Australia and India are moving towards a collaborative framework in education, under which universities from both countries will award joint degrees, recognise each other's qualifications and have mutual transfer of academic credits.
At the same time, Australia is keen on leveraging its vast experience and expertise in vocational training to fill the huge gap in the availability of skilled personnel in India.
Australia's Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Jobs and Workplace Relations, Christopher Evans, who visited the country in the past few days, mainly in connection with the first meeting of the Australia-India Education Council (AIEC), feels that his country's engagement with India in the education sector is not just about Indian students studying in Australia but also about Australians pursuing part of their academic programme in Indian institutions.
"One of the barriers has been the lack of recognition of each other's education and credit transfers. So, if someone comes from India and studies in Australia for six months, they may not get recognition for their Indian degree and vice-versa. We have identified this as a key thing we have to fix, because increasingly universities are interested in joint degrees," Mr. Evans told The Hindu in an interview here.
"I am very keen on getting Australian students to study for about six months abroad, as it will open their eyes to the world. That is why, credit transfer is important. They will come if they know it counts for their degree, but not if their six months' work is not credited," he said.
Citing the example of The Energy and Resources Institute of India (TERI), New Delhi, and Deakin University, Australia, establishing a BioNanotechnology Research Centre in Delhi, he said the two institutions had a successful joint programme, and more such partnerships were in the offing.
Mr. Evans, who came with an academic and business delegation for the first AIEC meeting, said there was a lot of interest from the government and businesses in the field of vocational education. Leighton, an Australian infrastructure major, was running training programmes for Indian technicians in Delhi. "They are training Indians to [acquire] international and Australian qualifications for work, but don't guarantee them a job. But the good thing is, it is a skills transfer involving industry — real skills valued by employers looking to meet international standards. That's a great example of what we are doing in the vocational space."
He did not see much scope for Australian universities to set up campuses in India, but felt that they would rather be looking for partnership models that would help Indian students get an international qualification. "A lot of Australian institutions provide qualification assessment, credit-rating and accreditation."
A problem of scale
Mr. Evans did not see any great divergence in quality between the best Australian and Indian universities, but the problem in India was one of scale. It was a major challenge to meet the huge demand for skills and for education from such a large population. "Yours is a challenge of scale, not of quality; it is about spreading that quality across 500 million people who need to be trained."
On the importance Australia gave to education collaboration, he said: "We are very serious about making education one of the key pillars of our strategic partnership."