During his ongoing visit to India, Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, vice-chancellor of the University of Cambridge, talks about the university’s plans to work with Indian institutions, the new pilot visa scheme for Indian students, Brexit impact and more. Excerpts from an interview.
How do you see the move by the Indian government deciding to allow foreign universities to operate independently in India?
I understand that many of the proposals are still being discussed, but measures that allow India to meet the growing demand for higher education should certainly be welcome. Students anywhere in the world benefit greatly from a diverse and competitive higher education ecosystem. Diversity in the provision of higher education offers choices and helps to raise standards. Allowing overseas institutions to operate more freely in India will certainly create more opportunities for mobility, and for sharing of infrastructure and knowledge. We have noted with interest the recently announced regulations that will make it easier for Indian universities to initiate international collaborations. I hope they will empower Indian institutions to seek out new international collaborations in areas of strategic importance.
What are the major things that would attract foreign universities to India?
Different foreign universities will be attracted by different aspects of the Indian higher education environment. For Cambridge, India is already an excellent place for the establishment of fruitful research partnerships. One of the things that makes it so compelling for us is the talent in India’s top institutions, twinned with the government’s commitment to supporting research, science and innovation. As India opens up to foreign providers of higher education, some thought has to go into setting up a regulatory framework that offers benefits to both the foreign institutions and the host country.
Would the University of Cambridge be keen on setting up a campus in India/operating independently or collaborating with Indian institutions to offer joint degrees?
We are a globally engaged university, with strong partnerships around the world, but it has been university policy not to open teaching campuses overseas. This would be incompatible with the collegiate, small group education model on which the University relies for the excellence of its education. Although we have no plans for overseas teaching campuses, we have long had dual or multi-site collaborations with our research partners, including, here in India, National Centre for Biological Sciences and Indian Institute of Science.
Joint degrees are not something we are contemplating at the moment, although working closely with strategic partners to offer dual degrees is something that we are already doing, and we would certainly be interested in discussing that with Indian institution.
What are the challenges for universities coming to India?
The major challenge is the same as in any collaboration between universities in different countries –finding the compatibility between different educational systems, different regulatory frameworks. I cannot speak for other universities, but we see more opportunities than challenges in our engagement with India.
How do you see the academic and industry collaborations with India?
By working closely with industries we are putting our efforts into solving real-world problems –discovering new materials, for instance, or developing better drugs, or improving crops. Our relationship with India is based on the same principles. Tata Steel has funded a Professorship in Metallurgy at Cambridge, for instance.
On September 12, 2016, we signed a memorandum of understanding with the Bharti Foundation for the establishment of a research programme for the improvement of corn crops in India. The research will be led in India by FieldFresh Foods in partnership with Punjab Agricultural University, working closely with Cambridge’s Department of Plant Sciences. This new collaboration not only helps us to address the key problem of global food security, but also enhances our relationships with Indian universities and industry.
What do you have to say about the UK’s new immigration rules and visa policies? How do you think it will affect the student flow from India, particularly at Cambridge?
I have repeatedly made the case about the need to streamline visa processes for overseas students in order to attract international students to the UK. So I am delighted that Cambridge was one of the four institutions chosen by the UK government to pilot a new approach to the student visa system for master’s students. Not only will the scheme make the visa application process easier, but it will also allow those master’s students to stay in the UK for another six months after completing their degree to seek opportunities for work or further study. The number of applications by Indian students wishing to do a postgraduate degree at Cambridge has increased over the past few years. We hope this pilot will make that number increase even further.
Elaborate on the major steps in the university’s strategic engagement with India.
I’m in India today because our engagement with this country is of the utmost importance to the university. Our strategy is underpinned by widening and deepening collaborations with India’s finest research institutions, and by constant interactions with the government agencies that support those collaborations. Our work with India’s Department of Biotechnology (DBT) is a very good example. We recently established five lectureships with the DBT, allowing five young scientists – four of whom are Indian – to divide their time between Cambridge and India to carry out research on subjects including plant science, medicine, genetics and engineering.
Only last week, a delegation of Indian women scientists spent time in Cambridge as part of a human resource exchange programme supported by the DBT. Under the Newton-Bhabha research fund, the DBT and Britain’s Medical Research Council (MRC) are funding a Joint Centre for Cancer Biology and Therapeutics. This is in addition to the existing partnership for research on antimicrobial resistant tuberculosis, also supported by the DBT and MRC, between Chennai’s National Institute for Tuberculosis Research and Cambridge’s Department of Medicine. The university has now incorporated a not-for-profit Section 8 subsidiary company in India, called Cambridge India Research Foundation, which will allow us to support collaborative work with Indian partners.
How will Brexit impact Indian students?
One thing to remember is that until the UK’s formal exit from the EU (and we have no indication of when this will happen), we remain a full member of the EU, with all the rights and obligations. It is unlikely that Brexit, when it happens, will affect the cost of study for non-EU overseas students, including Indian students.
We have always welcomed applications from overseas as you can see by the make-up of our student body, which numbers people from almost every country of the world including India. As the new Tier 4 visas make it even simpler to apply for a master’s course at university, we look forward to welcoming many more.