Conference on Education and Training in Sustainable Built Environment Mumbai, October 4-5, 2005. Cross-border Collaborations in Architectural Education A G Krishna Menon.
Cross-border Collaborations in Architectural EducationA G Krishna Menon
i.Education and Training are neglected areas of reform.Even as more institutions are created - in 2004 we had114 Schools of Architecture in the country and 26,240registered architects - the curriculum and pedagogy inthese Schools remains antidiluvian. There is reform ingovernance, IT sector, industry and agriculture, butnot architectural education.ii.Each School is expected to conform to a prescribedcurriculum which had its genesis in colonial times. Eventhe introduction of computers has only reinforced the prevailing education intent.
iii.As far as the issue of sustainability is concerned, theeducation system sheds a lot of crocodile tears, but infact encourages and even volorises unsustainablebuilding practices.iv.Consequently the habitat problems of the majority aremarginalised in architectural education andprofessional practice.
v.This is not to say that nothing is being done to tacklethis problem - both at the School and professional levels - but that these efforts are defined by twooverarching characteristics :a.The protagonist has to “unlearn” what theywere taught in the first place, and re-constructtheir professional priorities, and,b.Much of the forces of change are “top down”,often generated by foreign-fundedprogrammes - World Bank, DFID, NGOs etc,though increasingly by CoA and other Indianinstitutions.
A.In our globalising world, what are theprospects for cross-border academiccollaborations ?B.Who benefits and what are the benefits fromsuch collaborations ?C.What are the options for promoting equitableinternational academic collaborations ?D.And finally, I will offer some Inferences andConclusions.
We can examine this question in two parts : a. The de jure situation:WTO agreement on Servicesand AICTE/ CoA policies,etc. b. The de facto conditions :the prevailing practice
i.From January 1, 2005 the WTO agreement on cross-border trade in Services - including educationalservices became operational, but negotiationsbetween governments on its terms are still beingworked out.ii.The debate in professional fora have centered around the issue of foreign architects practicing in India, and not on its impact on architectural education.
iii.However, the general sentiment in the professionappears to be that foreign architects should not bepermitted to practice in India. Perhaps, one can extendthis general sentiment into academics, to speculatewhether the academic community too is hostile to theinduction of foreign service providers in architecturaleducation.iv.Government thinking on the subject, as evident inAICTE/ CoA policies, is that foreign service providersin education must adhere to AICTE/CoA rules andregulations. Suffice it to say that such policies obstructthe possibility of bringing about pedagogic changesthrough adoption of foreign academic systems.
v.Typically, these rules and regulations do not acceptforeign academic credits. Thus, to obtain a validIndian B. Arch degree the student has to completethe entire 5 - year curriculum as prescribed by CoAin an approved Indian institutions.vi.Under the circumstances, any academic exchangecan only be a value addition and cannot besubstituted for the whole or part of the approvedcurriculum.
b. The de facto conditions : the prevailing practice
i.There are increasing numbers of academic exchangeand research programmes between individualinstitutions in India and foreign ones. By and largethey are ad hoc in nature and remain opportunistic inpractice with no scope for sustained continuity.ii.These programmes are generally in the form of accommodating foreign faculty in Indian institutionsor undertaking joint research/ studio exercise withforeign students on projects located in India.Conferences and seminars with foreign participantsare another avenue of cross-border exchange anddialogue.
iii.Very rarely do Indian faculty get the opportunity toteach in foreign universities or Indian students takepart in research/ studio exercises or projects locatedin foreign countries.iv.In the last few years some academic programmes arebeing offered by foreign institutions to enable Indianstudents to undertake preparatory studies in India andcomplete it at the foreign university and obtain aforeign degree.
B.Who benefits and what are the benefits ?
i.In most of these cross-border academic exchanges, the flowof information is either structured to benefit the foreigncollaborator directly or the agenda to benefit local students/institutions is determined by them. Typically, these benefits“trickle down”, because no comprehensive reform isattempted.ii.At least, the local student/ faculty gets “exposed” to theirforeign counterparts, but after the exercise, it is business asusual as prescribed by the CoA curriculum.iii.The local collaborator is often able to leverage the linksthat are forged through such exercises to enhance their ownacademic and professional goals abroad.iv.In sum, the balance of benefits favours the foreigncollaborator.
C.What are the options for promoting equitableinternational academic collaborations ?
i.To begin, the disparity between the collaborators must be accepted as an issue and factored into any cross-border academic collaborations.ii.The disparities could be material or cultural in nature.To overcome these disparities should be the raisond’être of any equitable academic dialogue.Example : The joint studio project on “Homelessness” between the Westminster University, London, and the TVB School of Habitat Studies, New Delhi.
iii.The agenda for collaboration should emerge through mutualdialogue and produce demonstrable benefits to the localinstitution or society.Example : The joint studio project on the Barapullah Nalah, New Delhi, between the ENSP, Versailles, ETSAB, Barcelona, and the TVB School of Habitat Studies, New Delhi.iv.Cross-border collaboration should also focus on high-endresearch which require such collaborations.Example : “Web-based teaching Packages on Low-energy Architecture for Professionals and Students” developed by London Metropolitan University, University of Athens, and the TVB School of Habitat Studies, New Delhi, with some faculty of the School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi. This was an E. U. funded project.
D. Inferences and Conclusions :
i. Some of the characteristics of contemporary architectural education are : a. The statutory/regulating authorities expect the standard (minimum) curriculum to be followed by all institutions. This imposes uniformity. However, the CoA curriculum does permit individual institutions to determine for themselves 25% of the curriculum, but this opportunity is seldom taken advantage of. Example:When the TVB School of Habitat Studies was establishedit was an independent institution, and so it devoted 25%of its curriculum to the problems of the urban poor,studying vernacular traditions and alternate buildingmaterials and technologies. However, after it was forcedto affiliate to a local University, no deviations from theprescribed curriculum was permitted.
i.The prescribed curriculum is overwhelmingly orientedtowards producing architects who can designinstitutional buildings using reinforced cementconcrete. While there are smaller pedagogic modulesexposing students to other types of buildings, the biasinculcated through the prescribed curriculum marginalises its impact. This has resulted in theshocking conditions in which the urban and rural poorlive.ii.For example, the basic course on Building Materialsand Construction accounts for only 18% of thecurriculum content. The focus of even this smallcomponent is on modern materials and constructiontechniques, so there is negligible exposure to alternatebuilding materials and technologies.
iii.Most foreign collaborations in architectural educationfocus on this aspect of the Indian habitat. Their interestin academic collaboration with Indian institutions isprimarily to expose their own students to “problems” inIndia, and seldom the “solutions”.iv.Perhaps one can conclude that this means :- that the foreigner is more concerned and appreciativeabout the potential of indigenous traditions andalternative building materials and technologies to“solve” local problems, while local students, institutionsand architects try to “catch up with the West”.
v.- that the foreigner has the material and intellectualresources to conceive change and tackle the problemsof the Indian habitat, while the local counterpartsfocus on reinforcing “business as usual”.vi.- that this perpetuates the “dependent” relationship indevelopment which inevitably becomes exploitative.vii.Obviously this is not a healthy or sustainablemodel for conducting cross-border academic exchange.The issue is not the altruistic intent of the foreignacademic, but the indifference of local institutions tolocal habitat problems and architectural issues.
viii.On the other hand, the programmes which offerIndian students foreign degrees also do not helpmitigate the local architectural problems. By andlarge they service the financial needs of foreignuniversities and prepare students to meet the needsof foreign societies.ix.These conundrums go beyond simple academicexchanges and raise much broader concerns ofincipient neo-colonialism in architectural education.These issues must be fore-grounded and tackledwith great sensitivity when we seek cross-bordercollaborations.