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Smita Parekh, Director, The Mahindra United World College

India Infoline / 00:00 , Feb 03, 2006

The United World Colleges originated in the ideas of the educationalist Kurt Hahn in the 1950s and the first United World College, Atlantic College, opened in Wales in 1962. Today, there are ten United World Colleges in the UK, Singapore, Canada, Swaziland, the USA, Italy, Venezuela, Hong Kong, Norway and India. Each College has its own distinctive character but all share a common mission which has become more relevant than ever.
High academic standards, extensive community service and a wide range of cultural and outdoor activities are features of a UWC education. There is also great diversity: students come from a very wide range of backgrounds and it is common for more than 65 nationalities to be represented in a College at any one time. 27,000 Graduates are evidence of UWC's success?in most cases, a personal commitment to peace and international understanding has become a central part of these Graduates' lives.

Through international education, experience and community service, United World Colleges enable young people to become responsible citizens, politically and environmentally aware, and committed to the ideals of peace and justice, understanding and cooperation, and the implementation of these ideals through action and personal example. ? UWC Mission Statement

Smita Parekh
, Director, The Mahindra United World College is an illustrious person in her own right. She is the wife of Mr Deepak Parekh, chairman, HDFC.

A Bachelor of Art from the St. Xavier?s College, University of Mumbai, she has also done her Masters in Clinical Psychology from the University of Mumbai. , Job involves selection of candidates for September entry every year, finance, new projects, liaison with UWC International Office and Overseas UWCs. She is also a member of Advisory Board H R College of Commerce & Economics, Executive Committee Member of Ladies Wing of the Indian Merchants Chamber and Founder Member of the Ladies Wing Seva Sadan School for Computer Education. 

Replying to Anil Mascarenhas of India Infoline, Smita Parekh says UWC students have a high level of success at obtaining university placement, many with full financial support.

What made you choose to be associated with United World College that you chose to be associated with the movement in India? 

"Reaching out across borders, learning about the world and working with others to make it a better place are the cornerstones of education in the truest sense?. This philosophy which is followed in the UWC and to make India part of it I chose to be associated with the movement in India. 

What is the key aim of such an institution? Are there any other colleges in India besides Pune? 

To provide sharing of experiences through international education and enable young people to implement the UWC ideals through action and personal example.  MUWCI is the only one. UWC is in this sense a movement. It is not a mere college. Hence you will not find more than one college in a country or quite likely in an entire region. 

Tell us about your faculty and students. What is the international- domestic mix? 

The whole point of differentiation in the case of a World College is the excellent mix of students and faculty from across borders. Eg: In a typical year, students come to MUWCI from over 70 countries. The faculty is drawn from leading universities in India. 50% of the faculty are foreign nationals. Faculty typically have minimum a Masters degree in the subject they teach, and usually one-third have doctorates. The student mix is 35% Indian and 65% from over 70 countries admitted each year. 

Could you elaborate on your personal involvement with this institution? The K C Mahindra Trust of the Mahindra Group is the key sponsor. So what are their responsibilities or areas handled? 

As Director of the United World Colleges National Committee of India, MUWCI has been an invaluable learning experience. It has helped me reach out to young people from far flung regions of the country. I can only compare it to a devotional journey where I derive tremendous satisfaction from seeing students engage in a learning experiment that enriches, ennobles and enervates. Reaching out across borders, learning about the world and working with others to make it a better place are the cornerstones of education in the truest sense.
  
To what extent is community service tailored to local needs? 

The CAS program in the curriculum is an important element in the IB program. For eg: In MUWCI Community service, the most important of the activities is wide and varied. It includes working with orphanages in and around Pune city, interacting with HIV Positive children, farming in the villages, interaction with mentally challenged people and old-age homes in Pune, teaching English to the kids from the nearby villages, raising money for a clinic and even helping in the construction work of these facilities.  

What are the significant challenges facing this college? How do you plan to go ahead and amplify your presence?  

The major challenge facing the college is to reach out to more students to make them aware of such an education program & to continuously train teachers to upgrade. MUWCI believes that the best way to learn personal responsibility is by learning to handle freedom. 

Explain further this learning to handle freedom concept? 

Let me give you the example of MUWCI.  Our students are given the freedom to handle their own issues. A community agreement is drawn up after extensive deliberations among the students and the faculty. Any on-campus issue is first sorted out by the student panel and if need be only, the faculty gets involved. The students learn to thus handle their own issues and develop personal responsibility. UWC students have a high level of success at obtaining university placement, many with full financial support. 

Could you give some details? 

In a typical year, American Universities and colleges are the most popular destination, whilst a significant number study at leading universities in the United Kingdom, Canada, Europe, India and Australia. If I were to take the example of MUWCI graduates - they have been accepted, in recent years, at Harvard, MIT, Princeton, Williams, University of Pennsylvania, Wellesley, Swarthmore, Bryn Mawr and numerous other prominent American colleges and universities. They have also made it to leading universities worldwide such as Cambridge, Oxford, LSE, Toronto, McGill and others. Incidentally, 90% of our MUWCI graduates are on scholarships. 

How does the scholarship system work?

A number of full and partial scholarships are awarded on merit to applicants selected for admission to UWC.  The KC Mahindra Education Trust (KCMET) provides meritorious students admitted to all UWCs and particularly to the Mahindra UWCI of India with substantial assistance by way of scholarships for pursuing the two year IB diploma. In addition to the above corporate donors also provide funds for the local UWC.   The United World Colleges have received a generous offer from Mr Shelby Davis, an American philanthropist. Mr. Davis aims to provide financial support to any student studying at any UWC whatever his or her nationality.

The Shelby Davis United World Scholarship Programme, is another option, available exclusively to UWC students. It aids students with financial need to attend leading universities in the USA, Princeton, Middlebury, Colby, Wellesley and COA. Some Canadian universities of Utrecht and others have special scholarships designated for UWC students.