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Keynote Address by Ambassador Nirupama Rao at the American Council on Education's Leadership Network on International Education

Washington, DC
December 10, 2012

'Global Engagement – a View from India'
President Molly Corbett Board
Distinguished guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am privileged to have this opportunity to address such a distinguished gathering of educational leaders this morning.
As a premier network of institutions of higher education in the United States, the American Council of Education does a marvelous job in raising the profile of learning and education not only in this country, but also within the context of America’s engagement with the rest of the world.
Education and knowledge provide that path to unlocking opportunity and addressing the complex challenges that human civilization has confronted through its evolution. Our goal is to create a world in which we feel safe, settled and happy. Globalization integrates the world of today but it has also unleashed its discontents. There are vast divides between those who enjoy the wealth of opportunity and those whose lives are embedded in poverty and marginalization. Those who are underserved and marginalized deserve a ticket to ride, and we must do right by them, as a Beatles song said many decades ago. And, if development is our goal, education is its key. And in that process, the cross-pollination of minds, the flow of innovation, the jousting of ideas, should be our goal. It is the Open University of human experience that we seek to access. It has a rich curriculum.
You are absolutely right in observing that a substantive and strategic interaction between the higher education institutions of the world is what we must ensure in this rapidly expanding and interconnected world. I am glad that your discussion today will focus on some of the critical issues linked to building higher education as a bridge connecting the nations of the world. You will find in India an eager and active partner for such an interaction.
A glimpse of this can be seen in the manner we have elevated the profile of education in our global engagement, particularly as one of the important pillars of our strategic partnership with the United States. It is also visible in the strides we are making domestically in India to promote and expand the education infrastructure for millions of our people.
Let me briefly tell you how we look at education in India and how we are dealing with the challenge of widening its reach among our people.
Since the inception of universities like Taksashila and Nalanda, many centuries ago, India has valued education as a means of human progress. This glorious past was somewhat lost in the labyrinth of history for many reasons, including colonial rule.
In the years after Independence in 1947, education was at the forefront of our efforts as we pre-occupied ourselves in rebuilding India. Some of the premier institutes of technology (such as the IITs) were born in those early days, creating the fountainhead for much of India’s talked about technological prowess today, and the world’s second largest pool of trained scientists and engineers.  
Our goal has been to create education suited to the developing soul of India, our future needs, an education which is an initiation of centuries to come, as one of our thinkers once said. It has been our constant endeavor to make both elementary and higher education accessible to a wider cross-section of society, providing quality education to one and all, cutting across economic and social strata.
And, we have made progress. A far-reaching Right to Education Act, enacted in 2009, obliging the state and central governments to provide eight years of free and compulsory education to all children between six and 14, has had a large impact, including among marginalized sections of the society.
Our higher education sector has also witnessed a tremendous increase in its institutional capacity over the years, becoming the second largest in the world after the United States in terms of enrollment. Just to give you an example of our efforts, we have added nearly 20,000 colleges and more than 8 million students in the first decade of this century.  Today the country has 621 universities and 33,500 colleges.
India has also been a pioneer in “distance learning”. Our Indira Gandhi National Open University is the largest university in the world by the number of its students –approximately 3.5 million, across the globe.
At the same time, we are conscious of the challenges before us to develop world-class institutions of learning and to expand our education infrastructure to meet the growing needs of our population. India is one of the few countries in the world where the working age population will be far in excess of those who will no longer be able to work. There are 540 million Indians under the age of 25 today.  In 2020, the average Indian will be only 29 years old, compared with 37 in China and the U.S., 45 in West Europe and 48 in Japan.
Education is a key national priority in India.  How do we enhance the capacities of our youth as they come into the knowledge economy of the globalized world today? How do we provide a trained workforce to meet the requirement of our growing economy? How do we align our academic, research and industrial sectors?   This will involve a huge national effort and our Government is determined to meet the challenge.
India can reap the demographic dividend of a young population provided the young citizens of the country are comprehensively educated and possess the skills required for earning a decent livelihood. The need for expansion and reform in the education reform is self-evident and has never been clearer. We are aware that our spending on higher education – which is only about 1.2% of GDP, compared to over 3.1% in the US or, 2.4% in South Korea – needs to be raised.
There are capacity challenges, too. Currently only 17% of the children enrolled at the elementary level end up going to colleges. By 2020, it is proposed to increase the figure from 17% to 30%. To do that, we will need to build more than 1000 universities and 50,000 colleges. To serve these institutions, we will require quality faculty of over a million assisted by quality support structures.
Similarly, our current capacity in vocational colleges to train students in requisite skills is about 3 million, far below the actual annual requirement. This is one reason that we are seriously looking at the Community College model in the U.S.
We are aware of these challenges. And therefore, education is now recognized as a national priority. Several legislative initiatives are being taken for the growth and development of our education infrastructure. Emphasis is being laid on quality, as much as on access and inclusion, to prepare our children to be global citizens for the information age.
We are clear that it will be those skilled human resources that would enable India to realize its true potential, to achieve inclusive growth, and to build a modern and a knowledge based economy. To ensure this, have embarked upon a national effort of skill development of 500 million people by 2022 – a task with perhaps no precedent in the contemporary world. In this national enterprise of skill development, we need to see how we leverage potential of technology for education; how can we partner with businesses, industry, and local communities to scale up skill development initiatives.
The challenges before us demand an integration of our efforts at home with the partnerships we are developing abroad, and seeking a mutually reinforcing synergy between the two. And, there is no better example of this than our partnership with the United States in the field of higher education.
The United States was an early partner in setting up universities in modern India such as the Indian Institute of Technology in Kanpur and the Indian Institute of Management in Kolkata, institutions, which are global brand names now. American women like Isabella Thoburn and Ida Scudder were pioneering educationists in women’s education and medical education respectively, in India. In collaboration with American scientists, Nobel Laureate Norman Borlaug, India was able to achieve the “Green Revolution” in agricultural production.
As both India and United States work towards becoming truly knowledge economies, there are immense opportunities for forging dynamic linkages between our two countries in the areas of education, research, innovation and skill development.
As our bilateral political engagement has strengthened, our strategic understanding deepened and our cooperation expanded across new frontiers based on our increasingly convergent interests, education has clearly emerged as a priority area of our bilateral engagement. The Singh-Obama Initiative launched in 2009 – a visionary foresight of our political leadership – amply highlight this shared emphasis on education and knowledge in our strategic partnership.
And we have several indicators corroborating this emphasis.
Today, the U.S. remains a preferred destination for Indian students to pursue their advanced degrees. Nearly 100,000 students from India, around 32 per cent of whom are women, are enrolled in US universities.  More than 17,000 American and Indian students and scholars have benefited through programs such as Nehru-Fulbright scholarships and Khorana scholarships.
The U.S. Government is also taking several initiatives to promote India as an educational destination for American students. We  would definitely like to see more and more American students come to India in the years to come.
The India-US Higher Education Summit that we held in October 2011 in Washington, followed by the Higher Education Dialogue in June this year, laid out the road map for promoting strategic institutional partnerships, deepening collaboration in research and development, fostering partnerships in vocational education and focusing on junior faculty development. As part of this vision, steps have already been initiated for awarding research projects under the Singh-Obama Knowledge Initiative. The first batch of 300 junior faculty for placement in post-doctoral research programs has been finalized.   
As I said, we are looking at the U.S. model of Community Colleges as an important ingredient of our strategy to build capacity for vocational education and skills development. An international conference on community colleges is scheduled to take place in New Delhi early next year. I have made it a point to visit Community Colleges during my tours to various parts of the U.S. and I am truly impressed by the service they render to local communities through the use of the latest educational technologies and course content, integrating the local with the national and indeed, the global.
Our goal is to build strategic linkages between the educational systems of India and the United States, with the optimism and confidence that this would be for our mutual benefit and the benefit of the whole world, as we join hands to develop trained and skilled human resources capable of meeting the challenges that exist in a globalized world of the 21st century.
Ever since I took over as Ambassador in this country last year, I have been visiting various universities across the United States. I see tremendous interest in all these universities, institutes, community colleges to forge links and partnerships with their counterparts in India. And I see the same interest among Indian universities and institutions to collaborate with their counterparts in the U.S. There is a great opportunity for partnership unfolding ahead of us, which we must seize.
Our goal in educating the youth of our countries is to create not only well-formed but well-filled minds, minds that are open and not confined or closed. Our teachers have to be teachers without borders. Education is a social contract, a social contract that creates minds that question, and are objective, that have what someone said, a “barefoot irreverence” that defines them. Education must create individuals who walk the global commons with a sense of responsibility about ensuring peace and development. Your deliberations today, and the honor you have extended to me to participate in them, only add to my confidence that we are well poised to do achieve these aims.
We at the Embassy of India look forward to working closely with the American Council for Education, and wish you success in all your endeavors!
Thank you!