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Deakin in India: A GIFT of education

Deakin University launches bold new venture at GIFT City Ahmedabad. VIVEK ASRI and PAWAN LUTHRA report.

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Building on the growing bilateral bonding between India and Australia, Melbourne’s Deakin University has become the first international university to establish an on-site campus in Gujarat India.

When one talks about India, the numbers are always staggering. India is the world’s most populous nation with a population of 1.43 billion. Median age is 28.7 years. With 300 million people between the ages of 18 and 25, education is the way forward for the country to grow. With many countries of the world including Australia facing the challenges of an aging population and declining workforce participation, India will become the source of a highly educated and young labour force.

In its latest Union Budget, the Indian government allocated over AUD 20 billion to educate over 40 million students enrolled in its 5,350 universities. Yet there are just not enough universities in India to educate all those who want to gain a higher degree.

Australia’s education business with India is valued at over $4.2 billion, with over 130,000 students studying in Australia. But that comes with its challenges: the affordability for a student to live and study in another country, and from a local Australian perspective, issues such as housing challenges.

This was recognised by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese in his discussions with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his visits to India in 2023.

“We always welcome students to come and study in Australia, and that will continue to be an important focus for us,” Mr Albanese said in one of his speeches. “But not everyone has the means or the ability to pack up their lives and study in another country. There might be financial constraints, or family commitments, or a variety of reasons that you want to, or need to, stay closer to home. So, the presence of Australian universities in India opens up new ways for Indian students to obtain an Australian education by bringing Australia a little bit closer.”

Seizing the day, Australia’s Deakin University has made history with the official opening of its first international branch campus in India, nestled in the GIFT (Gujarat International Finance Tec-City) of Gandhinagar, Gujarat. 

Australian High Commissioner Phillip Green and Deakin Chancellor John Stanhope opening Deakin University campus in India
Australian High Commissioner Phillip Green and Deakin Chancellor John Stanhope do the honours

Ms. Ravneet Pawha, Deakin Vice-President (Global Alliances) and CEO (South Asia), has been instrumental in establishing this new venture. Speaking with Indian Link, she said that she was surprised at how quickly things progressed.

“I visited GIFT (Gujarat International Finance Tec-City) in October 2022, a month after the Indian finance minister announced that it would be accepting foreign universities,” she said. “The following January, Deakin’s Vice Chancellor decided to go ahead with the project. We got the first approval in March, which is when PM Anthony Albanese announced it during his India visit. Our required approvals came quickly, with the construction of the campus starting in June 2023. And now the campus is ready in 2024. For us, the whole process was about 11 months.”

Ms Ravneet Pawha, Deakin Vice-President (Global Alliances) and CEO (South Asia)
Deakin Vice-President (Global Alliances) and CEO (South Asia) Ravneet Pawha

It is expected that other universities will follow suit, with the University of Wollongong also planning to open a campus in the same area.

Ms Pawha is proud of Deakin University’s history and legacy of engaging with India. 

“We have a 30-year engagement with India, and the largest cohort of international students, approximately 35%, are from India,” she said. “For Deakin, India was the natural choice when it came to setting up its international campus, as India has always been the centre of internationalisation for the Australian university sector.”

The Indian campus of Deakin University, boasting modern facilities including digital classrooms, libraries, and laboratories, will provide local students access to postgraduate courses in business analytics and cyber security at a fraction of the cost of international fees in Australia. Priced at approximately Rs 21 lakhs (about AUD 40,000) for the two-year course (fast-tracked to 18 months), the program will be delivered by local and international staff, along with guest lecturers from leading industry figures.

“At any time, students who want to study in Australia can move to Australia, because course details and timing will be the same,” Ms Pawha said. 

Regarding the international students’ experience, she stated, “If our Australian students want an India experience, they can do so with a semester’s study, or tri semester, in India. We also hope that into the future, we will have students from other countries avail of the opportunities at the Deakin University campus in India.”

When questioned about the budget, she responded, “I’m not at liberty to share that detail, but it was comprehensive.” 

According to Deakin University’s annual report for 2022, it earned AUD 222 million in fees from domestic offshore students.

Emphasising the commitment to accessible education, she stated, “It is very clear that this is not about taking away from the university’s overseas market. Those who want to travel to Australia to study may still do that. This is about making high-quality accessible education available for students in India who may not, for whatever reason, be able to or want to study overseas. So, this is looking at that larger piece of engagement in India, with India, for India.”

Australia's Deakin University has officially opened its India campus, making it the country's first international branch campus.
Deakin University’s Gift City Campus. Photo: Supplied

When Deakin University Chancellor John Stanhope AM first visited the campus, he told Ms Pawha that it seemed almost similar to any Deakin campus in Australia.

“He said, if you could pick up this campus and put it in Australia, you couldn’t tell the difference. All the facilities that Deakin students have, including sports, accommodation, online library resources for teaching, engagement with industry, and internship – all of those are available to GIFT students. Perhaps more so, because India has a very rich culture of engaging with industry. We have already tied up with ten companies that will be working closely with courses, guest lectures, internships and possible jobs. So, I think it will be a very rich experience.”

The university plans to allocate 20 to 25 per cent of its Deakin staff from Australia to the Indian campus, with the remaining positions being filled locally. Ms Pawha’s vision encompasses not just the present but the future, where education knows no borders and fosters enriching experiences for students globally.

Vice-Chancellor Professor Iain Martin told Indian Link, “This is just the beginning of what GIFT City can deliver well beyond teaching. It is an opportunity to enhance long-lasting relationships with the government and forge new connections in a way that helps Deakin to achieve our long-term goals, including research opportunities. We know that partnerships, like those we are maturing with India, are vital for our continued success.”

The inauguration at GIFT City followed a pivotal meeting between Indian PM Narendra Modi and a Deakin delegation, emphasising the collaboration between the government and academic institutions, particularly in the vital domain of cyber security. The delegation included Chancellor John Stanhope AM, Vice-Chancellor Prof. Iain Martin, and Ravneet Pawha herself.

“We had a truly fantastic conversation around the future of education, skilling, and research in India,” Prof. Martin said.

Reflecting on the event, Australian High Commissioner to India Philip Green OAM stated, “This opens a new chapter in our education ties, and this is only the beginning.” 

The sentiment echoed the historic nature of Australia establishing India’s inaugural foreign university campus.

Deakin University’s Indian links date back to the 1890s. It is named after former Australian Prime Minister Alfred Deakin, who envisioned a future where students from Australia and India would engage in cross-border interactions and establish enduring intellectual collaborations. Alfred Deakin’s early involvement with India, driven by his interests in irrigation and cultural diversity, led him to publish a research report titled “Irrigated India” in 1893. His explorations of India’s spiritual centres and architecture culminated in the publication of Temple and Tomb in India.

Deakin GIFT City Campus is currently accepting applications until March 31, 2024, with classes scheduled to commence in July 2024. Those interested in learning more can register for updates at Deakin’s official website.

In recognition of Deakin University’s 50th anniversary and 30 years in India, the institution announced two fully funded scholarships for economically challenged students, underscoring Deakin’s commitment to educational equity.

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