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Seven memorandums initiate exchange with India

October 19, 2006

UW-River Falls Chancellor Don Betz traveled to India this September, signing seven memorandums of understanding with universities and colleges to further globalize the curriculum and establish future opportunities for students and staff.

A memorandum of understanding is an agreement between institutions to exchange students and faculty, and to take up joint faculty research programs for a specific period of time.

“The University opened up the door to brand new partners,” Betz said.

He said India was a logical choice because of its global standing and high competition for seats in college classrooms. 

Betz said he attended two separate presentations in India that cited between 7 million and 9 million Indians seeking college enrollment.

Betz left River Falls for India on Sept. 23 with College of Arts and Sciences Dean Terry Brown; College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences Dean Dale Gallenberg; College of Business and Education Dean Barbara Nemecek; and College of Education and Professional Studies Dean Connie Foster. 

“I think all of the deans came back incredibly impressed with the quality of students,” Betz said. “What I really like was that there was an opportunity for all of the colleges.”
Director of International Programs Brent Greene and Carolyn Brady, admissions counselor, rounded out Betz’s UW-RF India task force.

“We brought this team so we could move quickly and speak with authority,” Greene said. “Taking all four deans had a broad impact.”

The group spent 10 days presenting and meeting with representatives at 11 colleges, research institutes and universities, spanning four cities in southern India.

“In some places we were the first American institution they’ve had contact with,” Betz said.

Betz and his team were based in the city of Bangalore, which is home to more than 6 million people and is the capital of the state of Karnataka. It is also known as the Silicon Valley of India since it experienced a technological boom in the early 1980s.

“There is great innovation going on in India,” Brown said. “It is emerging as a very important economic engine globally.”

Bangalore will be an important partner with UW-RF — six of the memorandums of understanding Betz signed were with colleges and universities there. 

Betz’s team also traveled to the cities of Hyderabad, Chennai and Mysore (soon to be re-named Mysuru).

This leg of the trip was highlighted with the Sept. 29 signing of a memorandum with SRM University in Chennai. The signing was reported by eight Indian newspapers.

“I don’t think a lot of higher education institutions [from the U.S.] are in this area,” Greene said. 

Brown said students in India were eager to learn about UW-RF.

“Every day we would travel by van to one or two institutions and had an opportunity to present about River Falls,” Brown said.

Greene said representatives from the University of Dairy Sciences, including its Vice Chancellor Sreenivasa Gowda, went out of their way to talk with UW-RF administration.  They met on Sept. 30, originally a scheduled day off.

“The more people heard we were coming, the more they wanted to meet us,” Greene said.  “We probably could have met with a dozen more schools if we had time.”
Betz, Brown and Greene said there is still plenty of work ahead of them.

“What we want to see now is results,” Brown said.  “We want to see this back and forth very soon.”

Greene said the exchange program UW-RF now has with Taiwan is similar to the model that will be used in the exchanges with India.

“As we move through time, I’m sort of the thread that runs through the middle of this,” Greene said. “It would be our office [International Programs] that would portal those students.”

He said India is vital in furthering UW-RF’s globalization effort.

“We’d be doing our students a disservice if we didn’t give them an opportunity to see these places,” Greene said.

Betz said the trip was facilitated by the institutions the group dealt with.

“Dollar for dollar, it was incredibly productive,” Betz said. “The hotels we stayed at were almost completely paid for by our hosts.”

He said the primary expense was airfare.

Betz said one of his former colleagues, Nagasinga Rao, helped establish contacts in India. Betz and Rao, a physicist, worked together at the University of Central Oklahoma for seven years.

Rao will play a role in UW-RF’s future with India.

“What makes it especially impactful is Nagasinga Rao,” Greene said. “He’ll make regular visits back there on our behalf.”

Besides creating a foothold with the memorandums, members of Betz’s team said they were in awe of the Indian places and people.

“India is certainly the land of contrasts,” Betz said. “I saw a Mercedes Benz sitting in the street next to a guy in a cart pulled by a donkey.”

Gallenberg’s said it was his first trip to India and was shocked by the societal contrasts.

“High-rise buildings in a growing industrial or technology park across the street or literally next door to canvas shacks,” Gallenberg said.

Brown said the frank nature of the student guides regarding Indian culture was impressive in reference to the recently outlawed caste system.

“It appears to me that it’s the topic that Americans are most fascinated by,” Brown said.  “They [Indians] are comfortable talking about it.”

Brown said the authentic nature of southern India was most appealing.

“It’s not packaged for tourist consumption,” Brown said. “If I go back to India it will be because of the people, not just because the food is so good.”