We Want To Help Indian Govt Achieve Aspirations Of NEP 2020
John Dewar AO, Vice Chancellor and President, La Trobe University and Chair, Universities Australia speaks about the latest collaborations between the two countries, building academic relationships and how these would benefit students of both the countries
What makes now the right time to strengthen academic relationship between India and Australia, what would this entail?
I have been travelling to India now for well over 20 years, visiting universities and building partnerships. I don't think there has ever been a point in those two decades when I felt as excited as I do now about the potential for the growth in relationships between India and Australia through education. With the National Education Policy (NEP) and the recent signing of the free trade agreement between India and Australia I think we're on the brink of a really historic period of deepening and growth in the relationship between the two countries through education. It is a significant part of the bilateral relationship between our two countries because the things that powerfully binds us together is a profound belief in the importance and the transformational effects of education on our young people. NEP 2020 and the Free Trade Agreement are really going to turbo charge relations between the two countries. Moreover, internationalisation has always been important to Australia. It's important for our students that they are exposed to different cultures and different ways of thinking and problem solving, especially since increasingly students will find themselves working in multicultural workplaces. There are also many areas of research where collaboration is the only way in which some of the larger global challenges can be properly tackled, the Covid-19 pandemic being an example of this.
What are some of your long terms aims moving forward with international academic collaborations?
Historically, the relationship between India and Australia has been largely defined by the number of Indian students travelling to Australia to study but now there is a complete transformation of that pattern. Many Australian institutions, including La Trobe, are keen to develop research collaborations to run joint PhD programmes with Indian institutions. The range of opportunities now open to us to collaborate on are unprecedented. We want to contribute to the Indian higher education system and to help the Indian government achieve those very ambitious aspirations outlined in the NEP 2020. We are pursuing this in a number of different ways. We have many existing partnerships ranging from IIT Kanpur, where we run a lot of joint research projects, all the way through to Amity University, Noida.
What steps have been taken within La Trobe to further this commitment?
While we’ve had a presence in Delhi for many years, our local office has grown significantly, creating a bridge between our home in Melbourne into India. Our team here do a lot of work to support the collaborations we have with universities and engagement with industry partners.
We have also made a number of different investments through careful planning within the last three decades to build these partnership. Lady Shri Ram (LSR) College for Women, University of Delhi is one of our longest standing academic partners of over 20 years.
La Trobe has also built relationships with cultural icons, notably, Shah Rukh Khan, who is a generous sponsor of a PhD scholarship for young Indian women.
How do the joint degree programmes benefit Indian students and staff?
The new programmes offer more student mobility and flexibility. Students can come to Latrobe for a short period of time and learn alongside Australian and other international students instead of committing to whole degree. It’s a chance to experience another culture and country.
At the moment, the challenge remains that it is difficult for students to obtain credits towards their Indian degrees. Following the Free Trade Agreement, signed earlier this year between the Australian and Indian governments, I believe it will become much easier for Indian students to spend a semester at an Australian University. We've developed a number of joint PhD programmes where students can study in India but benefit from supervision from Australian academics and if relevant, they can spend part of their PhD period in Australia, working in a facility or laboratory.
There are also opportunities for staff exchange as a part of our Capacity Building Endeavour, which is important under the NEP goals. Indian staff exchange opportunities will allow faculty to come and learn practices of our organisations.
What about Australian students and staff, how can these agreements benefit them?
We want more Australian students to spend time here in India and there's growing interest in doing that amongst our students. The whole world recognises India as a growing economy with global influence. It is becoming an exciting place for new businesses to take hold, growing innovation and new industries to flourish. Young Australians are realising that there are many benefits from learning about the Indian cultures, society and languages. For example, we teach Hindi language at La Trobe and we want to encourage more Australian students to take up that opportunity.
The government programme called New Colombo Plan supports students either individually or in groups to come and experience Asian countries, including India, as there are some important employers in the nation.
How is the education department at the Australian High Commission working with the association of Indian universities to ensure these international collaborations can move forward?
At the moment there's a task force that has been established between the two governments to develop a policy of mutual recognition of qualifications (degrees). I think that will be transformative and will open up enormous possibilities for both Australian and Indian students to study in each other's systems and to take back a deeper knowledge of the other country.
In a meeting of the Australia-India Education Council, both education ministers further agreed to establish an additional task force on transnational education, that will look at other forms of cross-border delivery whether it's online or through increased student mobility to really test the possibilities of what we can achieve together.
How has your personal experience helped in your current role?
I have been very lucky, having been able to visit many universities all around the world. I have also taught at many institutes in different parts of the world and it has been incredibly educational because you get to see both similarities and the differences between education sectors of several countries. Pandemic taught me that in the end we are all struggling with the same challenges and we have the same aspirations.
What has always impressed me is just how committed presidents, vice-chancellors and education leaders are to their institutions. It makes a real difference. The same would be true of education ministers. In different parts of the world each institution is facing a different challenge, but they all have that singular mission to make a positive difference and that's been a real highlight for me.
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