(Australian Associated Press)
Over the next five years, India has an ambitious goal to educate a cohort of people which is 16 times the size of Australia’s entire population.
Both countries see enormous potential for Australian universities and its training sector in helping India upskill 400 million people.
Already Australia is the second most popular destination for Indian students, behind the United States, with more than 60,000 studying down under in 2016.
A large delegation of education representatives, led by Education Minister Simon Birmingham, is in New Delhi this week to look at how to grow the partnership further.
The Indian government has predicted to meet its goal by 2022, it will need an extra 4 million university graduates every year.
“Clearly that is a very challenging task to build your own system at a rate that enables you to produce that many graduates,” Universities Australia chief executive Belinda Robinson told AAP in New Delhi where she is part of the delegation.
Universities are using the delegation’s meetings to explore how they might help India with that task.
Ms Robinson has noticed during the two-day summit a real desire from the Indian education sector to encourage more foreign institutions to work with them.
There have been regulatory barriers for Australian universities wanting to set up undergraduate courses in India, but she is hopeful those will be eased.
“Not only is there opportunity created by the aspirations of India to lift so many more people out of poverty through education – that we feel we have a real role to be able to assist with – we also see from the Indian side a real desire to pave the way to enable that potential to be realised as well,” she told AAP.
In the vocational sector, Australian educators are piloting “training the trainer” courses in five Indian cities, starting with 250 students.
Senator Birmingham will formally launch the new courses – co-branded by the two governments – at the Australia-India Skills Conference in New Delhi on Tuesday.
“Just like a good building, our two nations have an excellent foundation for this shared endeavour,” he will say.
“But a good building needs more than just a strong foundation – it needs to grow and take shape.”
He believes Australia can play a role in building the capacity of trainers, “the cornerstone of an industry-led vocational education system”.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said his meeting with Indian counterpart Narendra Modi on Monday included a “very fruitful discussion” about education, and the role Australia could play.
“I have taken copious notes from Prime Minister Modi’s advice on how Australian education institutions can be even more successful than they are today,” Mr Turnbull said.
“His understanding of the need for training, the need for education and the role that Australia can play is extremely informed, very, very deep and very detailed.”
Education exchange is about more than Australia taking on Indian students.
Ms Robinson sees the education relationship as being on the cusp of a “step-change” to move from delivery of training to genuine collaboration and exchange of knowledge.
Formal research agreements between institutions have grown five-fold since 2003, with about 400 now in place.
Mr Turnbull says in a world where growth is driven by technology, science and innovation, collaboration is the key to success.
“Knowledge shared is not diminished, but rather it is enhanced and for the benefit of both parties,” he told the Australia-India Knowledge Partnership dinner on Monday.
“Our opportunities to achieve our dreams are limited only by our imagination, enterprise and courage.”
With India’s enormous dream of 400 million newly skilled workers, those three qualities will need to be abundant.