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Go Back to the List May 24, 2021
India-UK partnership must be truly bilateral, with talent and resources flowing in both directions

Education makes up one of the largest components of the 2030 Roadmap for the future of India-UK relations, rightly signalling it as the foundation of the published plan.


Governments, industry, and schools themselves need to think differently about how the experience of an individual’s education connects with the experience of an individual’s career. Traditionally, linear thinking has dominated in education and the time for innovation and change has come. The philosophical principles guiding mobility and educational exchange between India and the UK can be starting points.

From the mobility perspective, access to quality post-study employment opportunities will continue to be a huge factor influencing Indian students’ decisions about higher education abroad. For the partnership to reach its full potential, efforts around mobility and research will need to be truly bilateral, with talent and resources flowing in both directions and benefiting both countries.

As it stands now India faces an incredible imbalance between outward and inward student flows. Nearly 1.1 million Indian students are estimated to be studying abroad, according to India’s Ministry of External Affairs, though the MEA itself acknowledges that these figures are likely an underestimation.

The UK, of course, remains one of the top destinations for Indians leaving the country to study. By comparison, the number of foreign students enrolled in Indian higher education has not yet cracked the 50,000-student-mark, according to the 2019 All India Survey on Higher Education. Students from the UK make up a fraction of that total.

That said, the Study in India initiative, launched in 2018, has set the tone for a shift in this lopsided aspect of the relationship. The growth and evolution of the Indian system of higher education, including the proliferation of private institutions, many of which are being created in the liberal arts tradition, will bring further balance.

The Study in India effort, however, must increase the overall proportion of Indian institutions participating actively in the program in order to welcome more international students at scale. And not only those students from its regional neighbours and sub-Saharan Africa, but also from Europe, North America, and East Asia.

The UGC’s mandate for every Indian institution of higher education to establish an office of international affairs is another step in the right direction. How campus internationalisation efforts play out in reality will rest on leadership and governance at the individual institutions.

India’s National Education Policy 2020 addresses internationalisation in broad terms and acknowledges the need to prioritise the non-academic components of the student experience as well. The human experience of educational exchange plays as large a role in individual and family decision-making as do educational outcomes, in my viewpoint.

One cannot overlook the potential influence of the Indian diaspora, a community in excess of 30 million globally.

Indian culture also become an important part of mainstream global culture over the last decade, aided by a gradual blending of Hollywood-Bollywood, increased accessibility of universal media through the Netflix culture, and of course an appetite for Indian cuisine. One should be careful not to over dramatise these aspects, though culture and global perceptions are certainly factors influencing mobility and educational exchange.

Adequate preparation for higher education must also include constituents at the primary and secondary education levels as well, with focus not only on the operational aspects of education, but also on the purpose behind it.

With nearly 1,000 universities in India and an additional 40,000+ colleges and standalone institutions, conversations around recruitment strategies abound, often with little attention paid to holistic guidance on careers and colleges at the school level.

Career counselling at the school level needs to be considered an imperative rather than optional to help maximise student success in higher education. Education ministers and leaders at universities and schools can show families and students the way to evaluating not only how one can make a living, but also how one should live.

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Written by Jim McLaughlin,
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