Lord Karan Bilimoria, Chancellor of the University of Birmingham, talks about the India-UK ties to promote the growth of education and research
Tell us about the University of Birmingham’s partnership with Queen’s Baton Relay 2022.
The University of Birmingham is a Russell Group (the UK’s equivalent of the Ivy League) and ranked in the top 100 in the world and is a civic university with a global outlook and deep Commonwealth connections, particularly in India, where we work with Indian partners to deliver research impact.
Sport is a unifying force and, as an official partner of the Birmingham 2022 Queen’s Baton Relay, we can demonstrate how the University is working in partnership to resolve key issues affecting people in India and improve the lives of the country’s citizens. We are strengthening and celebrating our connections with partners, friends and alumni across the Commonwealth, as the baton travels through 72 territories.
How will the India-UK partnership enhance the growth of education and research?
Through our India Institute, we partner across India to deliver impact in areas such as surgical hygiene, environmental pollution, sustainable cooling and applied sports science. We currently have over 40 joint research projects and partnerships in India, in critical areas such as women’s cancer; drinking water; air pollution; antimicrobial resistance; clean cooling technology; global surgery; railways; cell biology and autophagy; genomics; sustainable energy; and sports performance.
For example, without intervention, cold-chain emissions in India could double by 2027, but Professor Toby Peters and the Centre for Sustainable Cooling team have secured UK Government funding to replicate the Africa Centre of Excellence for Sustainable Cooling and Cold Chain (ACES) ‘hub and spoke’ cooling expertise template to India. Professor Francis Pope, who advised on the baton’s air pollution sensor technology, leads the ASAAP India (A Systems Approach to Air Pollution India) project with Population Council and IIT Delhi studying the impact of particulate matter (PM) air pollution on the health of pavement dwellers. Our education partnerships with leading private institutions like Amity, Manipal, OP Jindal and Chitkara enable students to study for part of their UG programme with the Indian partner institution before progressing to the University of Birmingham.
What are the new strategies introduced by the UK and its universities for aspiring Indian students and researchers?
Through our India Institute launched in 2018, we are committed to our partnership approach in addressing India’s societal challenges. We are working towards raising the profile of women in leadership and research – in India. We are launching a new visiting Fellows scheme that will enable early career researchers to work with our leading academics on areas such as maternal health, Global surgery, sustainable cities and sustainable cool energy. We are also initiating new women in research Fellowships and have extended our Commonwealth scholarships so that students joining us for a master’s degree in 2022 will receive a £3,000 award. The University received three groups of Sports Authority of India (SAI) sports scientists and coaches on short programmes around sports science, coaching and strength and conditioning during 2016 and 2017. Dr Martin Toms is editing the first “Handbook of Sports Science in India” with colleagues from SAI. Additionally, there are several undergraduate and postgraduate students studying sports science and physiotherapy at the university.
Will relaxation of visa requirements for Indian students encourage them to opt for the UK?
Most definitely. As a member of the House of Lords and Co-Chair of the International Students All-Party Parliamentary Group, I am proud to have played an instrumental role in helping to secure the new graduate visa – enabling Indian students to spend up to two years working in the UK after their studies (3 years for PhDs). The new visa will help to attract Indian students to the UK, but what will motivate them is the opportunity to experience academic and student life in Britain. Our teaching staff integrate their latest research findings into study programmes, meaning students receive a cutting-edge educational experience.
Will the increased mobility between India and the UK boost the economy?
Alongside my role as Chancellor of the University of Birmingham, I am also President of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI). Trade and mobility are intrinsically interconnected. Business’ ability to move people across borders is crucial to expand their pool of talent, drive productivity and go global. The 1.5 million strong Indian diaspora is the largest ethnic minority community in the UK making a huge contribution on all fronts and reaching the very top in virtually every field. Education mobility is important in supporting trade links and strengthening the bonds between our countries. The University’s relationship with India dates back to 1909 when our first cohort of Indian students arrived in Birmingham to study for degrees in Mining and Commerce. We now have more than 2,000 Indian alumni and some of India’s most distinguished and finest minds were educated at Birmingham, including Ajit Kumar Seth, 30th Cabinet Secretary of the Republic of India, and acclaimed writer and critic, the late UR Ananthamurthy. I have seen the value of education mobility at first hand with my grandfather, mother and uncle all graduating from the University of Birmingham in the 1930s, 50s, and 60s respectively. This is no one-way street – the flow in both directions of educational experience and collateral creates greater connectivity between nations and cultures. The free trade agreement negotiations launched between the UK and India will, undoubtedly, be one of the most important trade agreements for the UK.