UK-INDIA: Research and education partners

The United Kingdom wants to strengthen its collaboration with India in research and higher education, says British High Commissioner to India Richard Stagg. Britain is willing to assist India in building world class universities and the two countries will collaborate in establishing a new Indian Institute of Technology, a new Institute of Science Education and Research and a new central university, Stagg says.

International cooperation in education and research is moving up the political agenda. It was then-Prime Minister Tony Blair who announced the UK-India Education and Research Initiative when he visited India in September 2005 and later launched it in April 2006.

Under this programme, the UK pledged £26 million (US$51 million) for research initiatives with India and will soon open Research Council offices in New Delhi to identify opportunities for collaboration.

Stagg describes the research initiative as one of Britain's biggest commitments and says it signifies the importance of India as an education partner. Its two principal activities are promoting research partnerships between centres of excellence and developing joint and dual course delivery.

Following a meeting between British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in January, a delegation of British vice-chancellors visited India to discuss collaboration in higher education.

British universities see India as a pool of talent that can be tapped into. Through such collaboration, the universities will have access to a large number of students although Britain is already the second most favoured destination for Indians after the US.

Yet the last time the UK was involved in setting up a major educational institution in India was in 1961 when it assisted in establishing the Indian Institute of Technology in New Delhi. Now, if the Indian government give permission, British universities are ready to set up their own campuses in India.

"It would be much cheaper for students than to take huge loans to go abroad," Stagg says. "Also, students would not feel homesick being away from their families. So it is a win-win situation where students would get quality education but at a lesser cost."

Such collaborative initiatives are expected to have implications far beyond education and research. Tim Gore, British Council project manager in India, says the UK-India research initiative is "the key to building trust between the two countries".

Similarly, British Education Minister Bill Rammell says it has made "a major contribution towards stimulating UK-India research collaboration at the cutting edge of scientific and technological innovation, as well as creating stronger higher education partnerships".

"This closer collaboration is playing an important part in developing the wider strategic relationship between the UK and India," Rammell says.