Under ICET, India and US explore ways to deepen knowledge partnership during Modi’s visit | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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Under ICET, India and US explore ways to deepen knowledge partnership during Modi’s visit

Jun 16, 2023 11:58 PM IST

Under ICET, in January this year, a White House fact sheet had noted that AAU and Indian institutions, including IITs, would set up a task force to make recommendations for research and university partnerships in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines

Washington India and the US are exploring ways to set up joint research institutes focused on energy and environment, public health and pandemics, agriculture and food security; a joint seed fund to boost higher education collaboration; share each other’s research infrastructure including labs; translate research into commercial opportunities; ensure more American researchers and students experience the Indian education system; and overcome obstacles including visa delays for Indian students and researchers during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s state visit to Washington DC on June 22.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will visit Washington DC on June 22 (PTI)
Prime Minister Narendra Modi will visit Washington DC on June 22 (PTI)

These will be among the interim recommendations of a task force set up under the initiative on critical and emerging technologies (ICET) to both governments to deepen the knowledge partnership, Barbara Synder, the president of the Association of American Universities (AAU) said in a conversation with HT. AAU is the umbrella institution leading the effort from the American side.

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Suggesting that the knowledge partnership had great potential, Synder said, “These two countries share the same values. They care about higher education and research and understand the benefits it brings to their countries, economies, national security, public health and quality of life. There is tremendous potential in working together.”

Under ICET, in January this year, a White House fact sheet had noted that AAU and Indian institutions, including IITs, would set up a task force to make recommendations for research and university partnerships in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines. In April, AAU set up the task force with a set of co-chairs, including Penn State University president Neeli Bendapudi, University of Illinois Urbana-Campaign chancellor Robert Jones, University of California San Diego chancellor Pradeep Khosla, University at Buffalo president Satish Tripathi, and current Johns Hopkins University provost who is taking over as the Tufts University president next month, Sunil Kumar. This task force will release an interim report in the next few days that will help guide the deliverables for the joint statement during Modi’s visit.

Mentioning the specific ways in which AAU and its Indian partners are looking to build on this potential, Synder mentioned joint institutes in three areas in particular — energy, environment and sustainability; public health and pandemics; and sustainable agriculture and food security.

“We will recommend some commitments by both governments to help fund this joint research without asking for a particular dollar figure. We will ask the philanthropic community to step up and help with people going back and forth. We are keen to work with partners on translating research that can be commercialised into commercial technologies. We have people who do that well in both countries,” said Synder, giving a glimpse of the recommendations to both systems.

She also highlighted the importance of sharing research infrastructure. “Some of the research equipment and labs are extremely difficult to reproduce. It is so much more efficient if you can share them. We have talked to colleagues in India about the possibility of arranging of sharing of some core facilities where Indian students and researchers could come here and vice versa. This will spark collaborations, sometimes things happen and ideas get generated by putting people together.”

While there are 200,000 Indian students in the US, India’s new education policy is seeking to encourage foreign universities to set up campuses in India and international students to study in Indian institutions. Synder said that US institutions setting up campuses in India isn’t on the agenda at the moment, and instead the focus is on collaborating with Indian institutions, but she spoke about the need for “two-way traffic”.

“It is not just US students — their number is about 3,000 in India at the moment. But it is also US faculty members, graduate students, post-docs. Those create long term sustainable relationships. If they make connections with colleagues in India, those could last decades. We are really interested in those connections because we think this relationship has the potential to be enduring. We want two way movement on both education and research,” Synder said. She added that while awareness among American students about Indian institutions is relatively limited, there was no reason for this to be so given the number of Indians who have studied in India and now work, teach, and run American educational institutions.

Flagging some of the obstacles in the pursuit of the knowledge partnership, Synder said she was at the meeting with both national security advisers — Ajit Doval and Jake Sullivan — in January where both expressed their commitment to eliminating barriers.

“One of them is delay in getting visas — that continues to be a challenge. The other is moving funds back and forth — and there are opportunities to make that easier…Sustainable funding is another challenge. Seed funding is great and gets things started but we need sustainable funding,” Synder said, adding that she hoped that both governments made higher education a centre piece of the deliverables during Modi’s visit next week.

“Committing to collaborating on this is the single thing that can produce the greatest results over the longest period of time because academic institutions last. None of our members, or IITs, haven’t gone out of business. These institutions endure over long histories and there is an opportunity to create something that will last over time.”

India, too, has been keen on deepening the knowledge partnership. The Indian ambassador to the US, Taranjit Singh Sandhu, has met leaders of close to 200 American universities in the past two years. During external affairs minister S Jaishankar’s visit to Washington in April 2022, India and the US launched a working group on education and skill training. While the Indian side did not comment on the potential deliverables on the knowledge partnership front during Modi’s upcoming visit, Jaishankar had said last year, “Policymakers in both countries are sharply aware of the immense difference that our educational collaboration can make.”

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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    Prashant Jha is the Washington DC-based US correspondent of Hindustan Times. He is also the editor of HT Premium. Jha has earlier served as editor-views and national political editor/bureau chief of the paper. He is the author of How the BJP Wins: Inside India's Greatest Election Machine and Battles of the New Republic: A Contemporary History of Nepal.

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