Despite a slight dip in the numbers of Indian students attending U.S. institutions of higher learning, the United States remains a “preferred destination” to pursue advanced degrees, Ajit Kumar, India’s consul general based in Atlanta, said in his opening address at a Dec. 6 educational forum held at the Metro Atlanta Chamber.

Nearly 100,000 students from India are enrolled in U.S. universities, he added, saying that they pay $3 billion in tuition fees. But local academics and officials raised concerns about the future of Georgia’s educational institutions given reductions in federal and state funding.

Mr. Kumar opened the forum underscoring the growing educational ties between India and the U.S. under an initiative launched in 2009 that recognizes knowledge and education as part of their strategic relationship.

With 540 million Indians under the age of 25, his country is aggressively expanding its educational resources in conjunction with a strategic partnership with the U.S., he added.

India’s educational advances speak for themselves. From 2000-10 India added nearly 20,000 colleges and more than 8 million students, raising the total of universities to 621 and colleges to 33,500.

Although titled “American Higher Education in the Changing Global Economy,” the forum covered global issues as well as those faced by U.S. institutions.

It featured academics and officials from Auburn, Georgia State, Georgia Tech, Kennesaw State universities, the University of Georgia and Douglas R. Hooker, executive director of the Atlanta Regional Commission.

While India has placed education as a top priority, the local academics cited mounting fiscal pressures and increased competition from institutions elsewhere, some going so far as calling for the adoption of new busines models to fix the current “broken” models.

Beheruz N. Sethna, president emeritus and regents’ professor of business at the University of West Georgia, cited a corporate business model showing that successful companies primarily support their top products through research and development and funding.

For the U.S. not to support its educational institutions goes against the grain of established business principles, he said.

Yet, it was clear that the institutions at the forum are all pursuing a wide variety of exchange programs and partnerships around the globe to remain globally competitive.

There also was widespread agreement that the universities need closer alliances with local businesses.

Meanwhile, under the 2009 knowledge initiative signed by President Obama and Manhohan Singh, India’s prime minister, the two countries are fostering partnerships in vocational education, collaboration in research and development and junior faculty development.

Mr. Kumar said that regulations in his country have been liberalized to allow twinning arrangements for faculty exchanges on both sides and that there is a growing interest in Indian educational institutions hiring professionals from the U.S.

“India is seriously looking at the U.S. model of community colleges to build capacity for vocational education and skill development,” he added.

He also pointed to renewed support for the Fulbright program providing student scholarships and exchange grants in critical fields such as science, technology and agriculture.

“We definitely would like to see more American students visit India,” he said

He also said that India has been a pioneer in “distance learning” with the Indira Gandhi National Open University having registered 35 million participants across the globe.

Given India’s population, he said that it is proposing to forge collaborations with U.S. institutions in the area of technology enabled learning and massive open on-line courses (MOOCs) – a topic of great interest to the local academics as well.

Other speakers at the event included Risa Palm, senior vice president for academic affairs and provost at Georgia State University; Jane Gatewood, director of international partnerships at the University of Georgia; Paul M.A. Baker, associate director of the Center for 21st Century Universities and a senior research scientist as Georgia Tech;

Don-Terry Veal, director of the Center for Governmental Services at Auburn University, Lance Atkinson, executive director, the Institute for Global Initiatives, Kennesaw State University, and John McIntyre, director, Georgia Tech Center for International Business Education and Research.

The forum was sponsored by the U.S. India Business and Research Center, the Georgia Tech Center for Business Education and Research, the Metro Atlanta Chamber and Global Atlanta.