Steve Mull

Interview: Steve Mull, Vice Provost Global Affairs, University of Virginia

September 28, 2022

Steve Mull, vice provost for global affairs, University of Virginia’s (UVA) recent India visit (September 11-16 ) was as exciting as it was hectic. The former US ambassador (Republic of Poland and Republic of Lithuania), responsible for developing the UVA’s strategic vision, travelled to Mumbai, Bengaluru and Delhi to meet with several prominent higher education institutions like the Tata Institute for Social Sciences, IIT Delhi and the Indian Institute for Science. He also hosted several meet and greets to engage with UVA’s growing Indian alumni community. Speaking to EducationWorld’s Dipta Joshi, Mull explained the reasons behind the staggering 430 percent growth of new Indian graduate students in the United States between fall 2020 and fall 2021. 

Tell us about the University of Virginia’s (UVA) existing partnerships with Indian institutions?  

We have a number of partnerships with Indian institutions focused on a range of activities including research into improving the health of the Yamuna river, controlling infectious diseases, and exploring water conservation as well as framework agreements for our students to study in India, including in business education.

Based on your recent discussions with Indian institutions, what areas are you likely to forge new strategic partnerships?

India’s recent strategic investments in research align very closely with UVA’s top research priorities, including data science, artificial intelligence, community health, and environmental sustainability.  We are eager to combine forces with our Indian partners in these critically important areas by promoting a much higher volume of student and scholar exchange, bringing more UVA students to India, and gaining the perspective of Indian researchers in our own research.

In 2022 so far, the US Mission has issued 82,000 student visas to Indians which is more visas than any other country including China. Do you think this is indicative of a trend or just a result of the COVID induced lockdown in China?

The number of Indian students in the United States is skyrocketing – between fall of 2020 and fall 2021, the number of new Indian graduate students in the United States grew a staggering 430 percent, compared to 35 percent growth in students coming from China over the same period.  While some of this growth is a result of pent-up demand resulting from the COVID shutdown, it is clear there is something much bigger going on – Indians are very eager to pursue their studies in the U.S. and we are just as eager to have them.

What according to you makes the US a popular study destination for Indians as compared to other countries like the UK, Canada, Australia, etc.?

The United States has been a leader in international education for many decades for a number of reasons, including its unique combination of an absolute commitment to academic freedom, strong investment into research, policies that promote and reward innovation, and a globally diverse community of students and scholars that are second-to-none in the world.  It’s no accident that by far the largest number of Nobel Prize winners over generations are from the American academic community.  The ability of our international students in STEM (science, technology, engineering and Mathematics) fields to remain in the United States for up to three years after graduation for practical training in jobs has also played an important role in attracting the world’s best students to the United States.

In an effort to retain talent within the country, the Indian government’s National Education Policy 2020 is inviting reputed global universities to set up campuses in India. What according to you would be the challenges for a global university like UVA in setting up a campus in India?

The biggest challenge for UVA is that as a state institution, we are constrained from establishing campuses outside our state.  We also believe that the essential character of a UVA education is inextricably linked to a physical presence on our Grounds in Charlottesville, surrounded by the beauty of our founder Thomas Jefferson’s design of residential education bringing faculty and students together.  We are nevertheless quite interested in developing some kind of UVA platform in India to manage our increasingly important research engagement here, while connecting with our growing alumni community here.

What are some of the most sought after courses at the UVA? 

Our Global Studies major, which offers students degrees in six unique specialisations, including global development studies, global public health, global environmental sustainability, and global security and justice is one of our most popular.  Additionally, our newest school, the School of Data Science, has launched one of the University’s most popular PhD programs, data science which is already attracting enormous interest from Indian PhD candidates.

How do you view UVA’s ties with India?

India is obviously on the threshold of a major leap in its higher education and research capacity.  Established American institutions like UVA are excited to be here to forge new partnerships in pursuit of knowledge that will improve the lives of all around the world. Both India and the U.S. share growing expertise and innovation in conquering a wide array of challenges from climate change and clean energy to biomedical research, fields in which UVA excels. Besides, there is a large and growing community of UVA alumni who are eager to remain engaged with their alma mater, and who can be key allies and enablers in strengthening UVA’s bonds with India. Though this was my first visit to India, I guarantee it will not be my last!  

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