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Go8 Submission to the India Economic Strategy update

Mr Christian Hirst
Assistant Secretary
India & Indian Ocean Branch

The Group of Eight (Go8) is pleased to make this submission as it relates to the update of the 2018 India Economic Strategy.

Please note the Go8 is happy for this submission to be published in full.

The Go8 represents Australia’s eight leading research-intensive universities, undertaking 70 per cent of Australia’s university research and spending some $6.5 billion on research each year.

As a collective we:

  • are consistently the highest ranked Australian universities across the major international ranking systems (Academic Ranking of World Universities; the Times Higher Education World University Rankings; and the QS World University Rankings);
  • educate around one in three international students who choose to study onshore in Australia;
  • account for more than half of all Australian papers with international collaboration; and
  • attract industry funding for research that is twice that of the rest of the sector combined[1].

India is a strategically important country for the Go8, as it is for Australia:

  • The Go8 hosts 13 per cent of Indian higher education student enrolments (9,968 enrolments), including 38 per cent of all higher degrees by research (732 enrolments)[2];
  • After China and ASEAN (as a bloc), India is the third largest source region for international student enrolments at the Go8;
  • Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Indian student enrolments at the Go8 have been growing rapidly, at an average of 35 per cent each year in the five years between 2014 and 2019 (a 3.3 per cent drop was experienced in 2020)[3];
  • It is the only source country where student demand for a Go8 higher education may yet conceivably rival China, and is particularly important for sourcing quality higher degree by research students at volume –critical for Australia’s own research output, and for deepening collaboration networks in India; and
  • Go8 research collaborations with India totalled 9,129 publications (Web of Science Documents) between 2016 and 2020, with 3,129 (34 per cent) in the top 10 per cent of Documents and 1,180 (13 per cent) in the top 1 per cent of documents.

Revisiting the Strategy

The Go8 is a strong supporter of the report from Mr Peter Varghese AO to Government, An India Economic Strategy To 2035: Navigating from potential to delivery, including its visionary flagship role for education services at the forefront of Australia’s strategic economic approach.

The Go8 views the following higher education themes within the Strategy as central:

  • There is no sector with greater promise for Australia in India than education.
  • Australia should look to increase the number of high calibre Indian students at its universities and deepen two-way research links while continuing to welcome Indian students who seek an Australian education primarily for a migration outcome.[4]

Further, there is a clear opportunity to collaborate with India to scale up its research training programs to deliver quality PhD graduates at scale. World-class research-intensive universities – like the Go8 – are well placed to assist in this task.

Australia – and in particular the Go8 universities – can be the postgraduate higher education provider of choice, especially in higher degrees by research. Attracting the best talent to Australian and joint Australian-Indian research programs is the best way to enhance and expand the people-to-people links that are so critical to establishing and embedding high-quality long-term partnerships necessary for research collaboration excellence. These partnerships are more durable and create more positive spin-offs which significantly benefit Australia’s overall strategic economic relationship with India; research and education are the strongest bridge between our two nations.

This approach is also endorsed by Varghese within the Overview of the Strategy:

Education is so much more than increasing the number of Indian students coming to Australia. It also signals engagement, collaboration, a responsiveness to the priorities of India and a bridge between our two communities. Australia’s education relationship with India needs to focus on a message of quality, on postgraduate and research collaboration, on science and innovation[5]

Given this strong foundation, it is our view that the Strategy itself does not need to change, but rather its implementation needs to be urgently accelerated, particularly at this time when we are looking to work with like-minded, values aligned nations. Further, to be effective, the Strategy needs to be complemented by implementing two deeply relevant higher education reports, specifically:

  • Report of the Go8-India PhD Advisory Taskforce on Two-way Mobility of PhD Students Between India and Australia, Group of Eight, 2017[6];and
  • Positioning for deeper engagement: a plan of action in India, India Reference Group, A Report to the Council for International Education, Department of Education, November 2019[7].

The key recommendations of these key publications are further supplemented by – and aligned to – the education sections of the Confederation of Indian Industry’s Australia Economic Strategy Report[8], a response to Australia’s own Strategy which was finalised in May 2020.


To deliver on a strategy of highest quality postgraduate higher education with a particular focus on higher degrees by research and embedding the person-to-person links needed for collaborative research excellence, the Go8 recommends that the Government deliver on the following three priority areas for implementation:

Increased two-way mobility of PhD students and early researchers

  1. In consultation with the University sector, develop a special class of visa for early-career researchers and PhD graduates to work in Australia that would help attract the best research talent from India and around the world [see: Recommendation 9d, Report of the Go8-India PhD Advisory Taskforce on Two-way Mobility of PhD Students Between India and Australia].
  2. Facilitate an increase in the number of PhD twinning programs [see: Recommendation 15.1, An Indian Economic Strategy to 2035].
  3. Increase financial support for Indian and Australian doctoral students by introducing a Joint Research Fund [see: Recommendation 16, An Indian Economic Strategy to 2035].
  4. Attract top Indian students through the introduction of an annual, merit-based scholarship for India [see: Recommendation 9, An Indian Economic Strategy to 2035].
  5. Set aside places in Australia Awards for Indian students [see: Recommendation 19, An Indian Economic Strategy to 2035].
  6. Collaborate with the Go8 on developing a program for Indian companies and Australian companies based in India to sponsor scholarships for Indian students to study in Australia on PhD projects relevant to their businesses [see: Recommendation 7, Report of the Go8-India PhD Advisory Taskforce on Two-way Mobility of PhD Students Between India and Australia].
  7. Leverage the Australia India Strategic Research Fund (AISRF) to support increased PhD mobility between Australia and India. Specifically, together with the Indian Government:
    • Review the grant assessment criteria for the AISRF with a view to making the recruitment and mobility of PhD students from both countries a compulsory requirement for some AISRF project grants [see: Recommendation 9b, Report of the Go8-India PhD Advisory Taskforce on Two-way Mobility of PhD Students Between India and Australia].
    • Review the timelines for AISRF grants to ensure they enable the recruitment of PhD students funded by AISRF [see: Recommendation 9c, Report of the Go8-India PhD Advisory Taskforce on Two-way Mobility of PhD Students Between India and Australia].
    • Design and fund a sub-program under the AISRF to allow short-term mobility for PhD students from both countries, along the same lines as the programs that already facilitate mobility for early and mid-career researchers [see: Recommendation 9d, Report of the Go8-India PhD Advisory Taskforce on Two-way Mobility of PhD Students Between India and Australia].
  8. By way of partnership between the Department of Education and the Department of Home Affairs, analyse and publish information on both the state-of-origin of Indian students and each key state’s enrolment trends, to support providers with greater market intelligence [see: Recommendation 5, Positioning for deeper engagement: a plan of action in India].

Increased outward mobility of Australian students into India

  1. Maintain – but ideally expand – New Colombo Plan funding for India [see: Recommendation 9, An Indian Economic Strategy to 2035].
  2. Widen the scope of New Colombo Plan funding to provide opportunities for both Masters and PhD students [see: Recommendation 2c, Report of the Go8-India PhD Advisory Taskforce on Two-way Mobility of PhD Students Between India and Australia].

Targeted funding for Australia-India research collaboration

  1. Scale up the Australia-India Strategic Research Fund [see: Recommendation 67, An Indian Economic Strategy to 2035], whether unilaterally or bilaterally.
  2. Broaden the AISRF from its current exclusive STEM focus to include Humanities and Social Science (HASS) disciplines – also as noted as an opportunity by the Confederation of Indian Industry[9] – with a requirement that projects address areas of mutual national need [see: Recommendation 9e, Report of the Go8-India PhD Advisory Taskforce on Two-way Mobility of PhD Students Between India and Australia; also: Recommendation 10, Positioning for deeper engagement: a plan of action in India].
  3. Noting Australia’s firm support and Joint Declaration[10] with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on his 2019 flagship Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative (IPOI)[11], enhance the Australia-India IPOI Partnership by scoping a joint Australia-India research centre into maritime studies. Mutually agreed key areas of focus could be drawn from non-security focused IPOI pillars, namely:
    • Maritime Ecology;
    • Maritime Resources;
    • Capacity Building and Resource Sharing;
    • Disaster Risk Reduction and Management;
    • Science, Technology and Academic Cooperation; and
    • Trade Connectivity and Maritime Transport.

Further recommendations

  1. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade should provide a progress report on the implementation status of existing recommendations provided in An Indian Economic Strategy to 2035 asthe status of implementation for many recommendations is unclear.
  2. Reposition ‘Brand Australia’ to improve the perception in India of the quality of Australian education [see: Recommendation 6.1, An Indian Economic Strategy to 2035; also: Recommendation 1, Positioning for deeper engagement: a plan of action in India]. The Go8’s main interest in this regard is the quality of postgraduate education, especially in higher degrees by research.
  3. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade should establish a National Foundation for Australia-India Relations (and related grants program) to mirror the Government’s existing National Foundation for Australia-China Relations.
  4. Establish a Consulate-General in Bengaluru (Bangalore) to focus on economic diplomacy in technology and innovation [see: Recommendation 74.2, An Indian Economic Strategy to 2035] in areas that align with Australian Science and Research Priorities[12], but especially cybersecurity.

The Go8 thanks the Department for the opportunity to submit to this important India Economic Strategy update process. The Go8’s higher education and research partnerships with India are of critical importance to our universities, to the relationship between our two countries, and to Australia’s economic future.

If you have questions regarding the submission, please do not hesitate to contact me directly at  vicki.thomson@go8.edu.au or 0417 808 472.

Yours sincerely

[1] Go8 Facts of Distinction 2020; see: https://go8.edu.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/Go8-Facts-of-Distinction_web.pdf
[2] As at December 2020; International Student Data 2021, Department of Education, Skills and Employment; https://internationaleducation.gov.au/research/international-student-data/pages/default.aspx
[3] Ibid.
[4] See: p66, https://www.dfat.gov.au/geo/india/ies/pdf/dfat-an-india-economic-strategy-to-2035.pdf
[5] p8, Ibid.
[6] See: https://go8.edu.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/Go8-PhD-Taskforce-Report_FINAL.pdf
[7] See: https://internationaleducation.gov.au/news/latest-news/Documents/India%20Reference%20Group%20Report%20FINAL.pdf
[8] See: Chapter 5, Key Opportunity Areas, 5.6 Education; https://aes2020.in/executive-summary/key-opportunity-areas/; also: https://aes2020.in/chapters/5-focus-sectors/education/
[9] See: https://aes2020.in/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/EDUCATION.pdf
[10] See: Joint Declaration on a Shared Vision for Maritime Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific Between The Republic of India and the Government of Australia, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; https://www.dfat.gov.au/geo/india/Pages/joint-declaration-shared-vision-maritime-cooperation-indo-pacific-between-republic-india-and-government-australia
[11] See: https://www.mea.gov.in/Speeches-Statements.htm?dtl/32171/Prime_Ministers_Speech_at_the_East_Asia_Summit_04_November_2019
[12] As per: https://www.arc.gov.au/grants/grant-application/science-and-research-priorities