“Creating a sustainable relationship in the field of education” by Michael Hutt
At the British Council’s India Forum on 27 October the Director of the SOAS South Asia Institute, Professor Michael Hutt, was asked to give his thoughts on how the UK can achieve a ‘sustainable relationship’ with India for 2050 in the field of education. Here is the text of his presentation.
2050 is a generation away. I will use my three minutes to paint a best case scenario for you.
So, it is 2050. 35 years ago UK politicians realized, after a major policy forum in Spring Gardens, that it made no political or economic sense for any UK government to enact policies that led to a reduction in the number of Indian students studying in our universities. The number of Indian students coming to these shores increased again thereafter.
In 2050, however, many Indian students travel abroad more for reasons of prestige than because of a lack of opportunity back home. And more of them travel abroad to study Arts and Humanities than STEM subjects, because Indian universities have now risen to global prominence in science, technology and engineering. This is partly because of the work that was done in collaboration with British universities during the 2020s and 2030s.
Many Indian universities, both public and private, are now led by Indian academics who studied for their PhDs in the UK and stayed on to work in British universities for a while. Or who worked for their doctorates under the joint supervision of Indian and British academics. Or who came to Britain under student exchange agreements, or as Charles Wallace fellows, or to attend annual graduate workshops like the ones we organise at SOAS. For whatever reason, the UK is a major point of reference for them.
Indian universities also contain many British students, a fair number of whom have studied Indian history, politics, economics etc. in the UK and are in India to work in various professional capacities, or to conduct research for their PhDs. In 2014, according to the British Council’s new report, ‘India Matters’, there were 21,000 Indian students studying in British universities but only 80 British students studying in Indian universities. Now the numbers travelling each way are equal.
Moreover, India is now a part of the international education market and its universities recruit their academics from a global pool. So their faculties include many UK citizens, just as British universities employed many Indian academics in the past, and continue to do so now.
Over the years academics in both countries have made common cause in the fight for academic and intellectual freedom and for the inclusion in education of historically marginalized groups within both societies.
Joint research continues apace across all disciplines: STEM subjects, humanities, social sciences. For example, joint Indo-British research on climate change, which has now reduced most Himalayan glaciers by a half and begun to submerge the Ganges delta, looks not only at the purely scientific aspects of the issue but at its impact upon human society, at legal regimes relating to the environment, at cultures of migration, and so on.
Finally, British school children now have ample opportunity to study Indian culture, history and language as a part of the national curriculum. Many can converse not only with the eighth of the Indian population that speaks English, but also with the half a billion who speak Hindi. This is a marked contrast with the situation a generation ago, when it was generally assumed that only the children of the South Asian diaspora would be interested in studying Indian languages, when India’s co-official language was not taught as an academic subject in any British school, and when the few remaining British university courses in Indian language and culture were threatened with the axe.
This of course is the best case scenario, and there are others. Whether it becomes a reality is up to you and me.
Professor Michael Hutt is Director of the SOAS South Asia Institute and Professor of Nepali and Himalayan Studies at SOAS, University of London.