Like any Indian, this is probably my favourite time of the year, but as someone working in higher education in the UK, every year I trade all the fun and family time of Diwali for a different sort of fun—the start of term! This year, however, I may just get the best of both worlds: whilst we are well into the new term here at university, I am about to return to India for the UK Government's upcoming ministerial delegation to India, just under a year since I joined the last one. To say I'm excited would be an understatement!
The delegation includes Prime Minister Theresa May, Secretary of State for International Trade Liam Fox, Minister of State for Trade and Investment Greg Hands, and Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation Jo Johnson. I, along with colleagues from around 30 higher education institutions, will join this delegation and are set to participate in a range of higher education-themed events, including the Confederation of Indian Industries Technology Summit and Higher Education Summit.
It is essential that we use this delegation to demystify the last few years of negative press, inconsistent messaging and cluttered communications.
Whilst only a year has passed since the last delegation to India, much has changed on the political landscape. So, this delegation already feels quite different in terms of its objectives and potential impact. For starters, PM May has chosen this visit to be her first new style trade delegation in a post-Brexit Britain. Whilst perhaps I'm biased, I can't think of a better nation for the PM to choose for this than #DestinationIndia. Culturally, our two nations are so connected, yet in terms of trade and talent, we all know that there is untapped potential. For example, amidst the thriving UK-India bilateral trade, worth £16.33 billion in 2015, there remains further scope to broaden this economic and developmental relationship and evidence of this opportunity is the new UK Department for International Trade in Chennai. Equally, the massive growth of India's middles classes offers great potential for the UK to become a partner of choice for education and skill development. It is projected that India's middle class demand for higher education will reach 500 million people in the next 10 years.
So, from my perspective, I think there are three key messages to convey during our week-long visit to India: #DigitalIndia, #SkillIndia and #BrandBritain.
Firstly, in terms of #DigitalIndia, the UK-India TECH Summit 2016 marks the celebration of India and UK's partnership across business, technology, science, innovation, education and design. The British High Commission New Delhi summarized how the summit "will demonstrate the depth of India-UK partnerships in business, innovation, research, education and entrepreneurship, with the biggest showcase of British expertise and commitment to strengthening relationships in every sphere." Higher education is high on the agenda on the Forum with a separate thematic summit highlighting British expertise in higher education. The Forum will also provide UK participants and their Indian counterparts with the opportunity to discuss partnerships in the domain of education and skills.
Second, in terms of #SkillIndia, PM Narendra Modi has launched a range of ambitious projects that aim to train over 400 million people in India in different skills by 2022. Enhancing the partnership between the UK and India will help India fulfil its aspirations to become a global hub for talent. UK higher education institutions (HEIs) are well placed to help address the alarming statistic that as many as 75% of Indians graduating from Indian HEIs are not considered employable. It is this skills and talent development gap that I am particularly interested in. I am passionate about working with the Indian workforce, both current and future, to ensure they have the attributes needed to meet India's global challenges and opportunities.
Our message is clear: India is important to Britain. This importance extends well beyond the economic benefits.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, this is our opportunity to restore #BrandBritain as a partner of choice for India. It is essential that we use this delegation to demystify the last few years of negative press, inconsistent messaging and cluttered communications. Our message is clear: India is important to Britain. This importance extends well beyond the economic benefits. With approximately 1.5 million people of Indian origin in the UK, the Indian diaspora plays a vital role in our national life and for me it is this cultural connect, and consequently a social impact, that is undeniable, and which for me has potentially even more significance. So as an Indian who has benefited so much personally and professionally from my ties with the UK, I will be doing everything I can on this mission to echo these unifying messages for Indian businesses, politicians, press, media and the public at large.
So as I descend on my home city of Delhi, on behalf of my second home, Great Britain, I look forward to seeing the Diwali lights burning bright on the streets of Delhi, and it is my hope that we will leave an equally bright trail of impact via Jo Johnson, Liam Fox and PM Theresa May.