US and India urged to scale up research collaboration and exchanges as Modi visits

The US and India should establish new joint research institutes and scale up student-based research collaboration and exchanges, leading US university leaders have recommended.

The Association of American Universities Task Force, launched earlier this year, has included the suggestions among nine recommendations in a new report.

According to the Task Force, leading research universities in the two countries share a “deep commitment to strengthening meaningful, high-impact and co-designed research partnerships”.

Bilateral academic cooperation is critical to shared security and geopolitical, commercial and economic futures and should be scaled up, it continued.

As well as establishing ‘Indo-U.S. Global Challenge Institutes’ for select group of Indian and US universities, governments should expand internship and apprenticeship opportunities for both Indian and US undergraduate and graduate students and post-doctoral researchers.

The report was released the week that Indian prime minister Narendra Modi travelled to the US at a time when international study destinations are looking to India as they recalibrate their China relations.

Discussions between the two leaders are expected to include enhancing educational exchanges.

Other recommendations are around targeted ‘professorship partnerships’ to create direct people-to-people links for joint research, expanding funding for programs designed to promote exchanges and opening up access to US research facilities to Indian researchers.

The report also urges the State Department to “double down” on a pledge to issue one million visas to Indian citizens in 2023 and commit to an immediate month-long sprint of visa processing.

“By surging resources in the near term and prioritizing visa interviews for not only students, but also exchange visitors and conference/workshop attendees, the US will signal its commitment to meet demand and chip away at the backlog that has choked the talent pipeline,” the paper says.

In the long term, legislation “must be adopted to overhaul the United States’ strained visa and immigration system”, it added.

In 2021, the US Departments of State and Education announced a joint statement on international education, but the report says more work is needed.

AAU, which has previously joined other stakeholders such as NAFSA and IIE to press the Biden administration to introduce an international education strategy, renewed its calls for the US to introduce a government-backed plan.

“While the US Departments of Education, State, and Commerce have devoted some resources to attracting and retaining international students, these efforts are not holistic or coordinated around a central objective,” the report said. “The time is ripe for a concerted international education strategy.”

The 15 embassies in the US and India need to “build the front doors” to each other’s country. Dedicated liaison offices should assist universities to navigate “myriad legal hurdles” to establish nonprofit academic centers or satellite campuses in-country, and assist on the hosting country’s tax and regulatory landscape, it added.

The report also notes opportunities around India’s population growth (with people under 25 accounting for more than 40% of India’s estimated population of 1.4 billion), the country’s fast-growing economy, as well as India’s National Education Policy opening doors for transnational education and research collaboration.

“The time is ripe to examine how we further develop and expand academic and research partnerships with India,” the report reads. It adds that international agreements with the UK, France and Australia “aimed at creating innovation partnerships” could serve as models for future collaborations with the US.

The two countries announced a US-India initiative on Critical and Emerging Technology in May 2022, which leaders said would “elevate and expand” their strategic technology partnership.

Modi’s visit to the US in recent days has however not been welcomed by all.

Some 75 Democratic senators and members of the House of Representatives have signed a letter urging Joe Biden to raise human rights issues with the Indian prime minister when they meet. Politicians such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have said they will boycott Modi’s address to a joint session of Congress on June 22.

Despite some political opposition, AAU listed three main challenges to bilateral higher education and research collaboration.

These include funding deficiencies and issues around dividing the costs of research; regulatory and policy barriers in the US visa system, US export control policies and the Indian Foreign Contribution Regulation Act; and structural and cultural in the countries’ higher education systems.

AAU intends to release a comprehensive report of actionable recommendations later in 2023.

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