India is Where the World is Going
January 2, 2010
Invited Editorial, India Abroad
David Naylor OC MD DPhil
President, The University of Toronto
A Personal Note
On November 18th, I returned to Toronto following a multi-university round-table in Delhi led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper with Ministers Lawrence Cannon and Stockwell Day. By December 4th, I was on my way to India again, this time for a trade mission led by Premier Dalton McGuinty with Minister Sandra Pupatello.
My Toronto colleagues were somewhat baffled. Had I become addicted to jet fuel fumes, or was this an experiment in sleep deprivation? My answer was simple: India is where the world is going.
I had the same feeling about India almost thirty years ago as a footloose Oxford graduate student on my first extended visit to that magical country. Fifteen years later, I returned – traveling not with a backpack and a rail-pass but as a World Bank healthcare consultant to the Government of India. The changes in that interval were staggering. Returning in 2007 as a university representative, I found that the pace of development, previously hectic, had further accelerated.
China, of course, is the disciplined giant, marching strongly forward. It offers the warmth and sophistication of its wonderful people combined with a muscular infrastructure and a long history of authoritarian governance. India, in contrast, is the dancing dynamo, astonishingly diverse, remarkably democratic, often chaotic, but endlessly resilient and creative.
These two great nations are following different paths but their economic destinations are identical. Globalist Hans Rosling predicts that the standards of living in both India and China will catch up to the richest countries of the ‘North’ in less than four decades. Indeed, Rosling’s team has projected that India will match the US and UK in average household income on July 27, 2048 – just over 100 years after winning back its independence.
A Window of Opportunity
One implication of Rosling’s analysis is clear. India is on the move as never before. I believe Canadians could become welcome traveling companions, provided the approach taken is one of sustainable partnership and collaboration. After all, despite many differences, both Canada and India are vibrant multi-cultural democracies. Both are governed by federal systems, and both are dedicated to the principle of equal opportunity for all citizens. Collaboration is facilitated not only by shared values, but also by the widespread use of English in India and the influential Indo-Canadian community.
The one million Canadians with roots in India include leaders in business, the professions, academe, politics, arts and culture. Many Indo-Canadian businesses operate on a bi-national basis. And those bi-national enterprises, in turn, often draw on and help train India’s greatest national resource: a massive, motivated, and youthful workforce.
Consider our comparative demographics. In Canada, 16% of the population is aged 14 or less, and 15% aged 65+. In contrast, about 31% of Indians are aged 14 or younger, while 5% are 65+, and rates of participation in post-secondary education are about 1/5th the Canadian level. Thus, while Canada struggles to finance healthcare for an aging population, India will be working non-stop to educate its youth, led by champions such as the Human Resource Development Minister, Kapil Sibal.
This unmet demand does create short-term opportunities. In 2009, for example, there were 384,977 applicants to Indian Institutes of Technology. Only 8,295 or 2% could be admitted, notwithstanding the tremendous aptitude of the top 10-15% of IIT applicants. Meanwhile, less than 8,000 international students from India are studying in Canada at all levels of the post-secondary system – dramatically lower than would be expected based on demand in India and the traffic in other nations.
Canadian universities and colleges obviously can and should do more to recruit talented Indian undergraduates and graduate students. More important for the long run, however, will be the building of collaborative links between Indian and Canadian institutions of higher learning and advanced research.
These links can take many forms. They include student and faculty exchanges, two-way merit-based scholarship programs, collaborative research activity, joint supervision of graduate students, joint degrees, inter-continental e-learning, and on-site joint developments.
As well, with new regulations allowing the creation of private non-profit universities in India, many public-spirited benefactors and business leaders in India will be looking for international academic partners.
Last, education and IT visionary Sam Pitroda and his colleagues on the National Knowledge Commission, have been hard at work on new models for Indian universities that will leapfrog the centuries-old bricks-and-mortar paradigm with its expensive infrastructure and reliance on in-house scholar-teachers and on-site students. Here, too, there may be opportunities for Canadian partners.
None of these partnerships can be advanced without support from governments, business leaders, foundations, and philanthropists. And all, I believe, must be strategically developed in the next 10 to 15 years, or the window will close.
I started this brief essay by emphasizing the pace of economic development in India. Other nations also see great opportunities in India, and the competition will be intense. That is why we must move quickly to create the relationships that will enable Canada to join India’s amazing journey to inclusive prosperity.
The opportunities for business are obvious. For universities, too, there is a chance to tap into the youthful energy, economic dynamism, cultural richness, and tremendous intellectual traditions of India. Indeed, because universities are transit points for leaders in virtually every walk of life, Indo-Canadian university partnerships can help build lasting relationships with successive generations of Indian leaders.
I do not mean to suggest, obviously, that we should neglect the many other international opportunities open to Canada and Canadians. However, India in my view must be a priority. And if, perchance, a skeptic asks why, my answer will remain: India is where the world is going.