UK strengthens partnership with India in higher education

Gayathri | Saturday, November 19, 2016 10:23 AM IST

Though universities play a hugely important role in strengthening of UK-Indian relations, and partnerships thrive between the two nations, there is great potential to build them further for mutual benefit, according to a senior official of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI).

A team of the CBI, a UK business organisation, which was in the country recently, reflected on the economic strength of higher education in both the countries, and how institutions tend to act as an anchor for investment.

Stating that the relationship between the UK and India is all about opportunity and openness, Carolyn Fairbairn, the CBI Director General, pointed out that India and the UK working together “is an unbeatable combination and there is genuine potential to do even more and secure future growth.”

More tie-ups

Speaking earlier at the CEO Forum in Delhi, Fairbairn said that the UK is India’s biggest investor among the G20 countries, supporting nearly 7 lakh jobs. With higher education an increasing priority for India, she pointed out how the range of existing research partnerships, high-quality teaching and business incubators between both countries demonstrate how both nations can benefit from a closer working relationship.

In terms of higher education, it was pointed out the Indian government aims to achieve 30 per cent gross enrolment by 2020, which will mean providing 40 million university places, an increase of 14 million in the six years since it was elected. To boost numbers and meet economic needs will mean changes within the higher education sector, which would provide a timely opportunity for UK universities.

FDI increases

FDI too has shot up. Between 2000 and 2015, UK foreign direct investment (FDI) in India was worth $22.2 billion, and accounted for 9 per cent of India’s total FDI inflow. According to a CBI’s Sterling assets India report, 535 UK companies currently employ around 6.91 lakh people across India, totalling 5.5 per cent of all organised private sector jobs in the country. India, in turn, is a significant investor in the UK, with 800 Indian businesses employing 1.10 lakh people. India invests more in the UK than in the rest of Europe combined.

Launching the CBI’s latest report ‘Bridges to the future: The role of universities in the UK-India relationship’ in partnership with Middlesex University London and supported by the Confederation of Indian Industry, Fairbairn said “together we must identify ways of building new trade and investment partnerships.”

Referencing to a number of case studies from the report, Fairbairn emphasised the potential of joint ventures and the role companies, universities and governments have in supporting growth.

Incidentally, UK’s Sheffield University is working on a project to power the energy needs of remote Indian communities. Jointly funded by Research Councils UK (RCUK) and the Indian government’s Department of Science and Technology, the Sheffield’s Energy 2050 project is part of an RCUK research programme.

A multi-disciplinary team drawn from five UK and three Indian universities — Sheffield, Exeter, Nottingham, Leeds, Heriot-Watt, Visva Bharati, IIT Bombay and IIT Madras — are developing a solution, using waste biomass and a solar photovoltaic technology, which will connect rural people to a localised power supply which they are then trained to operate and maintain. It is to be the first ever integrated system combining solar, biomass and hydrogen.

Similarly, the Wellcome Trust, a major UK charitable foundation, and the Medical Research Council are supporting the University College London in a long-established programme to tackle urban health challenges. The University College London has a long standing partnership with Mumbai-based non-profit SNEHA (Society for Nutrition, Education and Health Action).

The two institutes have collaborated for more than a decade in Dharavi, a slum settlement in Mumbai suburb, and other parts of Maharashtra to work on various issues including maternal and newborn health, childhood nutrition, and adolescent, sexual and reproductive health. Funding in support of the work has come from the Wellcome Trust and over the past 18 months from the Medical Research Council.