticipates the Inclusive Universities project will contribute to national policy on diversity and excellence in higher education.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Barack Obama announced the Obama-Singh Initiative in 2009 to build an enhanced India-U.S. partnership in education. Each government pledged $5 million for the endeavor, for a total of $10 million. Each project receives approximately $250,000 that can be used over a three-year period to cultivate educational reform, foster economic growth, generate shared knowledge to address global challenges, and develop junior faculty at Indian and American institutions of higher learning.