Canada celebrates its National Day on July 1. I extend my warmest greetings to the people and the government of Canada on this occasion. I also take this as an opportunity to look at the immense possibility of cooperation and collaboration between India and Canada, especially in the area of education, a sector that is closest to my heart.
India and Canada are two major democracies that share deep bonds. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has referred to the relationship between the two countries as a “natural partnership of shared values… nurtured by the emotional bonds of a vibrant Indian community”. The relationship has got stronger in recent years, with meaningful cooperation in a wide range of areas including economy, energy, science and technology, space, information technology, and education.
In the field of education, India and Canada share a close and longstanding relationship. As is natural for two countries that have so many diplomatic and cultural affinities, areas such as student mobility, research partnerships, and educational exchanges of several kinds are areas of ever-increasing cooperation.
The two countries have signed and renewed an MoU for expanding educational collaboration and promoting student and faculty mobility. Canada is a destination of choice for many of our outward-bound students. I am told that according to recent data from the Canadian Bureau for International Education, nearly 34 per cent of its foreign students come from India – a proportion which is greater than the next four countries combined.
While the number of Canadian students who seek education outside their country has been historically low — not just to India but even to other parts of the world — I am very hopeful of seeing a growth in the number of Canadian students visiting India in the near future. To ensure this, we have started the Study In India programme. I want to tell Canadian students that India has a lot to offer them, and we would love to welcome them to our educational institutions. India has one of the world’s largest education systems in the world, with over 1,000 universities, 45,000 degree colleges, 1,300,000 schools, 10 million teachers and 330 million students.
Our institutions are extremely diverse. Our IITs, NITs, IIMs, Law universities, and many of our central as well as private universities are of very high academic standing and have a strong research base. We are in the process of setting up Institutions of Eminence and also bringing in many regulatory and structural changes that will further boost the quality of education in the country. I also feel happy to share that the Government of India is starting a Guru Nanak Devji chair in an eminent university in Canada.
Research partnerships form an important area of activity in educational collaboration between the two countries. About 300 institutional MOUs have been signed between the Canadian and Indian Higher Education Institutions for collaborative research and exchange programmes. Ninety-eight reputed Canadian faculty members have, so far, arrived under the Government of India’s (Global Initiative of Academic Network) programme for short-term teaching assignments in Indian institutions. Canada is one of the 28 countries covered under SPARC (Scheme for Promotion of Academic and Research Collaboration), an MHRD initiative aiming at improving the research ecosystem of India’s higher educational institutions by facilitating academic and research collaborations between the country’s institutions and the best institutions in the world to solve problems of national and international relevance. Nineteen joint research proposals have so far been accepted from institutions in Canada.
A lot of student mobility and joint research collaboration in multiple disciplinary and interdisciplinary areas is being facilitated under the programme conducted by the Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute (SICI) — the completely bi-national, 52-year-old flagship institution of India-Canada cooperation. Some of the SICI-sponsored projects combine technological and managerial orientations to produce innovative start-ups, while others provide innovative insights into social and cultural issues of crucial significance to the two countries. Urban studies, environmental studies, gender studies, and many more such areas have benefited from the cutting-edge research conducted under the programme. On the 50th anniversary of SICI, the prime ministers of India and Canada pledged their support to the institution.
I am told that in 2019, the Government of Canada introduced a multi-departmental international education strategy, Building on Success. One of its major goals is to promote student travel to countries such as India, so that Canadian students can return with competencies and skills that will deepen international relationships. Student mobility and research partnerships can be very strong engines for powering the friendship between India and Canada.
While COVID-19 has temporarily interrupted these activities in some ways, it has also served in other ways to accelerate them. India is pushing for digital education in a big way, bringing in regulatory frameworks and designing courses. This can be another area of collaboration between the two countries. I sincerely believe that the India-Canada relationship in education and research will continue to grow, diversify, and bring immense benefits to both countries.
The writer is Union minister of Human Resource Development
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