Education is at the centre of India-Australia relationship

Catriona Jackson

It is a truly exciting time in Australia and India’s relationship, a golden era in which ties are only getting bigger and stronger. Our governments are promoting and supporting this.

As Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in Sydney last month, we are taking it to the next level.

And education is at the centre, right where it belongs. That’s because universities are critical to Australia and India’s economic and strategic interests.

They are essential to both our nations achieving our goals of growing and prospering.

Education brings opportunity and advancement. It changes lives for the better, lifting individuals and communities out of poverty, helping people and entire nations realise ambition and aspiration, and driving change, economies, and progress.

Australia and India have a proud history of educating each other, and of conducting life-changing research together. These pursuits are at the heart of our continuing relationship.

Importantly, the focus right now is on what more we can do together, how education can take our relationship to the next level.

But why now is their such great emphasis on growing Australia and India’s relationship? The answer lies in India’s extraordinary growth and the complementary nature of our economies and societies.

India is now the most populous country in the world,  a nation of more than 1.4 billion people and rising to 1.7 billion by 2060. Its economic growth is on a similar trajectory. India is a bright spot in the global economy, now the fifth largest economy in the world.

A growing India will need many of Australia’s goods and services. Education is chief among them. In fact, it has been described as the most promising sector for Australia in India. This is mutually beneficial.

We know that India has a sweeping new education plan, full of bold, nation-changing ambition – under which it is aiming to educate 500 million students by 2035. This is no easy task.

It’s clear that there is a huge and growing demand for high-quality education and India’s universities can’t meet this demand alone. As a world-class education provider, Australia can certainly help.

Indian Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan’s visit to Australia last year clearly reinforced India’s desire for this collaboration, and it has proven to be a pivotal point in the further strengthening of our relationship.

It was the first of many visits back and forth between our nations, at the highest levels – Ministers, CEOs, and university leaders. We reached a peak with our Prime Ministers coming together in India in March and in Australia in May.

I had the privilege of speaking directly with Prime Minister Modi in Sydney during that visit and was very pleased to hear his strong emphasis on education as a fundamental economic and social connector between Australia and India.

Australia is well placed to partner with India in this endeavour, to build on what we are already doing together to capitalise on this golden era.

Our contribution will take three broad forms. We will educate Indian students in India, we will educate them in Australia, and we will work more closely together in research. Our universities are beginning to make tangible investments in India already.

Deakin University and the University of Wollongong are on track to establish physical campuses in India. The University of Melbourne has struck partnerships with Indian universities to offer students the opportunity to study dual science degrees, while RMIT’s offer of dual engineering degrees and PhDs is another significant milestone.

Many more of our institutions are very keen to follow suit, which is what is needed for Australia to help India meet its education goals.

In terms of welcoming Indian students to our shores, the opportunity for them to attend university in Australia will never not be there.

In the last 20 years, we have educated more than 1.5 million Indian students and right now, we have more than 90,000 Indian students studying in Australia. That’s more than before the COVID-19 pandemic. This scale of interest is unprecedented, and we expect that it will keep growing.

It is also critical that we increase our research collaboration. We already have 450 formal partnerships between our universities. Through these, our researchers are driving breakthroughs to propel our nations forward.

They are shaping how we respond to shifts in our region, how we combat climate change and manage the energy transition, and how we maintain the health of our people.

These are all challenges we can, and must, rise to using education and research. Australia’s universities are committed to this task. We know India’s are, too.

There is also the role our universities play in diplomacy and building deep connections between nations. This is particularly important in a fast-changing strategic environment. Our nations are stronger for close, person-to-person ties facilitated by students studying in countries other than their own.

Education is far more than textbooks and lectures. It helps make us friends and forges enduring relationships that build cultural understanding, and it turns students into truly global citizens.

It is for these reasons why Australia and India must continue to work together to educate our populations.

Our governments are urging us to do this. They want us to work more closely – for mutual benefit – to give as many people as possible the life-changing opportunity of a university education, and to come together to solve the great challenges ahead of us.

Australia will do this by continuing to expand our universities in India, by welcoming Indian students to our shores, and by investing in the world-class research our scholars perform together.

Prime Minister Albanese and Prime Minister Modi, together with Minister Clare and Minister Pradhan, are putting education at the centre of the Australia-India relationship.

In Australia and in India, you can feel the energy and enthusiasm for this. It is a powerful force, so let’s roll up our sleeves and make the most of this golden era together.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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