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Strengthening the India-UK partnership in education and skills

In association with the UK India Summit, on 19 February David Willetts, Minister for Higher Education and Science co-chaired a roundtable on higher education and innovation.

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In association with the UK India Summit, on 19 February David Willetts, Minister for Higher Education and Science co-chaired a roundtable on higher education and innovation. Participants included vice chancellors from seven of the UK’s top universities and a cross-section of research and business leaders in the two countries. Dr T Ramasami, Secretary, Department of Science and Technology, and Professor Dinesh Singh, Vice Chancellor of Delhi University, co-chaired on the Indian side.

A lively debate covered innovation in ways of delivering higher education, universities as innovation hubs and innovation in business; and heard announcements of new UK India collaborations.

On innovation in delivery, the Open University presented its Futurelearn massive open online course (MOOC) initiative with 17 UK universities and its Open University’s work with the Indian Ministry of Human Resource Development to provide training for 1m teachers through online and other innovative technologies. In discussion, as well as the free access for Indian and other international students to UK education through the MOOCs, participants noted there may be no alternative to MOOCs in order to ensure a comprehensive approach to meet the huge and growing demand for quality higher education in India and other countries. They looked forward to greater UK India partnership in this area.

On innovation hubs, participants considered models, including the Bangalore Cambridge Innovation Network, by which innovation hubs at universities can work together, and increased opportunities thanks to India’s new national knowledge network. UK representatives noted that deepening partnerships with India was supporting quality research. It was in no one’s interest to compromise quality, and increasing numbers of UK universities were happy to find in India exactly the kind of quality partners they wanted. But it was also important to be thinking long-term. It was noted that medical research in particular could take up to 17 years from the scientist’s bench to application in the market. Other challenges noted included achieving a balance between “discovery science” and “solution science” – so building in a keen sense of how and in which social and economic environments innovations would be applied.

On the links to innovation and business, participants heard how alongside the rapid growth in four years from £1m to over £100m in joint-funded research partnerships between the UK Research Councils (RCUK) and India. The UK’s Technology Strategy Board and India’s Global Innovation and Technology Alliance (GITA) would now provide direct co-funded support to innovative businesses working on commercial research and development in areas such as smart energy and healthcare technologies, and that as part of the bilateral Summit announcements, the UK India Education and Research Initiative (UKIERI)’s new call would support Knowledge Transfer Partnerships to help place researchers in innovative businesses to support commercialisation of research.

The roundtable welcomed the wider announcements around higher education associated with the Summit. These included more than 10 new initiatives announced by British universities on the Prime Minister’s delegation, including a range of research and teaching collaborations, and 80 new scholarships for Indian students announced by the University of Warwick, University of Exeter and the London School Economics. Other topics included praise for UKIERI as an enabler for new partnerships, noting the new UKIERI call for proposals launched that day.

Before and after the roundtable David Willetts also attended the signing of collaborative MOUs between UK and Indian organisations in the area of vocational skills, including a partnership between A4e and Apollo Medskills to train 5000 health sector workers, an ambitious new collaboration between the UK India Business Council and Tata Consultancy Services to develop a skills hub in Odisha – for which project research and development will be supported by UKIERI. With Daggubati Purandeswari Minister of State for Commerce, David Willetts also attended the signature of a new agreement between the Confederation of Indian Industry and the Association of Colleges.

Further information

  • Joint Statement by the two Prime Ministers. The higher education and innovation roundtable formed part of the event “Doing More Business Together”.

  • For more details of individual university announcements see press release by the UK HE Education Unit. For the new scholarships see press releases by the Universities of Warwick, Exeter and the London School of Economics.

  • Details of the Research Councils projects topping £100m.

  • For the UKIERI call see their website.

Marcus Winsley, Director, Press and Communications, British High Commission, Chanakyapuri, New Delhi 110021 Tel: 44192100; Fax: 26870065; Contact Sakthy Edamaruku; Twitter @UKinIndia

Published 22 February 2013