When the pandemic upended learning and teaching in academic institutions, the post-graduate students of Southampton University paired with Indian students from GRD College of Science, Coimbatore, on the information superhighway and silently helped safeguard the livelihoods of migrant workers in Uttar Pradesh.
Several cross-border education partnerships were on a pause, but students of these two institutions (separated by miles) came together for a virtual internship programme and successfully piloted two live projects in 14 villages across Azamgarh district of Uttar Pradesh that helped to develop digital infrastructure and e-commerce and boost job opportunities for migrants and women entrepreneurs.
“We helped the students connect to address the real-life challenges at the grassroots,” said Prof. Sabu Padmadas, founding director of the India Centre (IC) for Inclusive Growth and Sustainable Development, University of Southampton.
The idea, explained co-founder Amarjit Singh, is to lead prepare students for the new global job market. The way forward for the Centre, in the coming years, is to generate high-quality inter-disciplinary scientific evidence that would have a definite impact on policies, business solutions, innovative enterprises, sustainability and knowledge-transfer.
Some of the flagship projects, according to Prof. Padmadas, include the impact assessment of Kanagan Lake, surrounded by erstwhile farmlands of Kathirkamam in Puducherry. Students from University of Southampton and GRD Institute of Management in Tamil Nadu will work with the office of the Lieutenant Governor for a study to ecologically conserve the vast expanse of the lake in the heart of urban Puducherry. “It is a challenging case study of conservation and the community,” said Prof. Padmadas who hopes that the restoration efforts will give a fresh lease of life to the water body.
Another upcoming project, Waterlab, will be executed with Navjyoti India Foundation and Tata Energy Research Institute. The Southampton’s School of Education is building a science-based education intervention and interdisciplinary programme to look at sustaining water conservation for better health, hygiene, and sanitation that could be implemented through school and community-based interactive promotions in India. Yet another on South Asian lifestyles, health and wealth inequalities proposes to document social and lifestyle indicators of consumer behaviours among different generations of South Asian communities. The goal is to produce sub-national estimation and mapping of maternal mortality trends and associated major causes and risk factors in Rajasthan, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha and Jammu & Kashmir.
In rural India, the Out of School Children (OOSC) Project will enroll, educate and empower children who have missed out on education opportunities. The IC will conduct an impact assessment to establish the scope and feasibility of the project in study sites in India and other Commonwealth countries with similar social and economic settings. For this one, Southampton is collaborating with Chandra Foundation, supported by the Office of Commonwealth, Ministry of Women and Children in India, and Reliance Industries.
Despite the pandemic, the IC has mobilised 6500 Southampton students from 135 countries to be part of India-immersive programmes. There are about 600 Indian students currently on the campus for whom IC ensures an experience beyond the curriculum. There is a little India inside the Southampton campus and "international students are valued for the different perspectives they bring in and the positive contributions they make to the life on campus. This is the only way to become a true global citizen," Prof. Padmadas said.