Topics: Australia-India education relationship, business delegation to India, national security
SARAH DINGLE: Security and education are at the top of the priority list for Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s trip to India. The PM is leading a delegation of prominent business figures and the aim of the trip is to enhance economic and security partnerships. One of the people on that delegation is Universities Australia chief executive Catriona Jackson, and she joins me now live from India. Welcome to the program.
CATRIONA JACKSON: G’day, Sarah, and how lovely to hear your voice on International Women’s Day.
SARAH DINGLE: Thank you. We’ve seen news today that Deakin University will become the first foreign tertiary institution in the world to establish a campus in India. What does this deal mean?
CATRIONA JACKSON: This is the worst kept secret of the visit. The announcement will be made by the Prime Minister tonight, and this is terrific news for Australian universities, for Deakin University particularly, the first teaching campus from an overseas university in India, here in Gujarat where we are today. This is just one of a number of manifestations of a really ramping up relationship between Australia and India, which is so terrific to see. We had the Education Minister, Minister Pradhan, in Australia a little while ago and last week during a visit by Australian Education Minister Jason Clare we saw some delivery on that visit from last year, so just going from strength to strength, a relationship between two terrific democracies, and what a wonderful country India is.
SARAH DINGLE: What is Deakin Gujarat, I don’t know what you’d call this campus, going to offer? What kind of courses and what sort of capacity are we looking at?
CATRIONA JACKSON: Iain Martin, the Vice-Chancellor of Deakin University, has the largest smile on any Vice-Chancellor’s face I’ve seen for a while. I’ll have to defer that question to him. We’re at a fairly early stage. GIFT City is a special economic zone that’s been set up under the auspices of the Indian Prime Minister, Prime Minister Modi, to especially encourage universities to come here. India has a very large challenge on their hands and very big ambitions to tackle that challenge. A very large number of people in what is almost the most populous nation in the world are young people, they’ve got a huge population of young people. They have made a commitment to offer a post-school education to 500 million people by 2035. That’s 500 million people in just 12 years. That’s such an enormous project that calls on us to assist. Campuses from overseas universities here will be one part of that, but that’s just one small part of what is an enormous, nation-changing project for this country.
SARAH DINGLE: Given the scale of the demand for higher education in India, are there other Australian institutions with Indian campuses in the pipeline? Do you have any other breaking news here for RN Drive?
CATRIONA JACKSON: There are certainly other universities who are working very closely with the Indian Government and with Indian sister institutions. A number of our institutions have had long, strong links with India. The University of Wollongong, I think, is a very close associate. I wouldn’t want to blow anything. I think it’s for those universities to make announcements, but certainly there are lots of discussions going on. There’s been a really strong relationship between India and Australia in relation to students, students who come from here to study in our institutions but, also, we’ve got a growing research relationship with 450 links already between the Australian institutions and Indian ones. That’s something we can build on.
SARAH DINGLE: You’ve actually called this a golden era for Australia and India’s relationship in the context of education. That’s not really something we’re used to hearing after three years of a pandemic. What do you mean by that?
CATRIONA JACKSON: I just think all the indicators are on the up. We’ve got really good engagement with the Indian Government. You can see this this week. You could see it last week with Jason Clare and Minister Pradhan, his Indian counterpart, in very, very close discussions. A terrific visit from that Minister to Australia just a matter of months ago and now our Prime Minister and Prime Minister Modi. You’ve got to come here to understand what an extraordinary and influential country India is. Australia is a great country, but India is very close to being the most populous nation in the world. The state I’m in is about as big as the whole of Australia. India has such potential, and has really had terrible times during Covid, but economically has done pretty well. There are lots of shared interests between Australia and India, and education is one of those ones that is fundamental. India wants to change the way the nation is and wants to enhance the aspirations of those millions and millions and millions of young people and Australia is exactly the right partner to really help. We’re making all sorts of connections to make sure that we can help in the most fruitful way.
SARAH DINGLE: What are the key outcomes you’re hoping to achieve from this trip?
CATRIONA JACKSON: Certainly, what we want to do as universities is make sure that universities stay at exactly the spot we are – really front and centre, a really major part of the trading relationship between Australia and India. I don’t know if you know, but international education is our largest services export, so not just important for the incredible role that it plays in our culture in Australia as a really strong multicultural nation, but also our place in the world as a responsible citizen, something that Penny Wong has been so clearly and articulately making clear, both here in India in the last couple of weeks but also around the region. Our aim here is just to make sure that people understand that one of the things that is the glue that holds India and Australia together so nicely and aligns our interests so nicely are those people-to-people connections from students going backwards and forwards, but also research relationships where we tackle really important mutual problems. There are lots of research topics that India and Australia share, but one of them is water and soil security. If we’re to tackle really big things like climate change, being able to feed our populations and supply water to our populations in a safe way, that’s something that Australia and India are working on right now.
SARAH DINGLE: If you’ve just joined us, you’re listening to Universities Australia chief executive Catriona Jackson who’s joining RN Drive live from India where she’s joined the Prime Minister’s delegation. Catriona, I also want to ask you about security concerns in the context of higher education. There have been concerns raised about training students from foreign countries, China is the one that keeps getting mentioned. Cyber hacking skills, for instance. Is this a valid concern?
CATRIONA JACKSON: I think Australia has done an enormous amount, and specifically Australian universities working in partnership with the Australian Government in the last three or four years, to really grab hold of these sorts of security concerns. We know there is foreign interference coming from a range of countries around the world, not just the one you’ve mentioned. Government and universities have really joined together to make sure we’ve got the best possible mechanisms to try and make sure that we’re protecting both our institutions and our students from overseas and from Australia to make sure that all the guidelines are in place. We know that universities being hacked it’s just a part of the way things are these days. It isn’t just universities, it’s all substantial sized institutions. Putting safeguards in there so we can be the best prepared we can possibly be and getting the right sort of assistance from government, that’s what the University Foreign Interference Taskforce is for. It also offers a really good mechanism for really good information exchange in a secure way. The fundamental point here is to strike the right balance between those national security concerns that are valid and right and very important, and the fundamental openness of universities, the way we operate and share the research we do globally. Those two things could be seen as antithetical, actually they’re not and through a really strong relationship with the Australian Government and partnership with the Australian Government to tackle those serious questions, we’re balancing them nicely. But more work to do always.
SARAH DINGLE: Universities Australia chief executive Catriona Jackson, thank you for joining me.
CATRIONA JACKSON: Absolute pleasure, Sarah.