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Conference on Education and Training in Sustainable Built Environment Mumbai, October 4-5, 2005. Cross-border Collaborations in Architectural Education A G Krishna Menon.

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conference on education and training in sustainable built environment mumbai october 4 5 2005
Conference on Education and Trainingin Sustainable Built EnvironmentMumbai, October 4-5, 2005

Cross-border Collaborations in Architectural EducationA G Krishna Menon

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Let me begin by painting the larger picture in India, of Education and Training in one part and Sustainable Built Environment on the other.

i. Education and Training are neglected areas of reform. Even as more institutions are created - in 2004 we had 114 Schools of Architecture in the country and 26,240 registered architects - the curriculum and pedagogy in these Schools remains antidiluvian. There is reform in governance, IT sector, industry and agriculture, but not architectural education.ii. Each School is expected to conform to a prescribed curriculum which had its genesis in colonial times. Even the introduction of computers has only reinforced the prevailing education intent.

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iii. As far as the issue of sustainability is concerned, the education system sheds a lot of crocodile tears, but in fact encourages and even volorises unsustainable building practices.iv. Consequently the habitat problems of the majority are marginalised in architectural education and professional practice.
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v. This is not to say that nothing is being done to tackle this problem - both at the School and professional levels - but that these efforts are defined by two overarching characteristics : a. The protagonist has to “unlearn” what they were taught in the first place, and re-construct their professional priorities, and, b. Much of the forces of change are “top down”, often generated by foreign-funded programmes - World Bank, DFID, NGOs etc, though increasingly by CoA and other Indian institutions.
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In this brief presentation I will focus on only one aspect of the larger picture I have painted, by considering thefollowing questions :

A. In our globalising world, what are the prospects for cross-border academic collaborations ?B. Who benefits and what are the benefits from such collaborations ?C. What are the options for promoting equitable international academic collaborations ?D. And finally, I will offer some Inferences and Conclusions.

a in our globalising world what are the prospects for cross border academic collaborations
A. In our globalising world what are the prospects for cross-border academic collaborations ?

We can examine this question in two parts : a. The de jure situation: WTO agreement on Services and AICTE/ CoA policies, etc. b. The de facto conditions : the prevailing practice

a the de jure situation wto agreement on services and aicte coa policies etc
a. The de jure situation : WTO agreement on Servicesand AICTE/ CoA policies, etc.

i. From January 1, 2005 the WTO agreement on cross- border trade in Services - including educational services became operational, but negotiations between governments on its terms are still being worked 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.

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iii. However, the general sentiment in the profession appears to be that foreign architects should not be permitted to practice in India. Perhaps, one can extend this general sentiment into academics, to speculate whether the academic community too is hostile to the induction of foreign service providers in architectural education.iv. Government thinking on the subject, as evident in AICTE/ CoA policies, is that foreign service providers in education must adhere to AICTE/CoA rules and regulations. Suffice it to say that such policies obstruct the possibility of bringing about pedagogic changes through adoption of foreign academic systems.
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v. Typically, these rules and regulations do not accept foreign academic credits. Thus, to obtain a valid Indian B. Arch degree the student has to complete the entire 5 - year curriculum as prescribed by CoA in an approved Indian institutions.vi. Under the circumstances, any academic exchange can only be a value addition and cannot be substituted for the whole or part of the approved curriculum.
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b. The de facto conditions : the prevailing practice

i. There are increasing numbers of academic exchange and research programmes between individual institutions in India and foreign ones. By and large they are ad hoc in nature and remain opportunistic in practice with no scope for sustained continuity.ii. These programmes are generally in the form of accommodating foreign faculty in Indian institutions or undertaking joint research/ studio exercise with foreign students on projects located in India. Conferences and seminars with foreign participants are another avenue of cross-border exchange and dialogue.

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iii. Very rarely do Indian faculty get the opportunity to teach in foreign universities or Indian students take part in research/ studio exercises or projects located in foreign countries.iv. In the last few years some academic programmes are being offered by foreign institutions to enable Indian students to undertake preparatory studies in India and complete it at the foreign university and obtain a foreign degree.
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B. Who benefits and what are the benefits ?

i. In most of these cross-border academic exchanges, the flow of information is either structured to benefit the foreign collaborator directly or the agenda to benefit local students/ institutions is determined by them. Typically, these benefits “trickle down”, because no comprehensive reform is attempted.ii. At least, the local student/ faculty gets “exposed” to their foreign counterparts, but after the exercise, it is business as usual as prescribed by the CoA curriculum.iii. The local collaborator is often able to leverage the links that are forged through such exercises to enhance their own academic and professional goals abroad.iv. In sum, the balance of benefits favours the foreign collaborator.

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C. What are the options for promoting equitable international 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.

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iii. The agenda for collaboration should emerge through mutual dialogue and produce demonstrable benefits to the local institution 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-end research 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.
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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 established it was an independent institution, and so it devoted 25% of its curriculum to the problems of the urban poor, studying vernacular traditions and alternate building materials and technologies. However, after it was forced to affiliate to a local University, no deviations from the prescribed curriculum was permitted.

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i. The prescribed curriculum is overwhelmingly oriented towards producing architects who can design institutional buildings using reinforced cement concrete. While there are smaller pedagogic modules exposing students to other types of buildings, the bias inculcated through the prescribed curriculum marginalises its impact. This has resulted in the shocking conditions in which the urban and rural poor live.ii. For example, the basic course on Building Materials and Construction accounts for only 18% of the curriculum content. The focus of even this small component is on modern materials and construction techniques, so there is negligible exposure to alternate building materials and technologies.
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iii. Most foreign collaborations in architectural education focus on this aspect of the Indian habitat. Their interest in academic collaboration with Indian institutions is primarily to expose their own students to “problems” in India, and seldom the “solutions”.iv. Perhaps one can conclude that this means : - that the foreigner is more concerned and appreciative about the potential of indigenous traditions and alternative building materials and technologies to “solve” local problems, while local students, institutions and architects try to “catch up with the West”.
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v. - that the foreigner has the material and intellectual resources to conceive change and tackle the problems of the Indian habitat, while the local counterparts focus on reinforcing “business as usual”.vi. - that this perpetuates the “dependent” relationship in development which inevitably becomes exploitative.vii. Obviously this is not a healthy or sustainable model for conducting cross-border academic exchange. The issue is not the altruistic intent of the foreign academic, but the indifference of local institutions to local habitat problems and architectural issues.
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viii. On the other hand, the programmes which offer Indian students foreign degrees also do not help mitigate the local architectural problems. By and large they service the financial needs of foreign universities and prepare students to meet the needs of foreign societies.ix. These conundrums go beyond simple academic exchanges and raise much broader concerns of incipient neo-colonialism in architectural education. These issues must be fore-grounded and tackled with great sensitivity when we seek cross-border collaborations.
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