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China’s best-kept secret: India

Indian software training is changing lives, and the way the Asian giant views us, writes Neelesh Misra.

world Updated: Aug 24, 2008 01:50 IST
Neelesh Misra
Neelesh Misra
Hindustan Times

A silent revolution that began over a decade ago is changing lives across China. More than 7.5 lakh students — the number’s rising by 1.8 lakh per year — have acquired software skills from Indian companies.

These students are also opening a window for ordinary Chinese into the often-frosty relationship between the two Asian rivals.

<b1>Liu Mei (27), a former kindergarten teacher who studied at Indian training major NIIT’s Shanghai centre, is set to get a job as a software engineer. "Taking care of children was nice, but software design is a bigger challenge,” Liu told the Hindustan Times through an interpreter. “I am also discovering India. Earlier, all I knew about India was garlic and spicy food.”

Aptech’s China joint venture is the market leader in IT training, with 260 centres across the country. Company officials said it has over 3.3 lakh present and former students. NIIT is present in 180 locations in 65 cities, including 132 universities.

Universities embed NIIT curriculum in courses, bringing together Indian software lessons with Mao’s theory. The training institute gets over 50,000 students every year.

The story began in 1997, when NIIT tiptoed into Shanghai — the first Indian software foray into China — facing competition from leading US companies.

"We knew that, as far as software is concerned, China could become another India," said Prakash Menon, NIIT’s Shanghai-based China president, as he ordered lunch in Mandarin at a Beijing restaurant. “At a time when education by a foreign company was a no-no, our public-private partnership got the go-ahead.”

The push is part of China’s ‘ten-hundred-thousand programme’ — promoting 10 cities as outsourcing bases, attracting 100 multinationals and assisting the development of at least 1,000 enterprises that will help double service exports by 2010. China is also setting up a fund to provide software training for up to 4 lakh university students over the next four years.

The provinces are so excited with Indian software training that their demands are becoming ambitious. Communist Party secretary of Jiang Su province—the state’s most powerful man—invited Menon to meet him three years ago, saying he wanted 2 lakh students trained in five years, in English.

The city of Wuxi offered Menon a building - and dormitory —to set up a facility. Within 30 days of the first meeting, classes had begun. Chongqing, a southern city of 31 million, invited NIIT this year with a similar offer. Others have followed.

“We have the red carpet rolled out in every province,” Menon said. Many of his students end up getting jobs in the company’s centres.

The software push is changing the way Chinese youth look at India.

"Young engineers find value in working with Indian companies,” said Raghvendra Tripathi, China head of leading IT company Satyam. “They probably did not look up to India earlier, but they respect us now.” Students agree. “In the Chinese mind, Indians have the best software in the world,”said Shen Feng Wei, a 20-year-old NIIT student. "Indians are famous here."