This week, for the first time in 10 years, an Indian prime minister – Narendra Modi – will visit the UK.
He has been to 27 other countries (and even the headquarters of Facebook) before visiting the UK. By contrast, David Cameron has travelled to India three times during his tenure as UK prime minister.
Comparisons have been made with the recent Chinese state visit. However, the Modi arrival will be like no other. Tonight, Bollywood singer Kanika Kapoor will welcome Modi into Wembley stadium, where he will address more than 60,000 of UK’s 1.5 million British Indian diaspora on the night of Diwali – the Indian festival of lights – followed by the largest firework display ever seen in London.
Underneath this showbiz, however, lies a strong and deep relationship. Britain outranks nearly every country in the world in its investment in India, and Indians invest more in Britain than in the rest of the EU combined. The same applies to higher education: the value of UK-India research has grown from less than £1 million in 2008 to over £200 million today.
Indians make up a significant proportion of the 51,000 foreign academics in the UK. In terms of student mobility, despite the recent decline, more than 160,000 Indian students have studied in the UK in the past decade, including 21,000 last year, creating lifelong relations as alumni as well as contributing £420 million to the UK economy. There are in excess of 50 representative offices of UK universities in India, more than in any other country.
With the largest university-age cohort in the world, and an economy growing at 8 per cent, India will remain a key strategic partner for the UK, but an increasingly attractive partner for other countries too. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party understands India’s place in the world, and is engaging globally. The party is developing its own Mooc (massive open online course) platform, its own university rankings system and will take on international education on its terms.
However, Modi and the BJP were defeated in the Bihar state elections last weekend, a useful reminder that India is the world’s largest democracy, and of India’s huge domestic agenda on rural education development.
The UK needs to build on its position and engage with India for the long term, via a range of opportunities. These include the new Newton Bhabha Fund, which will invest £10 million a year to 2020 in new science collaborations including PhD student placements, and the UK India Education and Research Initiative, which, since 2006, has funded 1,000 university and college partnerships and will launch a third five-year phase next year.
For students, the Generation UK-India programme aims to support 25,000 UK students to India over the next five years on short-term immersion courses, while for faculty, the Indian government’s new Global Initiative of Academic Networks scheme will fund UK faculty on short-term teaching assignments in India, with a target of attracting 1,000 over the next three years.
Like all state visits, a raft of fresh bilateral agreements and new initiatives are planned. Over the past 10 years, the UK-India relationship in education, research and innovation has grown substantially, and it is now a good time to celebrate the achievements to date, take stock and plan future engagement to protect this important partnership beyond the next decade.
Richard Everitt is director of education at the British Council India.