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Road ahead for Australia-India collaboration in higher education

Australian Universities have grown in popularity among Indian students in recent years. Similarly, students from all over Australia have responded enthusiastically and made the most of the opportunity to spend periods of study in India made possible by the New Colombo Plan and bilateral partnerships. However, the relationship remains imbalanced in two ways - first, far more Indian students go to Australia than the reverse and second, areas of cooperation other than student mobility receive little attention.

The fallout of the COVID crisis gives us an opportunity to comprehensively revisit this scenario and dedicate ourselves to addressing its shortcomings.

Ms Kalyani Unkule

The situation we find ourselves in is a stark reminder that education and social outcomes are intimately linked and that care is inseparable from learning and work. As a result, nurturing an ethic of social responsibility has risen up the sectoral agenda. When we say that "internationalisation" has become a core pillar of our universities we need to ask whether this transcends administrative, recruitment and reputational priorities and spills over into knowledge creation and dissemination. Now, more than ever, our survival and our prosperity depend on a genuine spirit of sharing as the very groundwork for producing science. Such sharing, it is important to add, must be based on equal respect, rather than the arrogant assumption of "capacity building". Minus equal respect, reciprocity - a term frequently used when we talk higher education partnerships – quickly spirals downward into shortterm thinking and ultimately subpar outcomes notwithstanding our best intentions. Rather than superimpose international strategies on core deliverables, a better approach would be to integrate it with all functions of the university, staring from the ground up. This would ensure that international partnerships have a meaningful impact for teaching and learning, research, professional growth and personal enhancement.

In both countries today, universities have become more sensitive to their local context and are in process of reimagining their social mission. Whether this is motivated by the search for a vaccine at a medical school in Australia or by the need to keep education affordable for disadvantaged students through earn and learn programmes in India, Internationalizing Higher Education for Society (IHES) is the call of the hour. Both countries, fortunately, have another asset in common: the presence of rich local and indigenous knowledge systems. A global agenda that does not rely on exclusion of the local is a groundbreaking platform on which both countries can unite and learn from each other.

To realize this vision, both sides should unburden themselves from the stereotypes that are remnants of past experience and be non-hierarchical in their thinking. A student from Australia who participated in an India Immersion Programme earlier this year insightfully captured the impact of a Eurocentric, hierarchical educational universe, writing in her essay:

"The perpetual selfaggrandizement of the occident and the dissonance that resounds between cultural practices has become that of negativism, where racism has seeded its way into the unconscious way of globalised thought. ... The internal Indian personality places value in ascertaining truth about the world via a diverse selection of scientific and traditional approaches to the inquisitive nature of erudition. In contrast, the externally reformed perception of an uneducated, unclean, poverty-stricken country has proven a tough barrier for India’s ability to recover in a postcolonial environment."

It is remarkable that a short two-week span spent in India forced the student to confront the disconnect and divisions that our understanding of globalisation and language of internationalisation has so far failed to remedy. Indian institutions in particular have a responsibility to bring to the table an awareness of their strengths and an ability to communicate their vision of cooperation effectively. International partnerships in higher education have the great potential to be a safeguard, a bulwark even, against othering of all kind. In recognition of this potential, the concern for university internationalisation is not scrambling for relevance but holistically reinventing and positioning itself to achieve more ambitious goals. Satori or a spirit of conscious ignorance dictates that we move away from the baggage of past imperfections and together forge a new way forward that is exemplary for the world precisely because it springs forth from the best of who we uniquely are.

By Ms. Kalyani Unkule

(Associate Professor, JGLS and Director, International Affairs and Global Initiatives)