G20 presidency gives India’s HE an opportunity to shine



Universities today are becoming more global both in outlook and outreach. The number of students studying outside their home country is increasing every year. According to the Study Abroad Outlook Report released by Leap-Ipsos in 2022, the aspiration for overseas education will increase exponentially by 2025 with over two million Indian students spending, collectively, US$100+ billion on their education.

The key triggers for students to study abroad, according to the report, are not only the quality of education, but a better lifestyle, career advancement, networking and international exposure.

Indian students pursue higher studies not only in Europe, Canada or Western Europe, but also in China, South Korea, Taiwan and other countries. Many Indian students pursue medical degrees in Eastern Europe, Russia and even Ukraine. This tide of students travelling overseas is not likely to subside in the near future.

Compared to the annual exodus of approximately 1 million students from the country, India receives only 50,000 foreign students, mostly from neighbouring countries, who come here to pursue higher studies.

It is our opinion that education policy should not be focused on retaining domestic students but on using the internationalisation thrust of the current education reforms to make India a destination of choice for foreign students when it comes to affordable quality education.

Soft power

India has emerged as the second largest education ecosystem in the world after China. The country’s ability to deliver good quality education at a reasonable cost puts it in a unique position to become a destination country for internationalisation in the near future.

Speaking to a television journalist, the federal minister of IT and communications, Shri Ashwini Vasihnaw, said that Indian universities are responding to cutting-edge technological change in telecom and electronics by setting up laboratories in 5G and semiconductors to train the next generation of engineers and technocrats. This move will help to not only reduce India’s dependence on China, but to raise the brand of Indian universities around the world.

Given that India has recently taken over the presidency of the G20, it can use this to highlight the potential of the country’s education ecosystem to support a robust research environment which involves academia, industry, and policy institutions.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made effective use of India’s soft power as a tool of foreign policy and diplomacy. The declaration of 21 June as the ‘International Day of Yoga’ by the United Nations General Assembly in 2014 was the beginning of a series of initiatives that the Modi government has taken to showcase the country’s soft power in the form of art, culture, music, traditional medicine and other values.

Education diplomacy

India should now use education diplomacy to position the country’s education ecosystem centre-stage in the global arena.

As part of the G20 decision-making process, ‘working groups’, comprised of experts and officials from relevant ministries, have been formed to conduct in-depth analysis and discussions on a range of internationally relevant issues.

One is on education and there are four priority areas which are: (i) ensuring basic literacy and numeracy, especially in the context of blended learning; (ii) making tech-enabled learning more inclusive, qualitative, and collaborative at every level; (iii) building capacity, promoting lifelong learning in the context of the future of work; and (iv) strengthening research and promoting innovation through richer collaboration.

The fourth priority area could be used by India to highlight the potential of Indian universities’ research infrastructure to attract foreign students and faculty.

G20 nations not only have the highest number of universities, but also the most prestigious. Most universities in the world university rankings are in G20 nations. It is therefore incumbent upon universities in G20 nations to come together to foster international cooperation not only in the creation of new knowledge and innovation and the development of new skills but also to shape a new paradigm of human-centric globalisation.

This would make India’s G20 presidency one of healing, harmony and hope that promotes a universal sense of unity and solidarity: ‘One Earth, One Family, One Future’.

With this in mind, the Association of Indian Universities, in collaboration with Symbiosis International, organised a conference in Pune in June, aptly named Universities20, where universities from G20 nations including India participated in large numbers to deliberate about mutual cooperation and research collaborations.

Fellowship programme

The government of India should use this window of opportunity to design a fellowship programme to sponsor students and faculty from G20 countries to study, teach and conduct research at different Indian institutions. The G20 is an important multilateral forum, which represents 60% of the world’s population, 80% of global GDP and 75% of global trade.

This initiative may ignite more interest in India amongst the younger generation in G20 countries and, in time, may make India a preferred study destination.

Beginning with the Incheon Declaration of 2016, education has been recognised as the main driver of development and a key to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The education working group has released a statement, which mentions that one of the challenges faced by G20 countries is to establish international partnerships for targeted research.

With this objective in mind, a fellowship programme sponsored by India for students, faculty and researchers from G20 countries would help in the long run to expand the country’s sphere of influence, build ties with the next generation of scholars and meet one of the priority focus areas of the G20 forum.

The initiative could begin with low-risk collaboration efforts, such as seminars and workshops on G20-backed thematic areas. This could lead to joint research collaborations involving faculty and researchers from India and institutions from G20 countries. Over time, the collaborations could expand to faculty and student exchanges, twinning, and joint and dual degree programmes.

The proposed fellowship could encourage the following activities:

Workshops and symposia: The fellowship programme will provide funding to faculty and researchers from Indian institutions to seek proposals from peers from two or more than two G20 member countries to develop and organise specific thematic workshops. The explicit aim is to enable a transnational platform not only for the exchange of knowledge and ideas, but also to incubate long-term partnerships and alliances.

Research and teaching networks: The fellowship programme will enable Indian faculty, researchers and scientists to work with their peers in G20 member countries on joint teaching and research projects in G20 thematic areas. This will help develop sustainable interactions and develop long-term relationships with institutions in G20 countries.

Young researcher awards: The fellowship programme aims for students from institutions in G20 countries to gain exposure and access to research facilities at Indian institutions. The research will be in areas which align with G20 focus areas. This can pave the way for the next generation of scientists and technologists to build long-term sustainable research linkages and collaborations with Indian institutions.

A destination of choice

How can India take effective steps to use this window of opportunity to become a destination of choice for foreign students?

This year’s presidency of the G20 has given the country an opportunity to take active steps towards ensuring that India’s higher education system and its potential is showcased. India can pursue several modes of academic collaboration with institutions in G20 countries, beginning with seminars, workshops, and joint research projects.

This can translate to faculty and student exchanges and, later, to different educational pathways, such as dual degree, twinning programmes, etc.

The internationalisation of higher education reforms started by the government should move full steam ahead to ensure that the country is able to attract more foreign students to study and conduct research in India.

For this, the government should invest money in exchange programmes, which can be a lever for attracting foreign students to India. In addition, the cutting-edge research that many Indian institutions are pursuing will boost student mobility to India in the near future.

Dr Pankaj Mittal is secretary general of the Association of Indian Universities. Dr Diya Dutt is an adviser at the Association of Indian Universities.

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