A number of initiatives aimed at helping African students to study in India and online through Indian institutions were outlined in the opening session of the India-Africa Higher Education and Skills Development Summit held in New Delhi last month.
Emphasising the need for South-South cooperation in preparing the workforces of developing nations for the challenges of the future, Secretary for Economic Relations in India’s Ministry of External Affairs TS Tirumurti said Africa was a priority in India's foreign policy. Higher education, digital disruption and machine learning were major challenges to be addressed through demand-driven development partnerships, he said.
Although India welcomed African students and is helping to facilitate their entry through a more “liberal” visa regime, those who do not wish to leave their home country can get an Indian degree “from the comfort of their home”, Tirumurti told the summit, which was coordinated by the Confederation of Indian Industry.
Building on the 50-year-old Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) programme which has already provided African students with technical expertise, Tirumurti said the government was now launching new programmes such as e-ITEC and e-VidyaBharati and e-AarogyaBharati (e-VBAB) which would see 15,000 scholarships being made available to African students over the next five years to pursue online short-term courses, as well as undergraduate and postgraduate degrees from top Indian universities.
"The E-VBAB portal will be opened soon to all African nationals and will include partner universities and hospitals,” Tirumurti said.
The e-VBAB Network Project involves two separate platforms which will link various educational institutions and hospitals in India and participating African countries. The project is a technological upgrade and extension of the Pan-African e-Network Project (Phase One) which was implemented in 48 partner countries across Africa from 2009 to 2017.
According to R Subrahmanyam, higher education secretary in India’s Ministry of Human Resource Development, the ‘Study in India’ programme, launched last year and involving thousands of universities and colleges, was being expanded to 30 African countries. Seats for international students – around one-third of which would be offered at concessional fee rates – were being made available in the best institutions.
He said India had a large number of educational institutions of excellence such as the Indian Institutes of Technology, Indian Institutes of Management or Regional Engineering Colleges and universities offering courses in liberal arts and sciences. All of these were producing graduates who have contributed to India becoming a US$3 trillion economy, he said.
As a destination for African students, India is in fact declining in popularity, according to Abhishek Mishra, research assistant in the Strategic Studies Programme of the Observer Research Foundation, India.
"Despite commendable initiatives like 'Study in India' under India's Ministry of External Affairs, the current reality is that the number of African students coming to study in India is declining, despite our geographical proximity and historical antecedents," Mishra told University World News.
"Racism is the principle issue at hand. In spite of increased engagement, incidents of racism and intolerance against African students who come to study in India are hindering India-Africa relations," he said.
According to Tirumurti, the ministry constantly monitors such issues. "While there have been a few localised incidents, and we regret such incidents and are always alert to attend to them promptly, the educational experience for nearly all African students in India has been positive," he told the meeting.
Of the significance of bilateral engagement at the level of higher education, Mishra, co-author of a June 2019 report entitled “The ten guiding principles for India-Africa engagement: Finding coherence in India’s Africa policy”, said: "Higher education institutions are an important source of, and help to augment, a nation's soft power."
"While according top priority status to Africa and introducing a slew of new initiatives are good to solidify our modern partnerships, unless there are more people-to-people contacts, relations will not progress," Mishra said.
"Our engagement in summit level, industry or bilateral level is progressing well, but we need to do a lot more at the level of universities and think tanks," he said.
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