Amid scru­tiny, In­dian col­lege fran­chise plans its US de­but Amity Univer­sity tak­ing risks with global outreach

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

One of In­dia’s largest col­leges is ex­pand­ing into the US with the pur­chase of one cam­pus in New York and a pro­posal to buy two more, draw­ing op­po­si­tion from state of­fi­cials in Mas­sachusetts about the qual­ity of the ed­u­ca­tion it will of­fer. Dozens of US col­leges have opened over­seas cam­puses, but few for­eign schools have sought to es­tab­lish branches in the United States, in part be­cause of the cost and tighter reg­u­la­tion. Amity Univer­sity, a sys­tem of pri­vate col­leges based in New Delhi, has long sought to cre­ate a global net­work of schools, how­ever.

Since it was founded in 2003, the chain has opened cam­puses in In­dia, Eng­land, China, South Africa and five other coun­tries. Add the US to that list. Amity paid $22 mil­lion last month to buy a Long Is­land branch of St John’s Univer­sity in New York City, which was sell­ing the cam­pus and shift­ing to a smaller site on Long Is­land. Amity plans to open its first US branch at the 170-acre, cen­tury-old cam­pus after it gains own­er­ship in June 2017.

The chain also has made a deal to buy the New Eng­land In­sti­tute of Art, a for-profit col­lege near Boston, and one of its sis­ter schools, the Art In­sti­tute of New York City, ac­cord­ing to pa­per­work filed in Mas­sachusetts. The deal would re­quire ap­proval from state ed­u­ca­tion of­fi­cials. “We are very, very skep­ti­cal about this,” said Mas­sachusetts At­tor­ney Gen­eral Maura Healey, who is ask­ing the state’s Board of Higher Ed­u­ca­tion to block the sale. “It’s hard to imag­ine that this out­fit from over­seas, which has never done any ed­u­ca­tion work here in this coun­try, is well-suited to pro­vide any kind of ed­u­ca­tion to th­ese stu­dents.”

Amity hopes a US cam­pus will at­tract stu­dents from abroad who want to gain the pres­tige that comes with study­ing in the United States. It also hopes to forge re­search part­ner­ships with other col­leges, and to con­nect for­eign schol­ars with their coun­ter­parts here. “We have a global vi­sion for ed­u­ca­tion, a model of ed­u­ca­tion which al­lows for stu­dent mo­bil­ity, fac­ulty col­lab­o­ra­tion and re­search col­lab­o­ra­tion,” said Aseem Chauhan, Amity’s chan­cel­lor. “We believe that the lead­ers of to­mor­row will be those who have per­spec­tives from dif­fer­ent parts of the world.”

Owned by a non­profit com­pany, the chain of­fers bach­e­lor’s and grad­u­ate de­grees in a range of fields, from art to en­gi­neer­ing. It en­rolls 125,000 stu­dents at more than a dozen cam­puses, and has grown rapidly amid ris­ing de­mand for higher ed­u­ca­tion in In­dia. Its founder pres­i­dent, Ashok Chauhan, was charged with fraud in the 1990s by au­thor­i­ties in Ger­many, where he ran a net­work of com­pa­nies. He re­turned to In­dia and was never ex­tra­dited. A plas­tics com­pany in the US also sued Chauhan in 1995 for fail­ing to pay $20 mil­lion in debts, which led to an on­go­ing court bat­tle in In­dia. The univer­sity is now in the hands of his sons, Aseem Chauhan and Atul Chauhan.

Some in the US say the school is more sim­i­lar to a for-profit col­lege than a tra­di­tional four-year univer­sity. “They are a sub­sidiary of a con­glom­er­ate of com­pa­nies,” said Bar­mak Nas­sirian, di­rec­tor of fed­eral re­la­tions and pol­icy anal­y­sis for the Amer­i­can As­so­ci­a­tion of State Col­lege and Uni­ver­si­ties. “This is by no means re­as­sur­ing, if you ask me.” Aseem Chauhan coun­ters that Amity has an “ex­cel­lent and ex­cep­tional” track record of stu­dent out­comes, al­though he de­clined to pro­vide the sta­tis­tics.

The school’s lead­ers have been eye­ing a US ex­pan­sion for years. In 2011, Amity was one of seven col­leges that en­tered a com­pe­ti­tion to build an en­gi­neer­ing cam­pus in New York City. Cor­nell Univer­sity and a school in Is­rael ul­ti­mately won. In 2014, Amity filed pa­per­work to open a non­profit school in Cal­i­for­nia, tax records show, but never opened a cam­pus.

Amity has been push­ing for US ex­pan­sion while some tra­di­tional schools close be­cause of dwin­dling en­roll­ment, and as many for-profit in­sti­tu­tions seek buy­ers amid in­creas­ing fed­eral reg­u­la­tion and over­sight. “The for-profit mar­ket is re­ally wide open right now,” said Kevin Kinser, a pro­fes­sor of ed­u­ca­tion pol­icy at Penn­syl­va­nia State Univer­sity. “An in­sti­tu­tion with a lot of re­sources might see this as a cheap op­por­tu­nity to get a foothold in the in­dus­try.”

Chauhan wouldn’t dis­cuss Amity’s pro­posed pur­chase of the two for-profit schools, and nei­ther would the com­pany that’s sell­ing them, the Pitts­burgh-based Ed­u­ca­tion Man­age­ment Cor­po­ra­tion. But both sides signed a let­ter to Mas­sachusetts ed­u­ca­tion of­fi­cials in July out­lin­ing the “an­tic­i­pated ac­qui­si­tion” by Amity.

They say the sale would save the New Eng­land In­sti­tute of Art, which started mak­ing plans to close last year after half a decade of steep en­roll­ment and rev­enue losses. The in­sti­tute has stopped adding new stu­dents, and many oth­ers have left. Some for­mer stu­dents are now plan­ning to sue the in­sti­tute for fraud. Mas­sachusetts ed­u­ca­tion of­fi­cials have re­quested more in­for­ma­tion from Amity about the pro­posal.

Even if it’s ap­proved, Amity could face a long road be­fore it starts work in the US to be­gin grant­ing de­grees, it would need ap­proval from a US ac­cred­i­tor, often a rig­or­ous process. And to re­ceive fed­eral fi­nan­cial aid for its stu­dents, it would have to be screened by the US De­part­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion. Still, Chauhan said he’s ready to make his case. “We con­tin­u­ously bench­mark our qual­ity with the best qual­ity stan­dards and the best ac­cred­i­ta­tion stan­dards glob­ally,” he said. —AP

BROOK­LINE: In this Monday, Oct 3, 2016 photo shrubs rest near The New Eng­land In­sti­tute of Art. —AP

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