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Task Force Report on Expanding U.S.-India Partnerships

In 2023, AAU formed the Task Force on Expanding United States-India University Partnerships. The objective of the Task Force has been to specifically explore how the United States can work with institutions and institutional leaders in India to expand bilateral research and higher education partnerships as part of a pathway toward a strategic strengthening of the U.S.-India relationship. Since the naming of the Task Force co-chairs and members in April 2023, the group has been meeting regularly, discussing challenges and barriers to expanding such collaboration, and thinking carefully about opportunities to overcome those barriers. This report reflects the Task Force’s deliberations to date and makes recommendations on how the United States and India might better partner to significantly expand collaboration between their universities. These recommendations are to be viewed as a starting point rather than an ending point. They are intended to provoke a thoughtful and much-needed dialogue between universities and university leaders in both countries as well as their respective governments and other important stakeholders (such as industry leaders) concerning ways to improve and strengthen higher education, increase scientific research and technological advancement, and enhance workforce development in both nations.

Establish New Joint U.S.-India Institutes to Address Societal and Scientific Grand Challenges

In response to this recommendation, AAU and the Council of Indian Institutes of Technology, the governing body responsible for all of the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), signed a memorandum of understanding in September 2023 that commits both parties to “promote and seek support for the design and establishment of the Indo-U.S. Global Challenges Institute.” This commitment was highlighted in the joint statement released by President Biden and Prime Minister Modi following the 2023 G-20 summit in New Delhi. The Institute will be a virtual network of U.S. and Indian institutions that will focus on facilitating and coordinating new research collaborations on both individual and institutional levels in five high-impact areas of mutual interest: semiconductor technology manufacturing; sustainable agriculture and food security; sustainable energy and the environment; health equity and pandemic preparedness; and other critical and emerging technologies such as advanced materials, telecommunications, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, and quantum science. The Institute will additionally serve as a hub for both leveraging existing projects and generating new cooperative arrangements to grow collaborative research efforts between the United States and India. To facilitate collaboration, the Institute will coordinate, host, and support activities such as virtual and in-person workshops, conferences, and international faculty and student exchanges. The Institute will also play a role in helping facilitate curriculum co-design, joint supervision of graduate students, and collaborations aimed at increasing technology transfer and commercialization. Additionally, the Institute will play a role in helping both individual researchers and institutions identify and compete successfully for funding opportunities with U.S. and Indian government agencies, nonprofit entities, and industry partners. These efforts will be guided by a governing council to be established in 2024.

Scale Up Student-Based Research Collaboration and Exchanges to Address Societal Challenges

To facilitate a resurgence in U.S. academic visitors to India, a new model is required to shore up significant participation. A select group of Indian universities – in collaboration with U.S. universities – are well positioned to host a competitive program inviting multidisciplinary teams to create projects that address shared societal challenges. Under such a model, U.S. and Indian students would collaborate online in cross-country teams over the course of the academic year. These teams would consist of undergraduate and graduate students working together from one university in the United States and one in India, with a faculty mentor to help support the team located at each institution. American students would then travel to India over the summer to work with their Indian counterparts and participate in competitions as part of these cross-country teams.

Expand Opportunities for Internships and Apprenticeships

The expansion of internship and apprenticeship opportunities for Indian and U.S. undergraduate and graduate students, as well as for post-doctoral researchers, will be critical to meeting the objectives of the Initiative on Critical and Emerging Technology. Partners across government, business and industry, and academia must redouble their efforts to train the next generation of professionals who possess both technical and cross-cultural skills. This will require a coordinated effort to establish short-term placements in companies and nongovernmental organizations for practical training. Working with the U.S.-India Business Council, universities should organize professional development training cohorts to participate in short-term or semester-long internship and apprenticeship opportunities.

Catalyze Collaborative Research with Targeted Faculty Support

Philanthropic and industry support can be leveraged to award collaborative research projects between faculty members in the United States and India. Creating new one-to-one distinguished chair positions and/or endowed research programs linking academic researchers and departments at U.S. and Indian institutions will formalize lasting cooperation between participating universities in both countries. These “professorship partnerships” would create the direct people-to-people linkages necessary for joint research and support development of top-level STEM talent in key areas of critical and emerging technologies.

Broaden Participation in GIAN, VAJRA, and Other Existing Programs

The Indian Global Initiative of Academic Networks (GIAN) and Visiting Advanced Joint Research Faculty Scheme (VAJRA) are laudable examples of Indian government programs designed to engage international faculty in instruction and research. To take full advantage of these government investments, U.S. funding agencies and philanthropic organizations can supplement GIAN and VAJRA awards with a funding match.

Host Indian Researchers at Core Facilities

The United States must demonstrate its commitment to supporting India’s domestic research enterprise. Research infrastructure – both federal facilities and government-funded facilities at universities – is fundamental to the United States’ global leadership in science and technology. Inviting access to these facilities – either in-person or remotely – establishes a distinct brand of science diplomacy and helps jumpstart Indian research projects.

Accelerate Knowledge Transfer from Lab to Marketplace

Working with nonprofit partners like AUTM, U.S. and Indian universities are well-poised to maximize new commercial ventures resulting from their joint research efforts. As a global leader in technology transfer, AUTM has assisted many countries in the growth and development of technology transfer capacity; these nations include Chile, Egypt, Hong Kong, Mexico, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, and Thailand.

Build the “Front Doors” with Coordinated Nationwide International Education Strategies in Both Countries

While the U.S. 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 time is ripe for a concerted international education strategy. A new era of academic partnership will require both nations’ embassies to “build the front doors” to each other’s country.

Surge Staffing Resources to Rapidly Process Visas Applications

The U.S. Consular Missions in India have made a guarantee to issue one million visas to Indian citizens this year and reduce wait times for student visa applications. While this is a commendable pledge, we urge the State Department to further double down 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 United States will signal its commitment to meet demand and chip away at the backlog that has choked the talent pipeline.

Establish and Disseminate Best Practices and Procedures for Sharing Data and Intellectual Property (IP)

Deepening scientific and technological cooperation between the United States and India will require significant exchange of scientific data and information – digital information, biological specimens, chemical samples, human subjects (IRB) reports, and more – and steps therefore must be taken in both countries to ensure that data can be shared effectively and securely while also respecting privacy and other shared values.

Harmonize Research Administration Procedures

Both U.S. and Indian institutions should take steps to improve coordination between their research administration ecosystems as another building block for establishing successful research partnerships. Research administrators in both countries can be effective conduits for sharing opportunities for joint funding and can help researchers navigate issues like research security and research integrity. The University of Maryland’s Borderless Research Administration Knowledge Exchange (BRAKE) training program is a potential model, offering international workshops and exchange programs so that research administration best practices can be developed and disseminated among partner countries.

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For more information, read the final Task Force Report on Expanding U.S.-India Partnerships.

Read the Report