India and Australia on Thursday identified “the safety and wellbeing of students” as a matter of “high priority” in the bilateral efforts to build “a broad knowledge partnership.”

The formulation, an apparent rather than actual reference to the current concerns in India over its students' safety in Australia, was crafted in a joint statement by the two sides.

It was issued in Melbourne after talks between Australia's Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard and India's Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal.

The two Ministers agreed to explore the possibility of an accord to set up an India-Australia education council. The proposed panel, comprising academics as also policy-makers and representatives of the education industry, might be mandated to explore bilateral partnerships in key sectors. Ms. Gillard is understood to have evinced interest in the new focus in India on the rights of children to free and compulsory education.

Australia's education providers were also now beginning to look at the possible new opportunities in India in the context of the moves in New Delhi over the Foreign Education Institutional Bill.

The formulation on students, including those from Australia in India, was spelt out as follows: “People-to-people contacts are at the heart of the bilateral relationship. Students studying in both countries play an important role in building bridges of friendship and understanding and are a significant resource for future development of the relationship. Both countries attach high priority to the safety and wellbeing of students as they play an important part in the knowledge partnership envisaged between the two countries.” The two governments would, in association with the relevant academic authorities on both sides, “develop methods for facilitating mutual recognition of qualifications and [for facilitating] credit transfer arrangements.”

Australia's Group of Eight top universities have now opened a dialogue with the Indian Institutes of Technology to try and establish a staff exchange programme. The two countries further agreed to explore “suitable partnerships” involving, on the Indian side, the proposed innovation universities and the Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Education for Peace and Sustainable Development to be set up in New Delhi.

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