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New education initiatives in plans for Indian students in UK, says University of Birmingham Chancellor

Lord Karan Bilimoria said they are strengthening and celebrating their connections with partners, friends and alumni across the Commonwealth.

Written by Deeksha Teri | New Delhi |
Updated: March 10, 2022 12:44:09 pm
Indians in UK, India-UK tiesIndianexpress.com talked to Lord Karan Bilimoria, Chancellor of the University of Birmingham, about how the ties between the two countries have changed in terms of the education sector. (Photo source: Special arrangement)

From creating new education initiatives and surviving the Brexit divorce, to battling the global coronavirus pandemic—a lot has changed in the United Kingdom (UK), which has invariably had an effect on Indian students pursuing higher studies in the UK. Indianexpress.com talked to Lord Karan Bilimoria, the chancellor of the University of Birmingham, about how the ties between the two countries have changed in the education sector.

Has there been an increase in the UK-India partnership in recent years? How will this enhance the growth of education and research?

Last year, the UK and India signed an Enhanced Trade Partnership projected of doubling bilateral trade to £50 billion by 2030 and in January 2022, the UK and India commenced formal negotiations of a UK-India Free Trade Agreement. This is a new era of the Indo-British partnership and the potential for the fifth and sixth largest economies in the world to partner and collaborate on every front, including education and research, is limitless.

To demonstrate this, through our India institute, the University of Birmingham works with partners across India to deliver impact in areas such as surgical hygiene, environmental pollution, sustainable cooling and applied sports science. We currently have over 40 joint research projects and partnerships in India, in critical areas such as women’s cancer, drinking water, air pollution, antimicrobial resistance, clean cooling technology, global surgery; railways, cell biology and autophagy, genomics, sustainable energy, and sports performance.

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We are also creating new education initiatives, notably a partnership with the National Rail Training Institute (NRTI), which will lead to Indian students taking a pathway to study at postgraduate level in Edgbaston, the first such education agreement of this nature linking one of the world’s biggest railway networks, with education delivered through the biggest railways group in Europe. The Queen’s Award-winning Birmingham Centre for Rail Research and Education has just created Hydroflex, the world’s first retrofitted hydrogen-powered train, which was up and running at COP26 in Glasgow in November 2021.

Our education partnerships with leading private institutions like Amity, Manipal, OP Jindal and Chitkara enable students to study for part of their undergraduate programme with the Indian partner institution before progressing to the University of Birmingham. Our School of Law has also been awarded a British Council grant to develop a joint module on business, human rights and environment with Jindal Law School.

A new graduate visa has recently been launched. Have there been any significant changes in the visa recruitments for Indian students? If yes, will it help ease the process of gaining a study visa in the UK?

As a member of the House of Lords, Co-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group of International students and President of UKCISA (UK Council for International Student Affairs), I am proud to have played an instrumental role in helping to secure the new graduate visa, which came into effect on January 1, 2021 — enabling Indian students to spend up to two years working in the UK after their studies (three years for PhD students).

The new visa will help attract Indian students to the UK, but what will really motivate them is the opportunity to experience academic life in Britain. With the new visa rules, I am confident that the new number of Indian students hoping to study in British universities will increase by leaps and bounds over the years. Along with American universities, British universities are the finest in the world.

What are the Covid-19 restrictions or requirements that the UK universities are now implementing?

Although the majority of Covid restrictions have been lifted across the UK, the University of Birmingham is doing everything it can to help ensure that students and staff are safe from Covid. There are simple actions we can all take to protect ourselves, such as wearing a face-covering in busy indoor areas and being considerate of others who wish to reduce close contact.

We encourage staff and students to follow good personal hygiene practices and use home test kits twice a week—self-isolating when required and reporting any positive tests to the university. Our ‘test, trace and protect’ process complements those delivered by NHS and Public Health England. We also encourage staff and students to get double vaccinated.

We are returning to face-to-face lectures and seminars, but some students, who have been unable to travel to campus, are using the opportunity to study remotely.

Will Covid adversely affect the chances of Indian students getting an opportunity to study in the UK?

As we ease back into life after the pandemic, we look forward to welcoming students from India — whether on our beautiful UK campus or our iconic new smart campus in Dubai, where Indian students already make up over a quarter of our diverse student community. I have seen the value of education mobility first hand with my grandfather, mother and uncle all studying at the University of Birmingham. This is no one-way street — the flow in both directions of educational experience and collateral creates greater connectivity between nations and cultures.

What skills should Indian students acquire before moving abroad for studies?

Students should ensure that they have the appropriate level of English for the course they are interested in. Likewise, those applying for science-based courses should check that their Maths level is appropriate for the course. They should also ensure that they apply in good time for courses such as Medicine, where there are specific longer-term processes to complete.

Are there any new possible scholarships or programmes between the two countries?

We are launching new visiting fellows’ scheme that will enable early career researchers to work with our leading academics on areas such as maternal health, Global surgery, sustainable cities and sustainable cool energy.

We are also initiating new women in research fellowships and have extended our Commonwealth scholarships for another year. The £3,000 award is available to all international students from countries participating in the Commonwealth Games 2022, who are seeking to study a taught Master’s degree at Birmingham in the 2022/2023 academic year. Eligible scholars who successfully meet the criteria will have this amount deducted from their total tuition fees owed.

Considering that the effect of Brexit has now started to become evident in the education industry, how has the divorce between the two sides affected Indian students?

The University of Birmingham is a civic university with a global outlook and deep Commonwealth connections, particularly in India, where we work with Indian partners to deliver research and education impact. As the UK seeks to find a new place for itself in a post-Brexit world, India is clearly a key partner for the UK – economically and academically. The bonds between our countries can only grow stronger and opportunities for student mobility increase.

There is certainly an economic windfall from increased mobility. We have a large Indian diaspora in the UK, who are the largest and most successful minority diaspora in the UK, contributing hugely to the country’s economy and culture. They are also a living bridge between the UK and India. Education mobility is important in supporting trade links and strengthening the bonds between the UK and India.

The University’s relationship with India dates back to 1909 when our first cohort of Indian students arrived in Birmingham to study for degrees in Mining and Commerce. We now have more than 2,000 Indian alumni and some of India’s most distinguished and finest minds were educated at Birmingham, including Mr Ajit Kumar Seth, 30th Cabinet Secretary of the Republic of India, acclaimed writer and critic, the late Dr U R Ananthamurthy, and Dr Didar Singh, the former Senior Civil servant and secretary General of FICCI (Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry) and also Secretary, Government of India.

As the official partner of the Birmingham 2022 Queen’s Baton Relay, we are demonstrating how the University is working in partnership to resolve key issues affecting people in India and improve the lives of the country’s citizens. We are strengthening and celebrating our connections with partners, friends and alumni across the Commonwealth, as the baton travels through 72 countries and territories.

It is incredibly exciting that as official partner of the Birmingham 2022 Queen’s Baton Relay and sponsor of the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games, the University of Birmingham is playing the most extensive role of any University in the history of the Commonwealth Games. In July 2022, we will be home to the largest athletes’ village on our beautiful Birmingham campus, whilst our world-class sporting venues will host the hockey and squash competitions.

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