Australia has a well-developed education and vocational training sector, with a strong focus on quality driven research. Australia’s focus lies in creating a job-ready workforce and can contribute to further strengthening India’s education sector through collaborative efforts.
India’s current education infrastructure needs to be strengthened to support the fast- growing population. With an aim to upskill 400 million workers by 2022, India’s skill development program could leverage Australia’s strengths in vocational education and training.
The following opportunities have been identified:
Following are the recommendations in the education sector:
Education is vital to Australia’s overall development and is a fundamental pillar of the country’s economy. The education sector is Australia’s largest service export sector and is its fourth largest export overall. Education contributes ~5.2% towards the GVA of the country and is the fourth largest employer359, accounting for ~8.1% of the workforce in the nation.
The education system in Australia is largely homogenous across the entire country with some differences amongst states and territories. The first level includes primary (up to Year 6/7) and secondary education (from Year 7/8 to 10) followed by senior secondary education (Years 11 and Years 12). The tertiary level includes universities, as well as vocational education and training (VET) institutes. The different levels of education, i.e. school, university and vocational education, are bound by the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF). The AQF was designed by the Government to ensure quality and consistency of titles across Australia and the AQF provides details about what each qualification title represents. This results in a highly standardized system that increases ease of transfers between different educational providers in Australia.
Australia’s tertiary education has created a world-wide reputation for itself. After the US and the UK, Australia is the third most preferred destination for education for international students. Australia has 43 universities offering a wide range of courses in STEM, Management and commerce, arts and culture. Six Australian universities routinely find themselves in the Top 100 universities of the world.
Australia is also well known for its excellence in vocational education and training (VET). VET focuses on providing work-related skills in real and simulated environments in several areas such as business, tourism, marketing, computing and hospitality. Most vocational courses in Australia have been developed based on the requirement of employers and students in relevant industries. Registered Training Organizations (RTOs) offer VET courses in Australia. RTOs include Technical and Further Education (TAFE) institutes and private colleges.
India’s strength lies in its demographic dividend. The Indian education system is one of the largest in the world with a wide network of schools (over 1.54 million schools and 253.4 million students in 2016-17) (As per Unified District Information on School Education (UDISE), 2016-17) higher education institutions (993 universities,39,931 Colleges and 10,725 Stand Alone Institutions and 37.4 million students in 2018-19) (As per All India Survey on Higher Education (AISHE), 2018-19). India is also home to the world’s largest population between the ages of 3 and 23 years. As a result, there is a huge demand for education at all levels.
With respect to elementary education, the Government of India has made education free and compulsory for children between 6 to 14 years of age (or up to Class 8), under the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2009.
The Integrated Scheme for School Education called “SamagraShiksha” launched in 2018 seeks to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education from pre-school to senior secondary stage. The “Samagra Shiksha” subsumes within it the earlier centrally sponsored schemes of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), designed to facilitate universal elementary education, the Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA), introduced in March 2009 to improve access to quality of secondary education in India and the scheme of Restructuring and Reorganization of Teacher Education that constituted three of the major school education development programmes of the Ministry of Human Resource development (MHRD), Government of India and implemented in partnership with State/UTs. The major objectives of the Samagra Shiksha include the provision of quality education and enhancing learning outcomes of students; bridging social and gender gaps in school education; ensuring equity and inclusion at all levels of school education; ensuring minimum standards in schooling provisions; promoting vocationalisation of education; support to states in the implementation of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2009; and strengthening and up- gradation of the State Councils of Educational Research and Training/State Institutes of Education and District Institutions of Education and Training (DIETs) as nodal agencies for teacher training.
At the higher education level, several schemes such as the Rashtriya Uchchatar Shiksha Abhiyan (RUSA), Impacting Research, Innovation & Technology (IMPRINT), Technical Education Quality Improvement Programme (TEQIP), Global Initiative for Academics Network (GIAN), Scheme for Promotion of Research Collaboration (SPARC), Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya National Mission on Teachers and Teaching (PMMMNMTT), Study Webs of Active-Learning for Young Aspiring Minds (SWAYAM), National Digital Library, campus connect programs, etc. are being implemented to develop and improve the quality of higher education.
There is already a commendable interaction between the Indian and Australian higher education institutions. Further, Australian institutions and faculty prominently feature in the flagship Indian government initiatives such as the Scheme for Promotion of Academic and Research Collaboration (SPARC) and Global Initiative for Academics Network (GIAN). Australia is one of the focused 28 countries under SPARC. There are 26 universities from Australia involved in SPARC. Out of the total of 157 applications received in the first call for applications, 54 joint research projects from Australian and Indian institutions have been approved under SPARC totalling US $ 4.9 million (Rs 3558.74 lakhs). Out of the 1,839 courses that have been approved under GIAN, 104 courses were taken by Australian faculty.
India’s emphasis on enhancing research collaboration and Australia’s robust education sector and research initiatives provide opportunities for collaboration between both the countries. Academic links between the two countries date back to the 1950s. From the 1950s to 1970s, Australian universities provided India with assistance to develop the country’s education sector, with a keen focus on science and development. Several Indians were also awarded scholarships by the Australian Government under the Colombo Plan to pursue studies and practical training in Australian universities. Since then, the number of Indian students in Australia has been on the rise. In recent times, there has also been significant interest in increasing educational alliances between the two countries at an organizational level, with associations like Australia India Education Council (AIEC) playing a important role. The AIEC was established in 2010, with representations from the Ministry of Education, Government of Australia and the Ministry of Human Resource Development, Government of India. AIEC has had specific working groups in areas such as higher education and research, vocational skills, student mobility and schools. Currently, special interest working groups are set up as and when required.
In the face of the current Covid-19 pandemic, India’s nationwide lockdown created a paradigm shift in the delivery of education services. Board and competitive examinations, entrance tests for entry into various educational institutes, school admissions, etc. were halted to contain the spread of the disease. In line with the guidelines specified for this pandemic, ~1000 universities, ~40,000 colleges and several schools in India have been temporarily closed. With physical classrooms suspended, this health crisis will affect over ~260 million students in the country. Structural changes in the system of imparting education and assessment methodologies can be expected. The lockdown has accelerated the adoption of digital technology to resume continuity of learning for students. For instance, the Indian based learning app - Byju’s witnessed a ~60% increase in students using its online educational products.
This disruption in delivery of education in India is expected to drive policy makers to integrate e-learning solutions into existing curriculums and work towards increasing affordability of online systems and ensuring stability of internet connectivity. In 2017, the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD), in association with National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE), had launched an initiative in the domain of digital learning, named, Digital Infrastructure Knowledge Sharing (DIKSHA) to enable teachers and students across various age groups to access learning material. This platform can be expected to be further strengthened to meet teacher-learning objectives and promote the adoption of a digitized curriculum. India can collaborate with Australia to leverage the country’s expertise in online learning management platforms to enable teachers in developing and managing visually engaging content. Furthermore, Australia can assist teachers in India through adequate online tutorials on delivering e-curriculum for students.
While simulation-based, platform-only and ed-tech players will witness an increased adoption and acceptance as the preferred mode of learning by students, India will still face challenges with resource availability and capacity for online infrastructure. Public schools and low-fee private schools are bound to face a larger impact on teaching and learning owing to their dependency on brick and mortar means of delivering lessons. Additionally, most higher education institutes are not fully equipped to implement online learning due to constraints in developing digital content, technology and delivering capabilities.
Collaborations with Australia can help India in arriving at flexible and cost-effective educational solutions in areas with low or no internet connectivity. For instance, radio, TV, ubiquitous online platforms such as Youtube or Whatsapp that require lower bandwidth can be accessed to design creative and innovative solutions to meet current challenges.
Moreover, this pandemic will undoubtedly be detrimental to the skilled labour force and employability rate of India. Closure of skilling institutes on account of the mandated lockdown in India is expected to decrease available manpower by 10-15% in the country. This, coupled with sluggish human resources demand, is likely to result in a surge in the unemployment rate in the country. The additional financial stress caused by the health crisis could lead to insolvency among private training and educational partners. India could leverage Australia’s expertise to develop online entrepreneurial courses at minimal cost and assist existing training institutes to devise effective online skilling modules across various sectors. For instance, Australia and India can collaborate to develop and promote basic healthcare e-learning course for training healthcare professionals and staff members to meet the existing shortfall of healthcare professionals in both countries. Therefore, a reconfiguration of the existing educational practice is required to adapt to the current pandemic in order to build capacity and skills needed to drive employment, productivity and health in both countries.
Some of the opportunities suggested in this section can be fully implemented once a state of normalcy returns post the Covid-19 pandemic.
The impact of Covid -19 on Indian students already studying in Australian universities has been stressful. Many Indian students were put under considerable difficulties due to the sudden closure of universities and the shift to online methodology which may have affected the confidence of Indian students in the educational environment in Australia to a considerable degree. Indian students , in future, will therefore explore the options of studying in Australia taking into account the conditions and the handling of the situation in other competing locations.
There are several MOUs and collaborative arrangements between various universities and research institutions in both the countries. Most recently, an MoU was signed on 22 November 2019 during the visit to India of the Minister of Education of Australia. The MoU is between the Central Ground Water Board and Managing Aquifer Recharge and Sustaining Groundwater Use through Village-level Intervention (MARVI) Partners and Western Sydney University, Australia (This was signed in the presence of the Minister of Jal Shakti).
Two agreements/MoUs have been signed between Indian and Australian universities/ institutions during the visit of the President of India to Australia from 21-24 November 2018. These include MOU/Agreement between Acharya N.G. Ranga Agricultural University, Guntur, Andhra Pradesh in India and the University of Western Australia; and between the Indraprastha Institute of Information Technology Delhi (IIITD) and Queensland University of Technology (QUT), Australia.
Seven agreements/MOUs were signed between the Indian and Australian universities/ institutions on the sidelines of the Australia India Education Meetings held in Australia in mid-2018. These include MOUs/Agreements between: i) Deakin University, Australia and Central University of Jammu; ii) Deakin University, Australia and All India Institute of Medical Sciences ; iii) Deakin University, Australia and Jawaharlal Institute of Postgraduate Medical Education and Research, Pondicherry; iv) Curtin University, Australia and Indian Institute of Technology, Guwahati; v) Curtin University, Australia and National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT), New Delhi; vi) Western Sydney University, Australia and Centurion University, Odisha; and vii) University of Adelaide, Australia and O. P. Jindal University, Haryana.
Australian universities are globally recognized for their internationally competitive research environment. The quality of scientific research is one of the most appealing facets of Australian education for international students. International students in Australia can take advantage of the impressive cutting-edge technology, research resources and innovations. At a national level, Australia invests heavily in science – (~2%360 of its GDP) and has developed an advanced network of national as well as regional agencies for scientific research and development. Its primary agency, CSIRO ranks as the 20th most innovative research institution in the world.361
Besides scientific research, Australian universities are also known for their exceptional business research programs. Deakin University is renowned for global marketing, the University of South Australia for brand management and Macquarie University for accounting education. The University of NSW (UNSW) is also known to be the top Australian university for four business-related topics: customer service, audit, corporate governance and corporate finance, while Monash University leads Australia in areas such as services marketing, econometrics and experimental economics.362
In India, the nuclear and satellite programs and space research spearheaded by organizations, such as ISRO, have produced several noteworthy outcomes. While the gross expenditure on research and development in India, carried out by both public as well as private institutions, tripled between 2004-05 and 2014-15, India’s pattern of expenditure on R&D greatly differs from other countries. The proportion of Government spending on India’s R&D (55%) is much higher than that of other countries such as the UK (7%) and Mexico (38%). However, India’s higher education institutions contributed only 4% to the overall R&D expenditure as compared to 7% in China and 40% in Canada, as recorded in the year 2015.363
Accordingly, research collaborations can be explored between academic institutions in India and Australia. This will entail sharing resources, collaborating with researchers and developing industry-level partnerships through student exchange programs, short term research visits, seminars and conferences, in addition to providing candidates/students from both countries a platform for collaboration to take up research projects across various sectors. Indian universities can also collaborate with their Australian counterparts to enter into joint PhD programmes for students from both nations. For instance, Australia’s top 8 universities can partner with India’s top 20 universities (such as the IITs, NITs, etc.) for joint research programs. Currently, Indian and Australian universities have several noteworthy programs involving research collaborations. For example, Deakin and RMIT universities have collaborated with various categories of institutions like:
Apart from educational institutions, there also exist opportunities for more collaborations between standalone industry-led research institutions and universities, especially in the field of agriculture, water resources, mining, space technology and ecology. For example, in 2018, Western Sydney University (WSU) invested AUD 5 million (USD 3.4 million) to create a joint venture with the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and thirteen state agricultural universities as part of an initiative designed to combat global food security issues presented by climate change. As a part of the collaboration, WSU will provide training programs through joint research in horticulture and agriculture.365 Similarly, New South Wales based University of Wollongong, in its MoU with IIT Kharagpur and IIT Bombay, had initiated a project with the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research and the Government of Gujarat for the development of an International Centre for Excellence in Mining Automation and Safety (iCEM), in addition to its existing collaboration to enhance electrical systems in India.366 iCEM offers professional development and training within the mining sector including a Master’s program and PhD research opportunity. They also provide industry-related R&D, workshops and conferences.367
Some of these research collaborations have yielded path breaking results. For instance, a recent successful collaboration between researchers from Chennai based Schizophrenia Research Foundation and University of Queensland led to the identification of a common gene that is found in patients with schizophrenia that provides new insights in the diagnosis and treatment of the illness.368
Established in 2006, Australia-India Strategic Research Fund (AISRF) is a platform for bilateral collaboration in science, jointly managed and funded by the Governments of India and Government of Australia, contributing to cutting-edge research between scientists in India and Australia across a range of areas. Australia also has strong capabilities in social sciences, humanities, art and music. Partnerships in these sectors between the two countries remain largely untapped. Indian education in these fields is relatively under-developed. To promote advancement of these courses in the Indian education system, a research fund, with a budget contribution of USD 10 million from each country, focusing on humanities and social sciences, can be initiated in collaboration with Australian universities. A successful example of such a collaboration between the two countries is a fully funded scholarship called, “Indian Partner Arts Scholarship” that offers Indian students from Lady Sri Ram College, The Tata Institute of Social Sciences and St. Xavier’s Collegeopportunities to study at any postgraduate program in the Faculty of Arts at Macquarie University in Australia. In addition, funding for the Australia India Strategic Research Fund should be scaled up to USD 20 million by each country over the next five years.
Source: Australia-India Strategic Research Fund- A decade of successful collaboration, AISRF website
Source: Swinburne partners with Indian Institute of Technology Madras, Swinburne University of Technology website
Increase in collaboration/alliances between institutions in the two countries will also lead to a surge in the number of joint academic papers and research journals published between the two countries.
Source: IITB-Monash Research Academy website
However, while there has always been a keen interest in increasing research collaborations from both sides through platforms such as AISRF, bilateral ministerial visits and existing educational partnerships, such as IITB-Monash and IITM-Swinburne, etc., USA and parts of Europe remain the first choice for research collaborations for Indian scientists. There are only a few well-established partnerships between Australia and India and most associations between the two countries need significant funding and scaling up of operations. The respective institutions and Governments need to clearly lay down strategies for partnerships and identify complementary areas of research.369
Curriculum Building and Teacher training
India’s education system is in the process of being reformed in order to improve the skills and talents of the large population. During the visit to Australia of Hon’ble Union Minister of Human Resource Development, Shri Prakash Javadekar, India and Australia decided on a partnership to review school curriculum, teaching and learning.
The Australian agencies such as Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA) can collaborate with Indian agencies such as the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) to improve the quality of school education. Further, Indian agencies such as the National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE) can collaborate with their Australian counterparts to create India-specific teacher education/training programs. Exchange of teaching tools, methodologies and sharing of teacher training resources would be extremely rewarding and would enhance the overall standard of the Indian education system. Australia has several regional study hubs such as Study Adelaide, Study Perth, Study Victoria, etc. which are States/Territories education marketing entities to serve as hubs for current/future students to find out information which Indian students can use to know of study related opportunities.
India and Australia can also initiate twining programs, which could offer students with opportunities to diversify their academic experience by spending half the duration of the course in India and the remaining duration in Australia. In addition, as a part of this program, cross border internships and fellowship opportunities can also be encouraged. There could also be a joint MoU between the two countries for mutual recognition of academic qualifications in education, excluding the practicing profession.
Apart from teacher training and curriculum development, Indian institutions can partner with Australian organizations to design, develop and execute a scheme of standardized tests in India that can highlight gaps in the education system, current practical job market requirements as well as provide a detailed action plan to address the gaps identified.
Vocational education and Training and Soft Skill development programs
India has a large young population and consequently, a significant demographic dividend. India has set a target to train 400 million people by 2022 to enable them to actively participate in the workforce. The main agencies and targets set by these agencies include: - National Skills Development Corporation (150 million), Ministry of Labour and Employment (100 million) and Ministry of Human Resource Development (50 million). Vocational education and training in India can be especially useful to resolve problems of employability for Indian graduates, especially in areas such as engineering.
Australia has a globally recognized VET ecosystem that provides a wide range of skills and trainings. The Charles Darwin University in Australia is dual-sector university in Australia that offers VETs as well as a bachelor degree, postgraduate degree and PhDs over a wide spectrum of courses and disciplines. In 2017, Australia’s Technical and Further Education (TAFE) Institutes conducted a program – Australia-India Vocational Education Leadership Training 2016, to assist India with its target of training 400 million people by 2022. The program witnessed participation by 120 Indian leaders from community colleges, industrial training institutes, etc. The program was a collaborative arrangement between the Department of Education and Training, Government of Australia and University Grants Commission and All India Council for Technical Education in India. Australia can assist India in filling the gaps in vocational training and skill development and these could be done through collaboration either between Government bodies or between private organizations, or a combination of both.
Conversely, despite the shortage of trained IT manpower in Australia to the tune of 160,000 currently, Indian IT training companies have faced difficulties in investing and starting training courses in Australia. The Australian TAFE Regulatory system is difficult and resistant to changes in course curriculum since changes have to be approved by a board and certified, which can take several years. There is a desire to allow only the top tier students from India to undertake these courses in Australia, while opening the field wide to a few other countries like China. Paradoxically, the top tier Indian students prefer to study in other destinations, creating a situation of a stalemate and frustrating the efforts of Indian IT training companies.
Opportunities for Australian investment in Vocational education and Training and Soft Skill development programmes
India’s demographic dividend gives the country a significant advantage to provide skilled labour to the world. In order to achieve the government’s ambitious vocational training targets, and to further integrate vocational training in mainstream education, this sector would require significant capacity addition and investment to upgrade existing facilities. The Indian government has therefore prioritized vocational education and proposed to provide Rs. 3,000 crores (USD 428.5 million) for skill development in the 2020 Union Budget. This sector thus provides significant opportunities for investment by Australian players.
Collaboration among Government bodies:
One of the initiatives in India relates to improving the quality of curriculum followed by industrial training Institutes. In 2014, the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Australia’s Department of Industry to promote technical and vocational education and training (TVET) between the two countries. This will help in improving the availability and mobility of skilled labor across the two nations. A new VET MOU was signed in June 2020 between India and Australia which will now take precedence.
The collaboration with Australian agencies can be extended across enhancement of training curriculum, aligning Indian accreditation and assessment to global standards, improving trainer quality and conducting joint training workshops. The Indian Government, through agencies such as the NSDC, can also focus on mapping vocational courses with global and Australian frameworks to increase the mobility of skilled Indian workers across the global market. This can also mean developing niche capabilities for skilled Indian workers such as handicrafts and textiles. Moreover, such a collaboration between the two Government bodies can be designed to primarily focus on skill development in areas that are of national priority to both the countries.
Training of the Trainers:
Partnerships/joint ventures between the Australian and Indian vocational education and training institutions in the private and public sector can be initiated to provide vocational education training in India. This would require the Australian VET institutes to adapt to the Indian model of high volume and low-cost needs of the workforce in the country. Such alliances can be used to address the key skill gaps faced by different industries as well as to design programs to suit the skill requirements of Indians migrating to other regions (such as the Middle East). In addition, Australian vocational institutes can also extend technical collaborations to Indian corporates as well as Australian companies operating in India.
However, the industry structure and skills required for jobs in India are quite different from those in Australia. Australian vocational education and training institutes can help Indian vocational education institutions customize specific course modules, which are suited to the requirements of jobs in India. Australian vocational institutes can train trainers in the vocational education institutions in India through ‘train the trainer’ programs so that they can then train a larger set of people for employment not just in India, but also to meet the requirement in other geographies such as Australia and the Middle East. Enhancing the capacity of trainers and assessors is an area of focus with the MOU of Australian Department
of Education, Skills and Employment (DESE) and the Ministry of Skills Development and Entrepreneurship (MSDE) of India. The list of Information Science and technology (IST) courses can be accessed at www.employment.internationalskillstraining. Distance learning and online programs could be other modes to train the trainers. The key in this model is the availability of certification from the parent skilling organization in Australia to improve employability.
Setting up Australian Universities in India
In the 5th Australia-India Education Council meeting, both sides decided to explore the possibility of setting up one offshore campus of an Indian university in Australia and one Australian university in India. This will be implemented after finalization of the new National Education Policy.
Encouraging participation of Australia under “Study in India”
The “Study in India” program was announced in the 2020 Union Budget of India in order to attract foreign students to Indian universities. The program aims to offer seats in select reputed Indian universities and Institutes via fee waivers and scholarships to meritorious students. A centralized web portal has also been launched to facilitate single window admissions of foreign students to more than 160 private and public Indian universities. This program can also be extended to include Australia in order to increase the inflow of Australian students to India.
359 Australia Benchmark Report, 2019, Austrade
360 Business doesn’t spend enough on R&D, 2018, Financial Review
361 Greg Hunt aims for CSIRO to become world’s best public research organization, 2016, The Sydney Morning Herald
362 Australian universities are leading the world in business research, data reveals, 2018, Financial Review
363 India’s R&D spending is up but least among all BRICS nations, Business Standard, 2018
364 India-Australia Institutional Collaborations In Higher Education: Potential, Problems, Promises, Australia India Education Council
365 US continues to be preferred destination for Indian students; UAE sees a surge, The Hindu
366 University of Wollongong Australia, Media Center
367 Helping India embrace future opportunities, University of Wollongong
368 Australian-Indian collaboration identifies new gene linked to schizophrenia, 2019, Xinhuanet
369 Australia India Education, Australian Government