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India Matters: collaboration between India and the UK

By Phil Taylor - Posted on 12 November 2015

Professor Phil Taylor, a panellist at the recent launch of the British Council report India Matters, shares some of what was discussed at the event.

I had the honour of being invited by the British Council to participate as an expert panel member on a discussion on India in October. My co-panellists were Gavin Reid, Director of the BBC Scotland Symphony Orchestra, and Professor Bashabi Fraser of Napier University. The occasion was the launch of a key report by the British Council entitled ‘India Matters’. The publication’s subtitle ‘How stronger educational and cultural ties can help to unlock the full potential of the UK-India relationship’ explicitly indicates the purpose of the report and the focus of the discussion at the event.

Rob Lynes, Director of the British Council for India, delivered the keynote speech, introducing the principal themes of the report. His excellent summary revealed unambiguously the scale of the opportunity for partnership between India and the UK, and specifically Scotland. To cite a couple of breath-taking statistics; by 2050 India will become the second largest economy in the world, and its working age population will be larger than China and the United States combined.

Nevertheless, despite the legacy of empire, shared language, and cultural synergies, it cannot be assumed that the UK will automatically become India’s ‘global partner of choice’ for business, trade, education and culture. Rob presented findings from recent research conducted by the British Council which revealed a growing disconnect between UK and India, particularly in respect of Indian and British young people’s experience and knowledge of each other’s countries. Indeed in the field of education especially, young Indians are increasingly turning to the US, Australia and even Germany. Rob re-iterated the report's strategic recommendation that the UK government and key institutions should develop a long-term vision for collaboration and commit resources to realising the undoubted potential.

The panellists then engaged with the key themes of the report and, from their different perspectives and in different ways, reinforced two messages; first, the richness and depth of cultural connections and second, the urgency of the task facing us in strengthening these relationships now and for the future. In response to contributions from a 60-strong audience, I affirmed the importance of partnerships at higher education institute level and cited the University of Strathclyde and SBS’ developing number and types of bilateral engagement, including its recent agreement with the Indian Institute of Management (Calcutta), its forthcoming partnership with the Indian Institute of Management (Bangalore) and its research collaboration with the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai.

Reprising one of the principal themes of what was an excellent event, I emphasised the fact that Strathclyde understands that India is not a ‘monolith’ but is a country of tremendous diversity and difference. As such, we hold frequent Communities of Practice on India with staff from all Faculties and parts of the University to discuss and prioritise how we might better engage with such a complex, wonderful and exciting country. This initiative, simultaneously reflective and proactive, has proved valuable for overcoming internal silos and developing a co-ordinated University-wide focus.

Nevertheless as I concluded in my remarks at the British Council event for more meaningful engagement to occur, a major obstacle needs to be overcome, specifically the restriction placed on Indian students being able to undertake post study work experience in the UK.

Do you have a view on the relationship between India and the UK? Should  more be done to strengthen educational, cultural or business links? And if so, what?

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