A Scholarship Modelled on Gurukula and AtmaNirbhar
Self-help must be taught and emphasized to build well-founded confidence early. Much learning occurs outside classroom lectures. The good workplace is nearly always “cross-disciplinary”.
The National Education Policy published recently, has generated much activity to re-imagine Indian Higher Education. Since many of the recommendations there appear to be inspired by models in the United States, it may be interesting to report on one small but crucial aspect from experience is from a leading US technological institution. Namdeo for instance, has written about the idea of Internships that is actually quite active in India, as well as the USA.
At the turn of the Millennium, US industry demanded a large increase in H1B visas, citing the “Y2K” fear and overall shortage of STEM-trained professionals. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. US Congress (COTUS), in approving the increase, specified that 1/3 of H1B application fees be given to the National Science Foundation (NSF), to increase domestic supply of STEM graduates. NSF’s Division of Undergraduate Education initiated the “CSEMS” programme: Computer Science, Engineering and Mathematics Scholarships. Each institution could propose one programme of up to $100K/year for 4 years, money to be disbursed to undergraduates based on Merit and Need. A full-time student could receive the lower of $3300/yr, or their Established Need under FAFSA (Federal assessment of financial need). The expected outcome was graduation to STEM careers. Chosen disciplines were limited to CSEM.
The institution could only take up to 10% of the amount as direct administrative costs, and zero Overhead. For comparison, a typical university overhead is 60% of direct cost. The PI/PD (principal investigator/director) had to be full-time academic faculty, which ruled out Administrative offices. The 10% limit dissuaded non-serious proposers.
I was allowed by our Vice-Provost (Academic) to initiate and submit a proposal from our public Type 4 (PhD-granting) university with over 10,000 undergrads spanning the technology spectrum. Some 75% of our funding came from externally sponsored research. So did much of faculty salaries. However, I knew my colleagues. Our core team had 3 AE and1 ECE faculty, plus the Director of Financial Aid Office who eagerly joined us to boost badly-needed resources.
We boldly proposed to (a) charge 0% “administrative”, leaving full $100K/year as direct scholarships, and (b) enlist several more colleagues as “Mentors” pro bono for the scholars. Both gambles worked well: at its height, over 40 of our most productive faculty across disciplines had readily accepted my “deal”: 0 pay or recognition, hard work, and the chance to mentor some excellent students. We won Phase 1, $400K, 2000-’04.
Students from needy backgrounds do not have an easy time meeting fees and living expenses in US colleges. We were proud that our Institute (then) had one of the lowest fee structures in the nation. A competitive advantage was our ability to recruit students from faraway States because our “out-of-state” fees were less than their “in-state-resident” fees. Many came from families where only one parent was working, jobs in peril in a recession. Some were first-generation college entrants. Many came with feelings of inadequacy among wealthier urban peers brought up by “tech-savvy” parents. Most had to work part-time jobs for instance in grocery stores, to make ends meet. One young lady had come from the Army where she led a Patriot Surface to Air Missile battery team. She was working 40 hours a week in the evening and night at a Kroger supermarket while taking a full load of aerospace engineering classes. One of our top students, she joined my research group with a research assistantship through her Masters Degree. Another was the son of a single mother whose business had gone broke: per the FAFSA their family was well off since they owned a business, so he did not qualify for Financial Aid. He told me of staring at just a loaf of bread, aware that it had to last him a week. He too joined my research group and went on to a PhD at M.I.T. Hunger was a harsh fact of life: you see why those 40 dedicated mentors leaped at my “deal”.
Our unique model was driven by experience and tempered by reality:
NSF complimented us on our success. In the next iteration, with a different programme manager, they bowed to complaints from non-performing institutions. They hiked the maximum per student to $10,000/yr, and allowed a significantly larger “administrative cost”: you can guess the cut in number of students who could be helped or induced to seek external support through Internships and Co-Ops. This no doubt brought hordes of proposals, most directly from administrative offices rather than from research-productive faculty. I have not checked whether the programme still exists or thrived.
Some suggestions are given in Table 1. More details are in the 4 publications listed below.
|Research seminars show how technical content is applied; and demand learning to absorb the gist of complex presentations.||Required finding seminars, communicating with researchers, and writing clear summaries. Severe resistance until value became clear.|
|Mentorship as part of scholarships brings some good aspects of “Gurukula”.||Many with an “entitlement” view were inclined to just “take the money and run”. A “scholarship” is a valuable “hook” to convey useful traits and resources.|
|Research-productive faculty should run the program, collaborating with Financial Aid and Career Counselling professionals.||Able to tackle urgent financial problems and present a unified “front” to induce compliance with official authority.|
|Pressure to eschew clear writing in favor of Elevator Pitches, Podcasts, Presentations, Social Media must be rejected.||Modern students are adept with skills other than those of the reflective reading and writing, essential for success in technology.|
|Review and editing of student submissions must be swift and thoughtful.||Timeliness is crucial to fairness and credibility.|
|Self-help must be taught and emphasized to build well-founded confidence early.||The student’s own efforts become a force multiplier for education.|
|Much learning occurs outside classroom lectures. The good workplace is nearly always “cross-disciplinary”.||We learned a great deal through the eyes of the students, about subject areas far outside our own.|
I hope that these experiences with our model will benefit teachers in India. More details can be found in the 4 publications listed below.
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