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Australia’s educational relationship with the subcontinent is striking new ground, as a four-day visit by Indian education minister Dharmendra Pradhan spawned a flurry of initiatives.
In a joint press conference with Mr Pradhan, Australian counterpart Jason Clare said the two nations had agreed to recognise each other’s education qualifications by Christmas.
“That will help to underpin the growth in students studying here in Australia as well as Australian students being able to study in India,” Mr Clare told journalists. It would also echo an agreement struck between India and the UK in July, as a key plank of those two nations’ “2030 Roadmap”.
And it would elevate Australia’s role in helping New Delhi realise its ambition for 50 per cent of young Indians to be enrolled in tertiary education by 2035, up from about 27 per cent now. “We’re talking about…something like 500 million young Indian students,” Mr Clare said.
“We’re both new ministers for education with big agendas [but] the sheer scale of training half a billion young Indian students is enormous.”
While Australian educators have often perceived India as a lucrative source of internationally mobile students, research ties to date have been muted. India is not a major collaborator on co-authored publications with Australian academics, unlike China, and Australian efforts to establish teaching partnerships in the subcontinent have often been thwarted by India’s complex bureaucracy.
Mr Pradhan said this must change. “We want to take the best practice of higher education of Australia to India,” he told journalists.
While India was “thankful” that Australia had trained its students, he said a relationship based more on “mutual cooperation” would be “beneficial to both our countries”. Australia’s university community should “come to India” to offer courses and open campuses, he said, noting that India’s National Education Policy included provisions for overseas universities to launch branch campuses on its soil.
He and Mr Clare also highlighted the two countries’ collaborative research in agriculture, water, climate change, Covid, energy and traditional medicine. Their comments followed the sixth meeting of the Australia-India Education Council, which is chaired by both education ministers and has convened roughly every two years since its inception in 2010.
The meeting included official launches of two initiatives overseen by the University of Melbourne-based Australia India Institute (AII). The Australian Researcher Cooperation Hub-India, a digital platform connecting Indian and Australian researchers, has already been operating for about a year and notched some 200 registrations.
The new Australia India Research Students Fellowship programme bankrolls short-term exchanges involving research students and early career researchers, with 70 grants on offer. “Two-way mobility…is such an important opportunity for research students to really broaden their academic experience,” said the AII’s ex-politician CEO Lisa Singh, who attended the meeting.
“Education is the biggest trading opportunity for the Australia-India relationship. India cannot meet the demand for education on its own. Australia is uniquely poised to really strengthen its relationship with India.”
Former institute director Craig Jeffrey said the relationship was at “the most exciting moment” he had witnessed. “Now that the National Education Policy has been bedded down, there’s real potential for building on that. Its emphasis on internationalisation means countries like Australia that are keen to partner are in a really good position. They’re pushing an open door.”