The British Prime Minister has assured Indian students that they are welcome to study in the U.K.

An Indo-British Roundtable on Education and Employability stresses the need for cooperation and a “two-way flow." There is no cap on Indian students coming for higher education in the U.K. Genuine students are welcome to stay for post-study work and internship programmes for as long as they like." Thus spoke British Prime Minister David Cameron and David Willetts, Minister of State for Universities and Science, in the course of their recent visit to Mumbai and Delhi with the largest ever delegation led by a British head of government.

Perturbed perhaps by the fall in the number of Indian students going to the U.K., they sought to reassure Indian students for whom higher education in Britain may no longer be an attractive option as a result of stringent visa rules (and rejections by the U.K .Border Agency).

Last year, the British government clarified that it had tightened rules because the study-abroad route was misused to migrate. The new policy had allowed only 20,700 international students to stay, provided they acquired a job paying at least £20,000 a year from a government-approved employer. Even so, the U.K. is a preferred campus destination and on an average, some 30,000 Indian students are granted visas annually to the U.K. with an equivalent number of British students coming to India. "This is far too low," said Mr. Willetts, chairing a Roundtable Education and Employability organised by the British Council at St Xavier's College, Mumbai. Significantly, the large contingent of British dons at the Roundtable were from universities which opposed the abolishment of the post-study-work visa (It may be noted that students from India and other non-EU countries earns the U.K., a revenue of £12 billion per annum.)

Mr. Willetts asserted that qualifications from any university in any part of the world should be recognised globally. The U.K. participants included the Vice Chancellors of the Universities of Cambridge, Exeter, Warwick, Cardiff and the Open University. Also, present wereRoy Newey, Chair, U.K., India Skills Forum; Norman Cave, Principal, Bournville College; Amarjit Basi, Principal, New College, Nottinghamshire; and Rory Keating, Chief Executive, The British Library. From the Indian side, Fr. Frazer Mascarenhas, Principal and Dr. Rajendra Shinde, Vice Principal, St Xavier’s College; Professor G.D. Yadav, Vice Chancellor, Institute of Chemical Technology; R. Mukundan, M.D., Tata Chemicals; Raman Madhok, Group Director Human Resources, JSW Steel Limited; and Dr. Santrupt Misra, Director Group Human Resources, Aditya Birla Group, were present.

Diversified courses

Apart from the manifold opportunities for higher education in the U.K., the meeting highlighted the deficit of high, medium and low-skilled workers and the need for vocational education and training, internships and placement for a two-way flow. Professor Rakesh Basant of the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, spoke about successful student mobility programmes at IIM-A and efforts to build a Centre of Entrepreneurship where students can pursue live projects and start-ups.

“How we can create learning opportunities in a multi-disciplinary context is what we can learn from the U.K.,” he said. He suggested that institutions in the U.K./India could experiment with courses which cut across disciplines and follow up with alumni to monitor long-term employability. Venerable institutions such as St Xavier's and HR College have decades-long tie-ups with various foreign institutions. The ECube Global College offers twin programmes in association with Newcastle University in Science and Engineering based on a 1 + 2 concept where the student will undertake the first year of the programme on ECube's Indian campus and then proceed to apply for the second year at Newcastle which has a placement programme.

Needless to say the economic slowdown has resulted in fewer jobs, and Cardiff University's Vice-Chancellor Professor Donald Nutbeam stressed the need for various skills: “transferable, communication and entrepreneurial.” Curriculum flexibility will help those who are locked into narrow studies, he said citing programmes that enable engineers to learn language courses “which make the students more employable in different countries. Students have the zest to learn and love the flexibility of these additions to their courses.” Equally if not more important would be the “sandwich year” in industry, something which Germany has been doing for many years and which the British want to imitate.