Much of the focus in the media has been on the resources that Australia can export to India in the form of coal, uranium and other mining commodities.
Complementing this is another great resource: Australia’s higher education and research system.
It is an infinite resource that could see Australia’s trade relationship with India continue to flourish.
Building on decades of collaboration between our two education systems we’re on the cusp of step change in the breadth and depth of the relationship.
As noted by Education Minister Simon Birmingham, who joined the Prime Minister this week, India has the goal of educating and upskilling more than 400 million of its citizens by 2022.
This is a clear recognition that its future economic prosperity depends on having a wealth of human capital, including engineers, teachers, researchers and highly skilled tradespeople. It’s a big target and Australian is well-placed to assist in achieving it.
Twenty million Indians turn 18 every year, and the Indian government is determined that at least 30 per cent will complete a university qualification. That’s about six million students a year. By any measure, this is an ambitious undertaking.
Australia has significant experience in educating large numbers and we know India has a deep respect and enthusiasm for education. Australia was the first foreign education provider to set up operations in India.
With enrolments increasing to nearly 45,000 last year, India is the second most common source country for students in Australian higher education. Formal agreements between Indian and Australian universities also have exploded by more than 500 per cent across the past decade or so.
In this next phase of our knowledge partnership, we increasingly are going to see Australia’s role in building India’s capacity come to the fore. Australian universities clearly understand the need to collaborate in a way that has mutual benefits for both countries.
For example, as part of India’s need to educate and upskill its citizens, it will need its own quality academics and educators.
There’s a clear opportunity here for Australian institutions to partner with their Indian counterparts to deliver this high-level training and develop India’s expertise.
India is also a priority destination for the New Colombo Plan and increasingly Australian students are seeing India as one of Asia’s top destinations for undergraduate study.
Australian students increasingly have access to one of the world’s evolving economic powerhouses.
This next phase of the relationship also won’t be limited simply to the many economic benefits that each country’s universities can bring.
Education, after all, is about transforming people’s lives. Australia has particular expertise in improving access to a university education so is well-placed to assist India to meet its commitment to extend education to a broader cohort of people.
The people-to-people links built through university education end up creating powerful networks benefiting individuals, businesses and both nations.
Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw is a perfect example. Speaking at a forum, hosted by Universities Australia during the prime ministerial visit, she is India’s richest self-made woman and one of India’s leading biotech entrepreneurs. A well-known philanthropist, she also featured on Forbes’ top 100 most powerful women list.
But her extraordinary education journey started when she was accepted into a course at Federation University. From there, she built an empire on the links she first developed with Australia while at university.
And she is simply one of tens of thousands of personal connections between our two countries that contribute to our enduring economic, cultural and diplomatic relationship.
Each one is an example of burgeoning knowledge partnerships with India, where realising the full potential must be our primary goal.
Belinda Robinson is chief executive of Universities Australia.
Published in The Australian.