Irish universities chart a passage to India


WHILE BOLLYWOOD is this week celebrating the launch of Ek Tha Tiger, partly filmed on the campus of Trinity College Dublin, education and tourism interests in Ireland were hoping the expected blockbuster will boost this country’s profile in India.

Starring Bollywood box office queen Katrina Kaif and India’s bad boy Salman Khan, the film kicks off when a spy codenamed Tiger (Khan) is sent to Dublin to observe a scientist of Indian origin suspected of sharing his research with Pakistan. Khan begins to fall in love with Zoya (Kaif), who is studying at a fictitious dance academy in Trinity, and from there the action moves on.

Off-screen, the movie has already generated plenty of spice. Think of a Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston-style on-screen reunion: Khan and Kaif are former lovers who split acrimoniously.

Moreover, in claims vigorously rejected by director Kabir Khan, the family of Ravindra Kaushik, a former agent with India’s external intelligence agency Raw, claimed the film was inspired by Kaushik’s life.

Given the hype and box office appeal of the two leads, the producers (Yash Raj Films) expected to attract an audience of over 100,000 million in more than 20 countries.

In a separate development, TCD set up a recruitment office in Delhi last month. Currently there are about 130 students with Indian addresses studying in Trinity.

“We want to double our number of non-EU students and obviously that includes Indians,” said Jane Ohlmeyer, professor of modern history, who was recently made vice-provost for global relations at Trinity, a new position created as part of strategy that will see TCD build relationships in territories from north America to Russia, Kazakhstan and central Asia, right into India, China and Japan. After North America, India is currently Trinity’s number two priority, said Ohlmeyer.

“The language of instruction is English, so you don’t have language barriers. We are interested in postgraduates – taught and by research – and in undergraduates, across the board. We are as interested in recruiting for arts, history or sociology as for medicine, health science or computer science.”

The objective is for Trinity to attract the best and brightest from wherever they may be and to increase India’s visibility on the Dublin campus.

Among the students targeted are those seeking the type of liberal arts education offered by Oxford, Edinburgh, Stanford and Kings College, said Ohlmeyer.

She added that such graduates are connected at the highest level to the Indian corporate and business world.

“The alumni network is terribly important,” said Ohlmeyer.

Of course, fees from overseas students are also a valuable source of revenue for Irish colleges, and having an international student mix is a factor in establishing top rankings.

Of about 200,000 Indian students who travel overseas to study every year, fewer than 1,000 currently choose Ireland.

However, while the UK and US have been tightening visa requirements, Ireland has loosened its requirements. Indian students are allowed work here in the year after they graduate.

Currently almost 30,000 international students are studying in Ireland. In 2010 the government launched a five-year strategy for international education, called “Investing in Global Relationships”, that aimed to increase the number of overseas students by 50 per cent over the following five years.

Enterprise Ireland manages Education Ireland, the umbrella brand under which Irish higher education and English language schools are promoted overseas.

Doreen McKeown, an education sector advisor with Enterprise Ireland responsible for the Chinese, Indian and Russian markets, said the limited number of colleges and universities in India, combined with the large number of Indian students who go abroad for higher education, presents an opportunity.

“For a population of over 1.2 billion, there are only 563 universities in India. Many high-performing candidates, especially in professional courses, are seeking to pursue education abroad,” she said.

“Overseas education is perceived to be superior to that provided by most Indian institutions and is valued highly in the job market. With the expanding middle class in India, parents are willing to support their children’s education in universities abroad, and banks provide educational loans at attractive interest rates,” she added.

Pat O’Riordan, Enterprise Ireland’s director in India, agreed Ek Tha Tiger could help build profile. “If you want to connect with an Indian, talk cricket or Bollywood,” he said. Earlier this year, Education Ireland announced the appointment of Irish cricketer Kevin O’Brien to help promote Ireland as a destination to young Indian students.

“Now we have the Bollywood tie,” said O’Riordan, who noted the big impact the 2011 Indian film Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara had on Spain’s image as a tourist destination in India.

Ireland probably already has more resonance in India than it has in, for example, China, with shared cultural experiences such as the relationship between Eamon de Valera and Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of independent India, and the role played by Irish Christian Brothers in Indian education.

O’Riordan believes that it is important to keep ties relevant to a new generation of Indians, however, and that education is a means of creating a form of Irish diaspora in territories where it would not otherwise exist.

Dublin City University is also keen to build visibility in India. Rather than simply attracting Indian students on to the campus, DCU president Brian MacCraith said the university is targeting joint-research projects and aiming to promote a greater understanding of India in Ireland.

“It’s the biggest population centre in the world. We are entering a world where India will play a greater role,” he said.

“The companies that will employ our students will have strong interest in India.” (Global management consultancy firm Accenture currently employs 60,000 people in India, for example.)

He said DCU will be offering various modules to students, “but its more about exposure to everyone on campus: all the time our students will be exposed to India, so while the formal learning is important the informal learning is more important”.

Earlier this year, Minister for Education and Skills Ruairí Quinn launched the Ireland India Institute, a new national centre at DCU. Indian entrepreneur Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, founder, chairman and managing director of biotechnology company Biocon, is patron of the institute. Mazumdar-Shaw, who has extensive ties with Ireland, is said to be the richest woman in India.

Among the initiatives to be promoted by the institute will be an Ireland-India research fund aimed at helping fund research into major challenges affecting both states in areas such as sustainable technologies. In addition, the Ireland India Institute is to establish scholarships to support Indian scholars and researchers studying in Ireland.

Of interest to business leaders will be a seminar series with which the institute aims to bring some of the most significant thinkers and business leaders on contemporary India to Ireland.

“Many of the lectures will be open to the business community, and Ireland should see it as a resource,” said MacCraith.

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