The Australia India Business Council (AIBC) and IITians Association of Australia (IITA) Conference on "Education Partnership with India in the New era" took place on 7th Oct 2014 (3:00 pm - 8:00 pm) at the NSW Dept of Trade and Investment, L47 MLC Center, Sydney.
I arrived at the base level of the MLC building to find our respected guests from India sitting at a table in the atrium because of an evacuation drill at Level 47. Not to be fobbed off with this minor obstacle, IITAA President Sundar P Siva led the delegation up to the Conference Room where we found our name badges ready and the Centre's hospitality staff in attendance.
Mr Ramesh Karnani, Chairman, IITAA Conference Committee welcomed the participants and introduced the Speakers and Guests, urging all to take advantage of the marvellous surroundings and enjoy a fabulous Conference.
The Conference got off to a lively start with Mr Sunjay Sudhir holding that if he were not here as Consul General he would have been here as an IITAA member. He pointed out the opportune timing of the event, bracketed between the visit of Mr Tony Abbott to India and next month's G20 Summit in Brisbane, to be attended by Indian PM Narendra Modi. The coming branching out of IIT-D into a campus in Mauritius augured well as a sign of India's ability to forge overseas platforms in the field of Higher Education.
Prof. Mary O'Kane, NSW Chief Scientist and Engineer spoke of the scope for collaboration between the IITs and the State of NSW with its 8 major Universities and several research hubs. She listed global research partnerships with Australian organisations, such as the Sydney Harbour Research Programs under SIMS (The Sydney Institute of Marine Science).
Prof. Uday Desai, Director, IIT Hyderabad opened the session for the Expert Panel 1 in spirited style, commenting that as audience he was being distracted by the brilliant view of Sydney harbour in the rear. He explained that in the IITs the shift towards PG courses and Research only began in the 90s- IITs were seen as teaching institutions up to that point; the new trends would perhaps inhibit "Academic Arthritis" which may have set in. In terms of building bridges he highlighted the Indian median age of 23.5 years and referred to the case of Shantaram aka Gregory Roberts who was spectacularly successful in building bridges across the India-Australia divide. Prof. Desai saw the four areas eminently suitable for research collaboration being 1) Energy 2) Water management 3) Health care and 4) Skills importation.
Prof. Aloke Ghosal, Dean of Acadamic Affairs, IIT Guwahati noted that IIT-G was the first among the second generation of IITs and was ranked in the top 100 young universities of the world under 50 years. He exhibited a video showcasing the Institutes campus, it's blend of top class facilities and natural beauty, leading to its nomenclature of the Happy Campus. The Institute currently has forty four active Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs) on academic and research collaborations with various educational and research institutes across the world. Eleven international and national MoUs were signed during 2014 with institutes like Macquaire University (Australia), PolytechGroup (France), HOF University of Applied Sciences (Germany), Bretagne (France), Ecole Centrale de Nantes (France) and Ecole Polytechnique Montreal (UK). Currently, there are 34 foreign students enrolled for various fulltime programmes at IIT Guwahati. Eight out of them will receive degrees in the 2014 Convocation.
Prof. Dheeraj Sanghi, Professor of Computer Science and Dean of Academic Affairs, IIT Kanpur spoke of how IIT-Knp had been in the vanguard of Computer Science in India since the 60s and collaboration was in its very DNA through the nature of its creation alongside some of the Silicon Valley Universities. Collaborations were in place for major projects such as Clean Up the Ganges (particularly as the Institute was located on the river). The different IITs were now competitors for students and faculty, but collaborative in the fields of education and research. Teacher exchange was already in place and PhDs were being awarded by two institutes in collaboration, with both names on the Certificate.
Prof. Amar Samanta, Dean of Research and Prof. of Chemical Engineering, IIT Kgp also stressed the transition towards Research at the Institute, referred to the Mother of the IITs from its inception in 1951. There were now major collaborative ventures with the Railways board at the Centre for Railway Research and with the Tea gardens at the Tea Engineering facility, part of the Agricultural Engineering Department.
Prof Sandeep Singh, Professor Earth Sciences and Dean, Alumini and International Afairs, IIT Roorkee traced the ancient roots of the academy, starting from the Thomson School of Civil Engineering in the colonial days (1847) to its current august status with a large pool of PhD scholars. A major collaborative venture underway here was the 150km railway line within the Himalayas including a tunnel.
Professor Barney Glover, Vice Chancellor, University of Western Sydney, had to speak ahead of his turn because he was leaving early. He confidently proclaimed Western Sydney at the Infrastructure Hub centre of the world with projects of cardinal importance set up for Road, Rail and Airport links in the current decade. In the midst of this maelstrom of economic activity were 170 different Ethnic communities, over 4,000 international students, approximately 24% of whom were Indian.
He noted with satisfaction, the entrepreneurial nature of the recent Gujrati delegation to Australia, in the field of Education joint ventures with twinning arrangements and bi-lateral study arrangements in India and Australia and the dozen recent agreements signed.
Mr James Keane, Head of Partnerships, Macquarie University gave us a robust lesson from the trenches. His voice was particularly significant as he has been to India recently with PM Tony Abbott's delegation. His sentiment was that the key word in working with India was PATIENCE, in a place where the truth is often that "the opposite is also true". Two convictions he wanted to share were that 1) the scope of operations needed to be very precise as to how engagements are entered into and 2) Individual academics need to link up to provide real bridges, building one-to-one partnerships. The recent grant of A$20M by the Abbott delegation presaged well for bilateral Research funding.
Prof. Judy Raper, Deputy Vice Chancellor, University of Wollongong, drew on her extensive research experience to highlight areas such as Materials, Steel and Science where large numbers of trained professionals would be called for in future years. A charismatic brand ambassador in the mould of Adam Gilchrist with cricketing stories would go a way towards breaking the ice. Novel methods used by Australian academics in the defence of Jakarta from flooding: flood related Twitter signals were plotted to produce a portrayal of the flood's intensity.
Prof. Veena Sahajwalla, UNSW Scientia Professor and Associate Dean, also an IIT-Knp graduate (in fact a batchmate of Prof. Sanghi) recalled the advantages of meeting American Professors at Kanpur in her graduate years. Her talk centred around inspiring and nurturing talent and Innovation- how to make it happen. She elucidated how her celebrated invention in "green steelmaking" was embraced by the steel industry, while providing a bonus for the environment at the same time. In the UNSW SMaRT Centre, which she is Director of, several collaborative ventures are in progress.
Prof. Joseph Davis, University of Sydney and Chair of Regional Advisory Group for South Asia provided some incisive remarks on the nature of collaborative projects. In a case study for a Mobile Ultrasound device which was under trial at the Christian Medical College, Vellore, India the project only advanced when a researcher from IIT-Madras came over to join the group at the University of Sydney. He advocated the organising of Joint Workshops with the IITs in the manner of the IIT-Bombay- Monash University collaboration.
Following presentations by the Panel members the Conference was open to a wide variety of questions from the participants, the session being resolutely managed by Mr Murali Dharan, Chairman AIBC NSW Education Chapter, and the conference closed in good time.
Liz Griffin of Australian Catholic University rounded up the day's proceedings.
Trupti Gawhane, IITAA Editor delivered a Vote of thanks and we broke up to relish a number of dainty vegetarian and non-vegetarian snacks from the MLC Centre caterers.
-Contributed by Paul Roberts
Photos by Binu Photography
(Supported by NSW Govt. Dept of Trade & Investment - StudyNSW)
2012 IITians Association of Australia Inc.
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