India’s Human Resources Minister Kapil Sibal began a high—level visit to Britain on Wednesday aimed at strengthening ties in the multi—billion pound education sector, officials said.

Mr. Sibal will meet three cabinet ministers and discuss the broad range of cooperation between India and Britain under an education forum set up by the two countries.

The visit is set to be marked by the signing of a memorandum of understanding between British and Indian universities pledging to forge “more successful partnerships in higher education and research”, British officials said.

Mr. Sibal will give a keynote address to an audience including dozens of education ministers from around the world at a Learning and Technology World Forum.

He will also meet university vice-chancellors to set out his vision for the expansion of India’s education sector before signing a joint statement with Britisih Business Secretary Peter Mandelson.

“With almost 40 percent of India’s population under the age of 15, meeting India’s demand for education is among the foremost challenges for this new decade. I look forward to hearing Minister Sibal’s vision and hope that the UK can play a role in helping India to achieve its ambitions,” said Mr. Mandelson.

Britain, a world leader in education, views India as a major education market and is keen to not only attract more Indian students to cash—strapped British universities, but also help enter the market in India through collaborations.

More than 26,000 Indians are studying in Britain, according to British government figures — the fastest growing segment of foreign students.

The number of Indian students in Britain shot up a record 24 percent between 2005-06 and 2006-07 — from 19,205 to 23,835, according to the Higher Education Statistics Agency.

India is second among nations with the most students in British institutions. China tops the list, although the number of Chinese students fell from 50,755 to 49,595 over the same period.

Americans students rose eight percent to 15,955, putting the country third in the table.