By Sonia Mathur, correspondent for Wales World Wide

When Prime Minister David Cameron led a trade delegation to India two weeks ago, he encouraged Indian students to come to British universities.

Welsh universities and training institutions have of course welcomed people from India for decades, but could there be other ways for Welsh educators to tap into the Indian training market?

More than 200 million people will be added to India’s ‘working age’ population over the next two decades. That’s more than any other country across the world, including China.

For a country working hard to become a modern economic superpower, these additional working hands are a vital ingredient for more prosperity.

Although generalising about one billion people is not really possible, Indian culture puts a lot of emphasis on education. Whatever their religion, state or language, most Indian parents want their children to get the best education they can afford and often support and fund most of their higher education as well.

The national dailies are full of stories of bright young achievers from under-privileged backgrounds excelling academically; that’s why tourists often talk about being hounded by street beggars not just for money, but also for pens!

Education is held in such high esteem that the Hindus have a Goddess dedicated to it – Saraswati – the Goddess of Learning. Training and education are often seen as the route to improving one’s circumstances.

But it’s not just poverty that restricts the prospects of these bright young things: they need schools and colleges as well.

Dozens of training institutions in engineering, construction, manufacturing and retailing are opening across the country. But quality is a concern.

In 2008, A McKinsey and Co report estimated that only ten to twenty five percent of graduates in India are employable. The same report also found that while three hundred thousand engineering diplomas are awarded each year, only a quarter of those graduates are competent to work in their field.

In order to ensure their qualification is valued above the rest, those who can afford it often travel abroad to study. Foreign degrees still hold a lot of kudos in the eyes of any Indian employer. And a number of Welsh universities have welcomed students from India.

Most Welsh educationalists value Indian students. They find the students hard working, diligent and respectful. Overseas students also pay higher fees and bring much needed revenue to university coffers. But due to tighter visa controls, the number of students arriving in Wales has fallen lately. So what’s the alternative?

The long-awaited Foreign Education Providers Bill will open further opportunities for Welsh universities in India. Once passed through the Indian Parliament it will allow foreign universities to set up and operate in the country. According to the Government of India more than fifty international universities have expressed an interest in opening colleges in the country.

A report on India by Ernst and Young estimated a growth of 18 percent in the sector by 2020. India has the world’s third largest higher education system in the world, in enrolment terms, after China and the US.

Another growing market within this sector is vocational training. Airlines, retail chains, hotels, financial services and basic skills training (such as English conversation) are some of the key areas where young Indians are actively seeking to improve their skills.

A number of Welsh educational institutions have been tapping into this market through collaborations and memorandum of understandings.

Cardiff University’s Centre for Journalism has a tie up with the Asian College of Journalism based in Chennai (formerly Madras), India. They exchange best practice, teachers and students as well.

Cardiff University also has memoranda of understanding with other Indian institutions. There are research projects ranging from medicine to engineering where academics from India and Wales are collaborating to advance the understanding of their subject matter.

With such firmly established links, Cardiff University could look forward to building on those when the Indian government allows foreign universities to set up shop in India.

Anne Morgan is an international officer at Cardiff University. She told Wales World Wide: “Cardiff University has a long standing positive relationship with India and has recruited students from the country for decades.”

India’s association with Wales is not a new one. A Welshman called Thomas Jones took his missionary message to the Khasi hills in the north east of India. He left a lasting legacy in that part of the country. In fact the last of the Welsh missionaries didn’t leave the Khasi hills until 1966 – 19 years after India gained independence from British rule.

The Welsh started hundreds of schools and ran some of the most modern hospitals in the north-east of India.

Welsh Presbyterianism still thrives in the Khasi hills and old Welsh hymns are still heard in chapels. The anthem of the Khasis is a local language adaptation of ‘Land of my Fathers’. And when in 1966 the Mizo tribals rebelled against Indian government, they did so on St. David’s Day.

 

Sonia Mathur is a broadcast journalist at BBC Radio Wales, having previously worked as a television producer and associate editor for News International in India. She has a Masters in Economics from Delhi University.