Bids invited for mutual gain

April 27, 2007

As India and the UK strengthen research links through a government-backed strategy, individual universities are really talking business. Olga Wojtas reports

Academics and researchers across India and the UK will soon have the chance to bid for funding in the second round of collaborative projects aimed at transforming links between the two countries.

The UK-India Education and Research Initiative (Ukieri), a multimillion pound five-year programme launched last year, is a unique international collaboration designed to ensure that India and the UK become partners of choice. It also recognises India's role in developing higher education.

Ukieri is about to seek bids for 25 awards for research and ten awards for programme delivery. One priority is building research links between centres of excellence, another is encouraging more doctoral and postdoctoral partnerships.

Opportunities are arguably greatest at the lower end of the scale because the awards are to research teams rather than individuals, and younger researchers are more likely to be able to spend an extended period abroad.

Marie Lall, a specialist in South East Asia at the Institute of Education, University of London, believes there is often a neocolonial attitude towards India in the UK. "It's the attitude that 'India can learn from us'.

Ukieri is a breath of fresh air in talking about equal partnerships," she said.

Both sides have to show they will contribute, and both sides must benefit.

Dr Lall spoke at a recent Ukieri policy dialogue in Kolkata, which brought together academics and policymakers to discuss widening access and social inclusion. There were initial suspicions in India that Ukieri was another means of marketing the UK as a postgraduate destination, but these fears have since been allayed.

Tim Gore, the British Council's head of education in India, said: "I don't think the benefit is necessarily synchronous. In fact, in most cases, I think it will be asynchronous - the UK will gain one sort of expertise and India another.

"We want to ensure that the institutional interactions are long term. To do that, we need to put in place as many different strands of relationships as we can. It is great if you can offer a programme together, but if you have a programme, and a joint research project, and research looking at a social issue, it is much more likely to be long term."

G. G. Wankhede, professor of sociology in the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai, said: "In social inclusion, you may have the class problem and we have caste problems, but the general issue is universal. We should be able to develop strong methodology to do the research."

P. M. Bhargava, vice-chairman of India's National Knowledge Commission, said there would never be a society without inclusion and exclusion, but the important issue was the criteria. "If I am seeking a professor of physics, I exclude a large number of people and that is reasonable. There will be a constant battle because some criteria are reasonable and some are not. You need to set up a system that continually looks at this. What should that system be? We can certainly collaborate on this."

The social sciences were not prominent in the first round of bids. Mr Gore said he was eager to see more social science and humanities proposals, but he stressed that there were no quotas for subjects.

Dr Lall said there were opportunities for collaborative research on affirmative action (something that India has had for more than 50 years) and disadvantaged groups.

"Women were completely invisible (as a research topic) in universities, and now there is a lot of work on gender. A similar exercise is necessary for disadvantaged groups. We have to build a body of researchers who will take the social inclusion agenda forward."

India's University Grants Commission has identified institutions and departments with "potential for excellence", and UGC chairman Sukhadeo Thorat said links with the UK could help their progress. He speculated that there could eventually be joint appointments, with researchers being able to work in both countries.

Mr Gore said that although universities such as Harvard regularly sent students to India, UK students still seemed reluctant to think about the benefit of international study. But he believed that most UK universities viewed India as central to their international strategies. "If they don't, they're missing a trick," he said.

olga.wojtas@thes.co.uk

KEY UKIERI COLLABORATIONS

Ukieri is a partnership between the Department for Education and Skills, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Office of Science and Technology and the British Council and the UK's devolved administrations.

The project is also backed by the Indian Department of Science and Technology and India's University Grants Commission. It has industry support from, among others, BAE Systems, BP, GlaxoSmithKline and Shell.

Anyone who is interested in developments at Ukeiri , including the call for research bids, can join the project's e-distribution list through www.ukieri.org.

In 2006, Ukieri awarded:

  • Six major research grants of up to £500,000 from 103 proposals
  • 24 standard research grants of up to £150,000 from more than 261 proposals
  • 26 research fellowships from more than 170 applicants
  • Ten PhD scholarships from more than 700 applicants
  • 86 travel grants.

By 2011, Ukieri will have met the following minimum targets:

  • 50 new collaborative research projects including five major projects linking centres of excellence
  • 300 extra Indian research students, postdoctoral researchers and staff will have worked in the UK
  • 200 UK researchers will have worked in India
  • 200 UK undergraduates will have been supported for studies in India
  • 2,000 Indian research students will have completed research degrees in the UK through collaborative delivery.

INDIAN HIGHER EDUCATION AT A GLANCE

  • There are 350 universities in India. The Indian Government's National Knowledge Commission would like the number to increase to 1,500 by 2015
  • There are plans afoot to raise the number of student places by 500,000 a year
  • Although India has 2.5 million graduates a year, only 7 per cent of the Indians in the 18-to-24 age group go into higher education. This rate is about half the average for Asia
  • Twenty central universities set up by Acts of Parliament are funded by the University Grants Commission. These include Delhi University, Indira Gandhi National Open University and Aligarh Muslim University
  • The UGC has granted autonomy to more than 200 state universities in addition to "deemed" universities, institutes or departments within universities
  • There are 37 agricultural institutions, 38 engineering and technical institutions, 16 health sciences institutions, four law institutions and ten open universities
  • Up to 50 national universities offering high-quality education across the disciplines are planned
  • The gross starting salary for 10,000 university professors is R40,000 (Pounds 475) a month. Readers earn about R33,000 and lecturers R22,000
  • Many science graduates prefer to seek jobs in industry because they can earn starting salaries of R606,000 a year, about double what they could expect after a decade working in higher education
  • Academic promotion is achieved through two main routes: open competition, including shortlisting and interviews, and the merit promotion scheme, which is based on length of service
  • The retirement age in universities funded by central government is 65. Although it is lower in state institutions at the moment, this is likely to be extended to 65 to help meet the increase in student numbers. Academics who seek voluntary retirement after 20 years' service are entitled to the maximum pension.

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