The road from Gandhinagar capital of the western seaboard state of Gujarat (pop. 60 million) — which chief minister Narendra Modi dominates like a colossus — to Delhi is through numerous global capitals. To counter popular domestic resistance to his emergence as the BJP front-runner in the 2014 prime ministerial sweepstakes, Modi has taken to showcasing his international acceptability.
Last October, the British high commissioner James Bevan visited Modi in Gandhinagar to advise him that the persona non grata status imposed upon him for his alleged involvement in the 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat, has been revoked. And two days prior to the recently concluded bi-annual Global Gujarat Investors Summit (January 11-13), Modi convened a two-day International Conference for Academic Institutions (ICAI)-2013 in Gandhinagar. This pre-summit global education conclave was attended by representatives of 145 education institutions from 56 countries, 52 from 14 Indian states and 67 from Gujarat.
Political analysts and observers in Gandhinagar/Ahmedabad interpret Modi’s sudden interest in education as a strategy to court the youth vote. Emphasising that India is the world’s youngest country with 65 percent of its population below 35 years, in his inaugural address to ICAI-2013 Modi said: “By 2020 this average will be down to 28-29 years. Therefore we need to focus all our schemes and projects to turn this youthful manpower into a world-class skilled workforce. For this we urgently require to upgrade our educational institutions to global standards. And the journey begins here.’’
Even at the main investment summit, ICAI-2013 was accorded pride of place with the Modi government consciously breaking from the past practice of broadcasting agreements hypothetically valued at astronomical sums, and highlighting knowledge partnerships instead.
The 118 MoUs (memoranda of understanding) for higher education signed at ICAI-2013 were described by Modi as the most important outcome of the Vibrant Gujarat investors summit. The Knowledge Consortium of Gujarat was partnered by the Institute of International Education, British Council, Confederation of Indian Industry, and PricewaterhouseCoopers.
Over 140 foreign universities and academic institutions participated in the academic conclave including Cambridge University; the London School of Business and Finance; International Institute of Education, New York; Toronto University; Times Higher Education, UK; and Stanford and Columbia universities (USA).
Lead speakers at ICAI-2013 were global knowledge experts including Dr. Renu Khator, president, University of Houston; Judith Wolfson, vice-president University of Toronto; Franscisco Momolejo, chief economist Human Resource Network of the World Bank; Phil Baty, editor of World Institute Rankings, Times Higher Education, UK; Prof. Craig Mohoney, chief executive, UK Higher Education Authority; and Dr. B.V.R. Chowdhari, National University of Singapore. From within the country Dr. Narendra Jadhav, member, Planning Commission and Dr. S.S. Mantha, chairman AICTE, attended the conference.
According to Dr. Hasmukh Adhia, principal secretary (education) of the Gujarat government, ICAI-2013 was a major initiative towards internationalisation, promotion of research, and innovation and skills development in higher education. “This can only be achieved through forging strategic partnerships between international institutions, industry and state and national institutions,” says Adhia.
However details of the MoUs are still not available. “It is a complicated process and will take time to assimilate given the plethora of organisations involved,” explains Dr. Vedant Pandya, director (research and innovation) of the Knowledge Consortium of Gujarat, adding that a beginning has been made and the next steps to realise outcomes in terms of twinning degrees, student and faculty exchanges and curriculum development, will follow.
R.K. Misra (Gandhinagar)