High Commissioner’s address at Banaras Hindu University
(Check against delivery) Tuesday, 23 February 2021
Namaste to you all!
I’m delighted to be here in Varanasi, for the very first time in my capacity as High Commissioner!
At the outset, I would like to thank Vice-Chancellor Bhatnagar for this opportunity to speak.
I would also like to acknowledge
- Professor Joshi, Dean, Institute of Science
- Professor Tripathi, Director, Institute of Science
- Professor Mathur, Coordinator, International Centre
- Students of performing arts for the recitation of the University’s anthem
- And, of course, I want to thank all the students present today.
It is a real pleasure to join you all here at the renowned and illustrious Banaras Hindu University to talk about the dosti between India and Australia – in all aspects of our relationship, and especially in education.
I want to start by acknowledging the historic contribution of Banaras Hindu University to modern Indian history.
Through its notable alumni and scholars who fought for independence, and its achievements in modern science and technology, BHU has been at the forefront of excellence in education and leadership for more than 100 years.
So, it is a truly special privilege to be here at this influential university and on these historic grounds.
This moment is heightened further by the knowledge that in 1916 Gandhiji also spoke here, and that so many of you too – as future leaders, scientists, academics and global pioneers – will also make your own indelible mark on India.
2020 will be infamously remembered as the year disrupted by COVID-19 - especially for students and faculty. But the disease we have fought by locking down, isolating and distancing has, ironically, brought countries and people together.
As our lives begin to return to normal – a testament to India’s COVID management and vaccine rollout – it’s important we keep our eyes on the things that matter to our nations in the long term.
So, I am glad to be here speaking at a university, on the theme of education and research, which is central to the Australia-India relationship—and our global futures.
Put simply, the bilateral relationship has never been on stronger ground than it is today.
Our partnership made great progress in 2020. It is based on our shared values and outlook, our open economic and political systems, and our interest in maintaining a region governed by rules and characterised by opportunity.
But it is the dramatic growth in people-to-people links over recent years which I believe will and sustain the relationship over the long term. This is where institutions like BHU, and you – the faculty and students – will potentially play an important and pivotal role.
Comprehensive Strategic Partnership
Prime Minister Modi and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison have said the India-Australia partnership is based on ‘mutual understanding, trust, common interests and the shared values of democracy and rule of law.’
Last year’s Virtual Leaders’ Summit enshrined those principles into our Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, what we call the ‘CSP’. The CSP both elevated our relationship, and gave it more depth, by putting in place eight new MOUs in areas spanning defence, cyber cooperation, critical minerals, public administration – and of course education, science and research.
Though the CSP was born in the pandemic year, we haven’t let COVID or travel restrictions impede our ambitious bilateral agenda.
Our experts have collaborated in 12 virtual joint working groups since the Virtual Summit, on topics as broad as water, agriculture, education and countering terrorism.
We have just held the first ever India-Australia Circular Economy Hackathon – a two-day virtual event held simultaneously across Australia and India which saw participants engage firsthand with industry experts to generate new ideas to reduce plastic pollution and food waste.
We have launched the first round of the Australia-India Cyber and Critical Technology Partnership grants program, which will deepen practical cooperation on cyber and critical technology issues between researchers, orgnaisations and businessess on both sides of the Indian Ocean.
And we also aim to commence the India-Australia research workshop series in 2021 and hold the Australia-India Energy Dialogue.
Our defence cooperation is at its highest point in history, with more collaboration and activities than ever before. Our joint exercises are also becoming more complex and highlight the deep trust between our democracies.
Education and skills
Education links are a central part of the story of the dosti between Australia and India, and a core pillar of our CSP.
Our Prime Ministers agreed in June last year that
Education, research and skills are a central component of the relationship…they underpin the progress and growth trajectories of our nations, and the exchange of students and academics between our countries generates valuable people-to-people links.
Education supports the progress of our nations—and our recovery from the COVID-19 crisis.
Like many invested in continuing to grow and strengthen the Australia‑India relationship, I am also excited by the emerging opportunities in the field of vocational education and training.
As India continues its ambitious skills reform agenda, we have concluded a new Memorandum of Understanding on Cooperation in Vocational Education and Training signed under the umbrella of the CSP to forge new bonds of cooperation in policy development, program delivery and information exchange.
In November last year, Australia and India held the inaugural Vocational Education and Training Joint Working Group meeting. This meeting injected fresh energy into cooperation on VET between the countries, identified new opportunities, areas for collaboration and a framework for future meetings.
Australia India Education Council
Australia’s then Minister for Education, Dan Tehan visited New Delhi in November 2019 to deepen the Australia-India education relationship.
The visit highlighted the strengths of the education relationship between Australia and India and sought to boost momentum across research collaboration and education partnerships.
During the visit, Minister Tehan joined India’s Minister for Education Dr Ramesh Pokhriyal for the fifth annual meeting of the Australia India Education Council.
Both ministers recognised the importance of institutional partnerships in strengthening collaboration among students, academics and universities, and noted their common interest in establishing deeper partnerships.
Such partnerships capitalise on the strong people-to-people links that are crucial to the Australia-India relationship.
To keep the impetus of the ongoing bilateral discussions in the higher education and skills sector, I had the opportunity last year to meet with Dr Pokhriyal and Dr Mahendra Nath Pandey, Honourable Minister for Skills and Entrepreneurship. I was pleased that both ministers were equally enthusiastic about collaborating with Australia.
As a consequence of these deliberations, the Australian Department of Education, Skills and Employment, in collaboration with India’s Ministry of Education, in November 2020, hosted two webinars on the topic of Online Education Quality Assurance. The webinars were primarily aimed towards an Indian higher education audience, sharing Australia’s experience in online education as well as the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency’s regulatory response to the COVID‑19 pandemic.
I am very pleased that our countries continue to develop collaboration in research. These bilateral scientific and technological partnerships add value to national programs and address issues of global importance.
When researchers and students travel to, and from, Australia and India to share knowledge and learn from each other, they generate scientific and commercial benefits for both countries.
Joint research collaboration is also where Australian and Indian students can work together to create networks for better resolving common challenges.
India’s research credentials are burgeoning, particularly in the fields of science and information technology. India is a growing global research and development hub. More than half of the world’s Fortune-500 companies have, or plan to, set up research and development operations here in India.
This is interesting to us, as the Australian Government is actively boosting links between our researchers and the businesses to realise the potential of research through the National Innovation and Science Agenda.
Australia excels internationally across a range of fields—medicine, energy, earth and planetary sciences, engineering, and biosciences, to name a few. And BHU is at the forefront of these fields.
By combining the research expertise of Australian and Indian industries, we can produce new products, deliver new understanding and new knowledge that will make a real difference to people’s lives.
National Education Policy
India’s new National Education Policy, the NEP, is a perfect opportunity for Australia and India to continue developing these important partnerships.
With the CSP, the NEP, and the Australia India Education Council, the policy framework is now in place for the true internationalisation of education between our nations.
It is exciting and impressive to see the Indian Government pressing ahead at great speed to implement the transformational education policy agenda.
At a time when the pandemic threatens economic contraction, the Modi Government remains determined to realise India’s demographic dividend – a large working age population requiring education and skills to build a pathway to economic recovery and ongoing future prosperity.
Large-scale structural reform is being implemented—and the NEP is a great example of that.
Return of International Students
I share the frustration of international students in India as elsewhere as travel restrictions and COVID have interrupted plans to study in Australia.
I can assure you that these students are an important of the Australian community and we look forward to welcoming them back to our classrooms, campuses and communities, when conditions allow.
The Australian Government is in discussion with all states and territories about continued planning international students’ arrivals.
My colleague and friend, India’s High Commissioner to Australia, Gitesh Sarma, recently noted that,
‘Indian students are very greatly valued as international students in this country. Whenever we engage with the educational authorities here, they try to always make things as comfortable for our students as possible.’
His comments reflect the depth of Australia India relationship and the trust we hold on each other Governments’ where we are posted as diplomats.
Thank you again Vice Chancellor Bhatnagar and BHU for hosting me and letting me speak directly to the leaders of tomorrow.
PM Modi recently said,
‘The strong India-Australia partnership will play an important role in shaping the post-COVID world and our youth will be at the forefront of this partnership’
I encourage young Indian students—and India’s institutions and businesses—to look for opportunities to engage with their Australian counterparts, in study and research, especially in areas of mutual benefit to our nations.
These partnerships can generate the knowledge required to meet global challenges in health and disease, food and energy.
It is only together that we can navigate the twists and turns that await us on the road ahead.
Now more than ever the strength and momentum of the India and Australia relationship is critical—and our education systems are becoming increasingly aligned.
India—the natural leader in the region— has and will play a pivotal role in COVID-19 recovery and I hope that speaking with the future leaders present here today will further advance the growing India-Australia dosti in education and research at a time when global research collaboration is critical in ending the pandemic.
Thank you for this opportunity to speak to you today.