India-UK student mobility ‘must go both ways’


Call for subcontinent to be recognised as more than ‘just a market for education’

January 22, 2022

Pola Lem

The UK-India universities relationship needs to become more reciprocal, rather than revolving around India sending students to the UK, according to policymakers, diplomats and academics from both countries.

“In crucial respects, the bilateral relationship has been something of a disappointment and represents considerable unfulfilled…potential,” said former minister Lord Johnson of Marylebone, speaking at an event hosted by the Observer Research Foundation on the publication of his report on India-UK links in higher education.

“For internationalisation to work, it has to go two ways,” said Alex Ellis, British high commissioner to India.

His counterpart, Gaitri Kumar, high commissioner of India to the UK, echoed the sentiment.

“India would like her partners to consider India as more than just a market for education,” she said. “We seek to forge international knowledge relationships.”

She criticised India’s relatively low contribution in bilateral exchange on the Turing scheme, the UK’s answer to the Erasmus student mobility programme.

Shitij Kapur, president of King’s College London, also noted the “remarkably poor performance” of India on the Turing scheme.

“We know so much about each other – we even play cricket; I mean, how many nations play that game?” he said, adding that the countries share history and people of joint heritage. “And yet…we are so low on that bilateral exchange, and I think that’s certainly a wake-up call.”

The speakers backed a report recommendation that 20 per cent of Turing scheme funds be committed to supporting student mobility to India from the UK.

Ms Kumar said creating such a standard would help recognise that India is “one of the most popular destinations for British students at the moment”, which is “something that we should work on”.

She added that another “deterrent that needs to be addressed is the longer and more tedious processes required for visa applications specifically for Indian students aspiring to apply at UK universities”.

Professor Kapur noted that the proportion of Indian students who can access UK education remains very low, including only the wealthiest 2 per cent of India’s population.

“We have to find a way how we can merge our expertise…with scale…because our current model is not extensible if you wish to reach the 98 per cent.”

For UK institutions, the challenge represents an opportunity, he argued.

“What’s in it for the UK is, I think, we learn how to do what we do better, because…our own challenges with educating the breadth of our population haven’t gone away.”