Indian HRD minister’s visit

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Collaborative research ties between Australia and India are set to increase in the fields of health and energy

photo with mahatma gandhi statue - HRD minister and VC UNSW

It was an opportunity to change the presumption about Indian politicians. Burdened by the reputation of Indian politicians as “old school,” the charismatic, Indian HRD Minister Dr M M Pallam Raju seemed to strike all the right chords with his Australian counterpart, Higher Education Minister Kim Carr.
Dr Raju was in Australia on a crucial three-day visit from July 10-12 to attend the annual Australia-India Ministerial Dialogue on Education Cooperation and the second Australia-India Education Council (AIEC) meeting. The bilateral meetings were planned to boost the collaboration and expansion plans for educational and research ties between India and Australia.
Higher Education Minister Kim Carr announced that a $10 million grant will be made by the Federal Government to support four new collaborative projects between India and Australia towards research and fellowships for Australians working in India.
“I was very pleased to discuss with Minister Raju the range of collaborations between our two nations,” Mr Carr said. “The money will come from the Australia-India Ministerial Research Fund (AISRF), which covers joint research in science, technology, biotechnology and climate change”.
“Australia and India’s economies and peoples are among the best placed in our shared region to benefit from opportunities in the Asian century. If we are to maximise the gains from our position it is essential that we recognise and support each other’s strengths in order to lift economic performance, at both a national and individual level, and boost both countries’ economic prosperity,” Senator Carr said.
The $64 million AISRF has supported more than 100 projects and workshops, involving more than 80 leading Australian and Indian universities and research institutions, since it began. It is Australia’s largest fund dedicated to bilateral research with any country, and is one of India’s largest sources of support for international research.
Dr Raju was quick to post about the success of the bilateral meetings on Twitter. “The conclusion of the second Australia-India Education Council meeting was on a positive and a very optimistic note about the potential of the future,” Mr Raju tweeted.
The Indian delegation along with Dr Raju visited the University of New South Wales (UNSW) to build bridges with education providers and key stakeholders at UNSW. The role India plays as a strategic partner in the area of research with the UNSW was broadly discussed.
“We are looking to expand and also try making higher education more enabling for our young Indian students,” Dr Raju said. “The progress we would like to make on this front is a greater exchange of faculty and students mobility between the two countries”.
It presented an opportunity for Dr Raju to explain the Indian Government’s recent formalisation of rules for establishment of campuses of foreign universities and educational institutions in India. The focus of the interaction was to invite foreign education providers to India.
“There was discussion about jointly supervised PhD programs, which would enable students to split their time between Australia and India and receive qualifications from both countries,” Dr Raju said. “We have an agreement called ‘Twining arrangement’ whereby Australian universities can partner with one of the Indian universities and offer a programme in an area of mutual interest and the student can be awarded a  joint degree by Indian and Australian universities. Students studying in India can do a couple of semesters abroad in chosen universities”.
Dr Raju announced the opportunity for Australian students to visit India for short-term visits through the ‘Connect to India’ program.
The Federal Government will also support 29 higher education institutions, sending 300 students to India for a study experience under the new ‘AsiaBound’ program.
Dr Raju, with a portfolio covering all aspects of India’s schools and higher education policy, is an electronics and communications engineer from Andhra University and also an MBA from Temple University in Philadelphia. Prior to his life in the political sphere, he worked in the informational technology sector in the US, displaying an understanding of science and technology that was obvious during the meetings at UNSW.
Dr Raju was thrilled to see the Mahatma Gandhi sculpture that was donated to UNSW by the Government of India. Carrying his personal camera, he insisted in taking photos clicked with delegates and media surrounding the sculpture. “This has been a very positive trip and I was most pleased to see the wonderful sculpture of the father of our nation in the UNSW,” Dr Raju said.
Educating 500 million Indians under the age of 25 is an onerous responsibility on the 51-year-old’s shoulders. “Our education system should equip students with knowledge-based employable skills,” Dr Raju said. “The biggest challenge of the Indian education system is to produce quality students who can be employed by any part of the world. Also, the focus is capacity building for secondary education in India and industry linkages”.
Dr Raju has set the target high. “India’s gross enrolment ratio in higher education is currently 18 per cent and the target must be taken to 30 per cent by 2020,” he said.
The minister views Australia as a popular destination for higher education, despite the furore of negative media since the well-publicised reports of crimes and robberies against Indians in Australia in 2008-‘09 that were described as racially motivated crimes. Dr Raju is pleased with the measures implemented by the Australian Government and universities in aiding the welfare and safety of Indian students since the attacks five years ago.
The Minister does not attribute the dwindling number of Indian students coming to Australia on that account. “There are two reasons why there is a drop in the number Indian students coming to Australia in recent years,” Dr Raju said. “One is the Visa regulation that doesn’t allow them to stay on in Australia after finishing their degree, and the other is the rising Australian dollar, which makes international education very expensive”.
There are frameworks being formulated acknowledging Indian work experience and education, revealed Dr Raju. “We are working on mutual recognitions,” he said. “We have come out with a frame that recognises prior work experience and learning which will be incorporated into the vocational educational framework what we will call is National  Vocational Educational Policy  Frame work”.
Despite working his way through a busy schedule amid endless meetings, Dr Raju’s last words in Australia, perhaps prophetic, were on Twitter: “Sunrise over Sydney harbour as I prepare to head back home today morning. Sydney is a beautiful city and I will miss it”.