The UK-India relationship is important for both countries. We have 200 years of shared history, have been through a lot together, share a common language, cultural similarities, have similar systems… military and educational.
There’s also the presumption that both the UK and India know each other better than they actually do – I think we need to review the cultural relationship in the light of where we are in the 21st century.
India’s economic growth over the last 10 years has placed it as a world power. I don’t think the UK and other countries have quite woken up to what the new India is and has to offer the world. India is a country where 50% of the population is below the age of 25. It’s greatest asset is human resource. If that’s utilised and developed and skilled up, it’s an asset not just to India but to the world.
For strengthening our relationship, the British Council is working with the Indian Council for Cultural Relations and The King’s India Institute at King’s College, London, on a project called ReImagine. It works in three strands – one is around debate and dialogue, the other around research and the last is looking at the future of this relationship. The outcome will be shared with recommendations and a plan for the future will be drawn out at a conference by the end of November in Delhi.
Today, internationalising of higher education is key. Every university now in the UK or in India is developing an international outlook. We get many queries from institutions in the UK about India and over here I meet many university vice chancellors who are keen to invite international students.
There are challenges. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has said that 500 million people need to be trained in various skills in the next 10 years. The UK has a strong interest in working with India and the UK-India Education and Research Initiative (UKIERI), a programme in its second phase now, is a good example of how the two countries are committed to collaborating on critical education-related issues. UKIERI 2 is focussed around four key areas: leadership, innovations, skills and mobility. There is more mobility happening in 2012 than at any other time in history. More and more students want some experience in other countries. We are encouraging students in the UK to come to India and there is definitely a growing interest. British students are looking for newer options. The UK has been changing the fee structure, which has tripled in most cases. And because they are investing heavily in education students are becoming more demanding and choosy about which universities to go to.
There is also a lot of noise about visas in India. The reasons for the changes are basically to stop the abuse of the system. A lot of people were finding loopholes in the system to go to the UK through the student visa, not to study but to take on any employment they could. Some colleges and agents too, on the pretext of offering information to students, were taking money off them. The changes aren’t about discouraging students to come and study in the UK. The UK is probably one of the most welcoming countries in the world.
There are also a number of scholarships:
The Jubilee Scholarships — in celebration of the Queen’s diamond jubilee. The British Council and the UK Government are offering a fully-funded scholarship to young Indians to pursue a one-year Master’s programme in management, manufacturing, science and technology in a recognised UK institution, followed by a short-term internship programme in the UK. Then we have the Dr Manmohan Singh Scholarships, the Commonwealth Scholarships, the Chevening scholarships etc. Many universities too have their funding schemes.
UKIERI set itself a range of quantitative output targets, most of which have been achieved, and in some cases, exceeded
* Invested in a total of 182 UK India partnerships that includes collaborative groupings among academic researchers, clusters of school and pairing of further education colleges
* Supported 55 individual awards through PhD scholarships and fellowships
* 88 facilitation grants to travel between UK and India for developing partnerships
* Enhanced student mobility by providing 393 British students an opportunity to visit India under the Study India Programme
* Facilitated work placements to 106 Indian graduates under the India Graduate work experience programme and UKIERI-GSK work placement opportunity
* Successful partnering and mentoring relationship between the UK and Indian ministries, institutions and sectoral experts
* Supported key visitors from the UK and India engaging in discussions on new collaborations and sector development
* Working with key stakeholders and policymakers to address the issues of quality assurance, leadership, sector skill development and other issues
* 40 events in policy dialogue and networking
As told to Ayesha Banerjee