Channel: Editor's View Point

Collaboration in education can yield big results for India and the UK…
By Sanmit Ahuja On 07 October, 2010

But only if the institutions in both nations are innovative and entrepreneurial in their collaboration endeavours.  I say that from insights I gathered by participating in two delegations of premier educational institutions from both nations visiting the other country in recent times. First the elite Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) led a mission of deans, directors and senior faculty members to the UK from Sept 8-10. This was followed by London Business School (LBS), now ranked #1 in the world by Financial Times for its full time MBA programme, which led the first mission of its kind to India from Sept 20-25.
Both of these visits highlighted one important point – which is that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. The education sector provides collaboration opportunities in more than one way than meets the eye.
Firstly Indian institutions are seriously short of faculty. The Government of India has doubled the number of IITs from seven to fifteen. The new institutes are lagging behind in their ability to attract and recruit quality faculty. In addition the Government has also announced establishment of fourteen Innovation universities. The challenge of recruiting faculty for the new universities will remain. To address the situation the Government has decided to allow colleges and universities to hire foreign faculty members on a tenured basis. The IITs and yet-to-be-established innovation universities are only a fraction of the number of higher education colleges in India. The UK universities can play a huge role in filling this gap either by establishing faculty exchange programmes or by developing dedicated “training-the-trainer” modules.
The second linkage is in the areas of innovation. The IIT delegation members outlined this very clearly at a conference held along with NESTA and UKTI in London. The industry-academia linkages are very strong in the UK but less so in India. There is a strong case for the industry-academia nexus in the two nations to develop linkages in the environment, energy, manufacturing sectors. India excels in frugal innovation and coupled with UK’s expertise in managing innovation process can create an output that will help address global challenges in unprecedented ways.
The third potential area is that of Joint research. The UK Government has agreed with its Indian counterpart to extend the successful UK-India Education and Research Initiative (UKIERI) and include new areas such as leadership training and innovation. The UK education sector is about to witness large cuts which will most definitely impact the research and science base even if the Government promises to protect it. India on the other hand is growing at a rapid pace and needs to boost its educational quality and throughput. The setting is ideal to create a synergistic relation that will not only help the countries in the short term but create long term sustainable value. The UKIERI programme was largely funded by the Governments. But to create long term sustainable value the universities must have extra skin in the game by investing some of their own capital base.
There are a couple of other areas that people generally talk about with great interest. These are vocational training and primary education. I am less convinced how UK will be able to fulfill the demands of basic vocational skills such as training plumbers, welders, electricians etc or setting up of primary education schools in rural/semi-urban India. This capacity has to and must be developed by local industry and Government. UK is already participating in it from a development angle through DfID. The only other way for UK to engage is for its entrepreneurs and investors who are prepared to take the risks and equally the rewards that come with a high growth sector.
India is going to play a major role in shaping the world economy, as clearly highlighted by the events organised by the London Business School team. As much as India needs UK’s expertise in creating a generation of qualified and highly trained professionals, the UK also needs to learn from Indian experiences and bring back experiences from a vibrant and fast growing economy.
The Indian higher education bill is yet to be passed by the parliament. But there is nothing stopping the UK education sector to start engaging and collaborating with their Indian counterparts in areas outlined above.
This also confirms Prime Minister Cameron’s belief that the education sector is an important sector and one which his cabinet has already declared as prominent areas of engagement between the two nations in addition to infrastructure and low-carbon sectors.

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