The Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) is aiming at expanding the country’s artistic and creative footprint globally, by tapping into the experiences of foreign students studying here. It hopes that the more than 48,000 foreign students here will be brand ambassadors of India’s heritage, tourist destinations, textiles, yoga, ayurveda, and craft.
Beginning this year, the ICCR will start E-3, or Exit Engagement Evenings with foreign students, beginning three or four months before they finish their courses in various Central and State universities, institutes like the National Institutes of Technology, and agricultural colleges of the country. The engagements would also include visits to places of national importance.
This “soft diplomacy” is meant to spread the India story when students go back to their home countries.
At present, the ICCR has zeroed in on the Khadi Commission, the Indian Tourism Development Corporation and the Department of AYUSH to hold these evenings with the students.
There are plans to rope in Tribal Cooperative Marketing Development Federation (TRIFED), which markets the produce and products of tribal people. “The idea is that they bring back some business to this country besides maintaining their Indian linkages,” ICCR President Vinay Sahasrabuddhe said.
According to the latest All India Survey on Higher Education (AISHE) brought out by the Ministry of Education, the number of foreign students enrolled in Indian higher education institutions was 48,035 in 2020-21, a marginal dip from 49,348 in 2019-20.
People from more than 160 countries visit India to study.
Nepal, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, the U.S., the UAE, Bhutan, Sudan, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Yemen were the countries from which majority of the students came.
“After the engagement evenings which would make them aware of the unique heritage and the products available, these students are sure to go back and promote Indian heritage and aspects of its unique culture,” Mr. Sahasrabuddhe said.
The cultural body has already held discussions with the Ministries of Tourism, Textiles, and AYUSH as well as various educational institutions on the schedule, which will begin from the academic year 2023-24.
Rajeev Sijariya, who is the international students’ adviser in Jawaharlal Nehru University, says as a pilot project the Tourism Ministry wants to take groups of foreign students to Parliament and the Pradhanmantri Sangrahalaya.
“If the pilot project is successful, then after two to three months, we are planning to take them to visit places in the northeast, including perceived places of dispute like Arunachal Pradesh and show them the strong presence of Indian culture and heritage there,” Prof. Sijariya said.
In April 2022, ICCR launched a website called the India Alumni Portal as a platform to connect with foreign students around the world who have studied in India. The portal is envisaged to be a single platform for all past and present foreign scholars to register, interact, and maintain their Indian links.
The portal is aimed at helping past students reconnect with each other. ICCR itself offers scholarships to over 6,000 students every year, and there are now 30,000+ ICCR alumni.
Indian missions abroad are now mandated to form alumni associations in the countries they are present in, and organise activities inviting members to meet visiting Indian dignitaries.