Bilateral HE agreement with US emerges from G20 Summit

India-United States higher education collaboration is set to strengthen with a number of multi-institutional joint education alliances between the two nations cemented against the backdrop of US President Joe Biden’s visit to India for the G20 Summit this month.

While some of the collaborations and tie ups announced had been forged previously, including during Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s official visit to the US in June, diplomats said the reiteration in a separate joint declaration during the G20 Summit indicated the importance of higher education, research and technology in the bilateral relationship.

At the G20, speaking on the follow-up action being taken further to the G20 Education Working Group meetings, India’s Minister for Education and Skill Development and Entrepreneurship Shri Pradhan said research collaborations were being actively carried out with several countries.

In a media statement Pradhan said: “We are also witnessing many new emerging multi-institutional collaborative education partnerships, such as IIT [Indian Institute of Technology] Bombay joining the Chicago Quantum Exchange. Similarly, we are exploring university level collaborations with other countries like Australia, United Arab Emirates, Taiwan, the United Kingdom and others in many critical areas.”

Specifically, the US-India agreements are poised to expand academic collaborations and joint research efforts involving the two countries’ top higher education institutions. Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) will play a pivotal role in this collaboration, according to the joint declaration.

Global Challenges Institute

A memorandum of understanding between Indian universities, represented by the Council of Indian Institutes of Technology and the Association of American Universities (AAU), was inked at the G20 Summit – held in New Delhi from 9-10 September – to set up the India-US Global Challenges Institute, with a combined initial commitment of at least US$10 million. This will act as seed money for research proposals with further funding likely in future.

The memorandum was officially signed at the G20 by AAU President Barbara Snyder, and Professor Abhay Karandikar, director of IIT Kanpur, representing the IIT Council on behalf of Indian universities including the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru (Bangalore).

During Modi’s visit to the US in June, when the initial announcement was made, Pradhan said of the Global Challenges Institute: “This formal partnership, with its complementary expertise and incorporation of industry collaboration and startup enablers, will facilitate free flow of ideas, student exchange and joint Intellectual Property Rights. This academic partnership will help in developing solutions for a sustainable and secure future.”

The Global Challenges Institute is designed to serve as a virtual network of partner universities, bringing together leading research and higher education institutions from across the two nations, including beyond AAU and IIT membership.

It will offer a collaborative platform “to advance new frontiers in science and technology”, according to a joint statement issued by India and the US at the G20, spanning collaboration in sustainable energy and agriculture, health and pandemic preparedness, semiconductor technology and manufacturing, advanced materials, artificial intelligence, telecommunications and quantum science.

Expanding educational partnerships

India and the US hailed their growing higher education partnerships, such as those between New York University-Tandon School of Engineering and the IIT Kanpur Advanced Research Centre, and the Joint Research Centres of the State University of New York at Buffalo and IITs Delhi, Kanpur and Jodhpur as well as Banaras Hindu University, based on interdisciplinary research in areas of critical and emerging technologies, which include quantum, artificial intelligence, semiconductors and other areas.

The US reiterated its commitment to working together with India in the quantum domain, both bilaterally and through the Quantum Entanglement Exchange, a platform to facilitate international quantum exchange opportunities. It welcomed the participation of India’s SN Bose National Centre for Basic Sciences, Kolkata, as a member of the Quantum Economic Development Consortium.

Further, the US noted that IIT Bombay joined the Chicago Quantum Exchange, headquartered at the University of Chicago, as one of only five international partners. India’s Quantum Information Computing Science and Technology hub, one of the leading centres for quantum research in India, is situated at IIT Bombay.

Juan de Pablo, executive vice-president for science, innovation, national laboratories and global initiatives at the University of Chicago, said in a statement on 8 September: “Engaging in field-defining research at the frontiers of knowledge requires global partnerships.

“For the University of Chicago, this agreement with IIT Bombay is important not just for the scale that our collaborative efforts will achieve on new and emerging technologies, but also for developing future talent in these fields.

“These partnerships serve as a testament to the strengthening educational ties between India and the United States in the core, key sector of education,” the Ministry of Education announced on X (formerly Twitter).

Pradhan also said: “The recently launched India-US initiative on Critical and Emerging Technology will usher in a new phase of partnership, given the vibrant talent pool in India and the US, particularly in new age technologies and the synergistic R&D centres of excellence in our academic institutes.”

IIT Bombay director, Professor Subhasis Chaudhuri, said: “With a strong bond being built between India and US academia, as evident from the joint declaration by the top leaderships in both countries, it is a great opportunity for IIT Bombay to work with University of Chicago on some of the most critical and evolving technologies our nations are facing today.

“Our collective strength will help bring forth impactful breakthrough innovations benefiting society,” he said.

The University of Chicago already has a centre in New Delhi, which opened in 2014. Chicago said that in addition to quantum the two institutions would conduct joint research on climate, energy, advanced microelectronics, artificial intelligence and data sciences.

New York University (NYU) and IIT Kanpur are set to engage in joint research in several areas. IIT Kanpur’s Karandikar on 9 September announced in New Delhi that a memorandum of understanding had been signed to collaborate on research in critical fields such as cybersecurity and artificial intelligence. NYU and IIT Kanpur would significantly expand doctoral exchange programmes and share teaching and research strategies.

A joint research centre has been proposed to be developed at IIT Kanpur. NYU President Linda G Mills said engaging globally provided “fantastic new opportunities” for scholars, researchers and students of NYU. Karandikar said: “This agreement not only enhances ties between our institutions but also broadens the way for fostering the next generation of researchers and innovators.”

Elaborating on the G20’s educational priorities, Pradhan said the G20 Leaders’ Declaration, by prioritising critical areas like foundational literacy and numeracy, tech-enabled learning, building capacities for lifelong learning and the future of work, and strengthening research and innovation through collaboration, had “renewed the global resolve to work for an equitable and sustainable future through education” – and provided a roadmap towards it.