Australia-India higher education partnership in the age of artificial intelligence

Australia aims at generating $12 billion through education by 2035, and India can leverage the subsequent G20 Summit to create more work opportunities and attractive migration for its students.

By Dr Om Prakash Dwivedi

At a time when learning systems are undergoing rampant transformations, and calls for online, even AI-based technologies in teaching have magnified, it is no wonder that the G20 Presidency of India has triggered an action-oriented call, leading to a robust track on education in the upcoming G20 Summit in September 2023.

It is also heartening to see that the University Grants Commission (UGC, Government of India) has identified ‘technical education’ as an essential component of the ‘Public Good’ infrastructure, for technology cannot be divorced from the public good. Its needs to be used as an interventionist tool, reaching out far and wide, and maximizing benefits to the less privileged class.

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Pitted against the rallying cry for reform in education, demanding more investment and equal access, the embracing of technical education by the G20-A Primer –  key themes advanced by the Government of India, and prepared under the guidance of Sachin Chaturvedi and the G20 Sherpa, Amitabh Kant – is a welcome step.

First, it aligns technical education with skills required for future work. Second, it can be a ray of hope for those who cannot afford costly education or are deprived of education because they have to work to survive. Additionally, this push also highlights the government’s commitment to education, and recognition of realignment to meet the challenges of the rapidly changing world.

Consequently, the G20 Presidency mentions four priority areas under the education category:

“ensuring foundational literacy and numeracy, especially in the context of blended learning; building capacities promoting lifelong learning in the context of the future of work; making tech-enabled learning more inclusive, qualitative and collaborative at every level; and strengthening research, promoting innovation through richer collaboration.”

The intensity of translating these priorities into deliberations and the subsequent actions can be ascertained by the fact that the Ministry of Education is actively leading the Education Working Group (EdWG) of the G20, and it derives its nourishment from the rigorous campaigns by the University Grants Commission.

This pitch prepared by the Ministry and the accrued interest shown by the UGC has scaled up the participation of Indian higher education institutions, and apparently, the G20 event has been converted into a festival of learning, where all of a sudden, one could witness intense competitions to organize and celebrate events around the theme of technical education.

This investment also reinstates the position of India within the global world recalling the UNICEF’S Chief of Education, Terry Durnnian’s views that:

“India as a chair will be a voice of the global south including all the G20 Member States and low and middle-income countries which are outside the G20.”

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It gains more merit to contextualize the position of India within the Asia Pacific region. India’s higher ratio of young population has made it a site of attraction for foreign countries. 

In the wake of these scenarios, the Australia-India partnership in the field of higher education holds great potential.

By 2030, the Indian government aims at increasing the enrolment rate in higher education to 50 percent, and the present UGC Chairman, Jagadesh Kumar’s  (@mamidala90) move to allow more space for digital education, and sharing of learning resources among Indian institutions can be seen as a step toward the goal.

If the goal is met, “one in four graduates in the world would be a product of the Indian higher education system.” While digital education can certainly cater to the needs of those who cannot afford the cost of offline education, the UGC would still need to think of international collaborations leading to sharing of resources – both intellectual and infrastructural – between foreign universities and Indian ones.

The timing cannot be better than the upcoming trip to India planned by Australian Minister Jason Clare and the Group of 8 (Go8) leaders. 

The UGC, led by Jagadesh Kumar, would pull off a miracle if it can use this visit not just to strengthen the Australia-India partnership in the higher education sector, but also to formulate ways in which Indian universities could benefit from AI technologies, laboratories, research centres, and pedagogical innovations of its Australian counterparts.

It is exactly for these reasons that Vicki Thomson (@ThomsonVicki), Chief Executive Group of Eight, Australia, in one of her LinkedIn posts points out,

“This is a huge opportunity and the Go8, with its strong focus on research, is well placed to work with our counterparts in scaling up their research training programs, and producing Ph.D. graduates at scale.”

The biggest worry that plagues higher education degrees remains job opportunities. Australia’s move can be a trendsetter when formalizing relationships in the field of higher education.

The recently signed Australia-India FTA or the Australia-India Economic Cooperation and Trade Agreement (AI-ECTA) aims at creating 10 lakh job opportunities in Australia in the next few years, allowing Indian students to work in Australia for four years post their studies. While the G20 is a group of twenty members, and India must strive to establish solidarities in the area of education, among others, it must not overlook the roots of our strong existing relationships with Australia. Australia is our important strategic partner within the Asia Pacific and it happens to be the second most popular destination for Indian students after the United States.

The July 2022 data suggests 96,000 Indian students studying in Australia, constituting the second largest group of foreign students after China. Likewise, Ravneet Pawha (@PawhaRavneet), Vice-President (Global Alliances) & CEO (South Asia), Deakin University, National Vice-Chair, Australia India Business Council maintains,

“At Deakin University our focus has always been on India followed by China and then the rest of the world. While most other universities in Australia have so far focused on Chinese students, that will now change.”

The present scenario in the Indian higher education system is such that it still requires 35,000 colleges and 700 universities to meet its growing demand. Australia should tab on this huge gap that exists in the Indian higher education system. Also, the education players and policymakers in India must take cognizance of the fact that Australia has already laid down the India Economic Strategy to 2035, which underlines that India is central to its economic plans.

In fact, Australia aims at generating $12 billion through education by 2035, and India can leverage the upcoming visit of Minister Clare and the subsequent G20 Summit to create more work opportunities and attractive migration for its students. As indicated by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Australia), “direct revenue from Australian education export to India could exceed $12 billion by 2035.” The journey of the Australia-India partnership has already started as Amit Sarwal (@DrAmitSarwal) in The Australian Today, avers,

“In the last year, Australia has seen a 160 percent jump in the number of students coming from India to start a degree.” 

The Australia-India partnership, in the age of artificial intelligence (put together, they could be seen as AI2), can be a win-win situation for both countries. It will certainly lead to capacity-building exercises not just in the field of higher education but enhancing employability skills and creation of job opportunities for Indians, while also benefitting Australia’s economy in the longer run.

Contributing Author: Dr Om Prakash Dwivedi is Head, School of Liberal Arts, Bennett University, India. He tweets @opdwivedi82

Disclaimer: The author is solely responsible for the views expressed in this article. The opinions and facts are presented solely by him, and neither The Australia Today News nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.