Since the 1980s there has been pressure on universities of the world to align themselves to the needs and challenges of a global knowledge economy. While universities have to perform to remain at the top even as they pursue excellence and innovation, there is increasing expectation from them to also serve the fundamental mission of disseminating knowledge and remain inclusive, improve social mobility and be platforms of equality.
When Humanities across Borders of the Mellon program extended its field of studies and projects to the South Asia Platform with its India partners playing a major role, it seemed to the northeast to open a large window of collaboration and connectivity to insitutions both young and old that had been struggling to get out of their isolatedness in what is recognised as being at the peripheries of the national imaginary and engagements. For an institution like Cotton University, ( erstwhile Cotton College under Cotton College State University, till very recently) its tradition of educational vision has never been in question with more than a century of graduate and post graduate curricular experience to back it up. Cotton College, to remind the forum here , is among the oldest institutions of higher education in India’s northeastern region, having been established in 1901 by the then Commissioner of the Province of Assam ( under the British colonial regime) Sir Henry Stedman Cotton. A teaching and research university the Cotton University in its new avatar, has plans to explore links with other national universities from across the South Asian and Southeast Asian region.
- Straddling an international neighborhood with Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal , Myanmar , China as border nations and Thailand and the Southeast Asia in very close proximity we have sought to orient our learning and teaching to an awareness of this transregion that NE India narturally forms with this cluster of countries. Cotton University already has an Mou with Sungkyunkwan University School of Medicine (SKKUSOM), South Korea since February, 2009 which facilitates –
- An exchange of graduate students, post- doctoral researchers
- An exchange of documentary resources
- Sponsorship of international workshops, symposia and seminars of mutual interest
- Cooperation in joint technical assistance activities
The HaB now mandates collaborative links among Cotton University and universities in our transregion, namely Mandalay, Chiang Mai and Yunnan in Southwest China for academic exchange and new cross disciplinary frontiers of study and curricular. Aimed at forging initiatives for sharing of knowledge domains and long lasting research partnerships, not merely to push the horizons of conventional academic boundaries but more importantly to innovate pedagogic methods of creating and disseminating knowledge in new and novel forms, this reformist objective of the IIAS led Mellon program has infused exciting dimensions and directions that disciplines of teaching and research are preparing themselves for.
- To illustrate this, a new feminist pedagogy that is possibly emerging from studies conducted in the daily practices and changing social lives of ordinary women of the uplands and ‘unruly borderlands’ that constitute the hills and valleys of some of the states of northeast India connect to the women of Myanmar and those on the Thai-Burmese borders where women’s mobilisations may not appear to be overftly political but are framed within similarly shifting mobilities that attend the need and challenges posed by transforming realities of a global and complex twentyfirst century world. My project therefore on women’s mobilisations in NE India finds a fairly amenable set of comparisons and epistemic frameworks in which SEAsain womens’ daily lives are seen to be governed, where tradition and custom often direct and determine lives in more ways than have been given credit for. What were thus once seen as only area studies in which regions, nations and political clusters were tightly boxed in, can easily spill over into each other’s regions forming alliances and shared bases of knowedge practices that connect curricular at the structural and formal level and more importantly build bridges of humanity and life at the larger global level. Universities and their fields of study thus can no longer be insular and research and pedagogic materials can emanate from a commonly linked and engaged world of intersections.
- This is now in terms of policy also facilitated by the Act East policy of the Indian government, an extension of the Look East policy framed in the early 1990s which has translated into recent initiatives taken by the East Asia Summit in disaster preparedness and responses which are truly commendable. The gateway from northeast India into South East Asia promises to be a journey into familiar terrain geo physically, culturally and in terms of our genealogical and ethnological connection , as the India- Thai- SE Asia connections and confluences have proved , most recently in incredible meeting of ideas and shared histories at the just concluded International Conference of Thai Studies at this very venue. An initiative that is encouraging and may open new vistas of connectedness also in on the anvil with the National Key Universities policy of China enabling its prestigious south western academic insitution of Yunnan University at Kunming, proposing its collaboration with a cluster of border universities , namely, Chiang Mai University, Cottton University and Mandalay University.
- On another level, new research areas such as Peace and Conflict studies have gradually entered the broad academic disciplines and schools of study in NE India with Gauhati Univ already having such a center and Cotton University planning to begin such a school. The need picking up organically from the many sub nationalist and ethnic conflicts that have been witnessed in the region in the past several decades offers a ready model for sharing and academic alliances amongst the conflict-ridden nations of Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia and Mynamar to name the obvious Where peace and conflict resolution programmes have transited smoothly into post conflict sociteies such as Indonesia or Cambodia perhaps, more choppily in Thailand and Myanmar and struggling in Northeast India for example, shared histories and approaches to the epistemologies and pedagogies of Peace and conflict theory can be very socially useful and academically exciting areas of connected from lived realities across borders.