Thursday 22 January 2015


The UK must reach out to South Asia or be left behind; the British Council will tell a high level forum of South Asian and UK education leaders meeting at the British Academy in London on January 22nd.

“The ‘build it and they will come’ ethos of the last few decades is no longer fit for purpose if the UK is serious about creating long term, sustainable and mutually beneficial education links with South Asia”, Michelle Potts, the British Council’s Regional Director of Education in South Asia will warn the leaders.

New research to be presented at the forum will demonstrate that the demographics of South Asia coupled with its geopolitical and financial limitations suggests that conventional models of higher education delivery and economics cannot meet the scale of the challenges faced by countries in the region.

A region-wide qualifications framework, pan regional research networks, and a South Asia-UK HE Women’s leadership forum are just some of the ideas that will be discussed as a means to harnessing the regions’ demographic dividend.

UK skills and education sector leaders will also attend as the British Council urges that the UK now has to go directly to the market, rather than simply try and attract the market to the UK, if Britain still aims to be part of South Asia’s long-term social and economic development.

“Replicating the current models of provision and building more universities cannot be the solution”, Ms Potts will tell the leaders. “It now requires a much larger and collegiate approach from the UK and engagement at a systemic level to make even a dent in the numbers in South Asia. Large scale structural reform is required in areas of quality, leadership, skills & employability and the UK ‘offer’ has to be elaborated and go beyond a reliance on student mobility, or the UK risks being left behind as competition from overseas hones in on the new educational frontier that is South Asia.”

The new research, commissioned by the British Council from the Economist Intelligence Unit will recommend that innovation in service provision, equity of access to opportunity, particularly to leadership roles for women and possessing market relevant skills, leading to employability, is now a prerequisite to make the connection between quality education, developing relevant skills and prosperous stable societies. International providers have a key role to play in these reforms, but with the mindset that now need to offer the full package and deliver good outcomes and not necessarily 'sell' degrees to ambitious wealthy students.

The London event, in partnership with the British Academy and SOAS, University of London is part of a series of British Council workshops that have been held across South Asia in 2013/14 bringing regional education leaders together with their UK counterparts to address the significant challenges in the region. For the first time, a representative of the Iranian Government will also be travelling to London, and speaking as a panelist at the event.

“With India’s successful Mars mission, Afghanistan and Pakistan’s relatively peaceful transitions of democratic government, and Malala’s Nobel peace prize for championing girls’ education, 2014 had many significant positives for South Asia. There are palpable signs for optimism and real breakthroughs which present huge opportunities for the region and globally. India, for example, has the world’s fourth-largest gross domestic product (GDP), yet dedicates just one per cent of its GDP to research and development. Imagine what could be achieved by just doubling this and the role that UK world class research intensive universities can play and benefit from in this endeavour” Ms Potts commented. 

Notes to Editor

For more information please contact Tim Sowula, Senior Press Officer, British Council +442073894871

The report is available here:

The four new pieces of research to be released at the event are:

Skills needed: Addressing South Asia’s deficit of technical and soft skills -

Connecting universities: Future models of higher education -

Defined by absence: Women and research in South Asia -

A mighty web: How research collaborations can foster growth in South Asia -

 About the event

Throughout 2013-14 the British Council in South Asia through policy dialogues, new research and on the ground insight has been building up a comprehensive picture of the tertiary education landscape in South Asia. These conversations culminated in a seminal report on the current state of tertiary education in South Asia: ‘Revolution and Realities in the New Economic Order’ outlining calls to action for South Asia and the UK’s HE and skills sectors to address. The series was a wake-up call to South Asia and the UK to rethink the current tertiary education strategy to meet the urgent and immediate challenges facing the region.

The demographic time bomb, the pace of social change and South Asia’s elevated position in the new economic order has created a critical mass of latent potential which if unchecked could have serious consequences, not just for the countries concerned but for the region and globally.

The London event on January 22nd, ‘Revolution and Realities’ will be the first of a new series of policy roundtables that will bring together policy makers and higher education experts from across South Asia and the UK to examine these issues in depth with a view to delivering policy recommendations and a plan for change across their countries and regionally.


The dialogue is being jointly hosted by the British Council the British Academy and SOAS-University of London (South Asia Institute), at the British Academy in London.

Six key priorities will be discussed over the day in a panel debate format, featuring national Ministers and sector leaders as panellists. Four new research reports will be presented to stimulate discussion. The priorities are:

·         Building new models of private and public sector partnerships that will invest in new models of delivery and support high quality provision in both Higher Education and Skills

·         A systemic and sustained commitment to access and equity for women in Higher Education supporting researchers, managers and academic leaders

·         Developing new models of Higher Education provision that provides flexible high quality models of delivery rigorously supporters by robust quality assurance frameworks

·         Delivering high value skills sector provision tailored to both short term and medium term economic needs that is characterised by quality, flexibility and relevance

·         Building new research networks and supporting business involvement in Higher Education to increase graduate employment and research exchange

·         Supporting a new generation of Faculty members through investment in training, quality assurance, new provision and talent development

Panellists include (in order of speaking):

1.    Professor Stephen Ball, Fellow of the British Academy, University of London (Institute of Education), UK

2.    Dr Mukhtar Ahmed, Chair Person Higher Education Commission (HEC), Pakistan

3.    Mr Ramshankar Katheria, Union Minister of State for Human resources Development (HRD), India (TBC)

4.    Professor Louise Morley, Professor of Education, University of Sussex

5.    H.E. Mrs. Yadav, Minister of Education, Nepal

6.    Dr Navtej Purewal, Deputy Director, SOAS South Asia Institute, University of London, UK

7.    Steve Jackson, Deputy Director, Quality Assurance Agency, QAA

8.    Felicia Brown, Asia Pacific Education Programmes Manager, Microsoft

9.    Nazrul Islam Khan, Secretary, Ministry of Education, Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh

10.  Mark Froud, Managing Director, Federation of Sector Skills Councils, UK

11.  Janet Brown, CEO, Scottish Qualifications Authority, SQA, UK

12.  Sunil Arora, Principal Secretary Skill Development and entrepreneurship, India

13.  Dr Adrian Birch, Jaguar-Landrover

14.  Prof Richard Black, Pro-Director Research, SOAS, University of London

15.  Prof. Ghader Ghorbani, Scientific Representative of Iran in Schengen Area, Ministry of Science, Research and Technology, Islamic Republic of Iran

16.  Prof. Mohammad Osman Babury, Deputy minister for academic affairs, Afghanistan

17.  Richard Dashwood, Academic Director, Warwick Manufacturing Group WMG, UK

18.  Anura Dissanayake, Secretary, Ministry of Education Sri Lanka

Key quotes from previous attendees of the British Council’s South Asian Policy Dialogue series in 2013/14 include:

New models of HE

“Education has not changed that much in hundreds of years. But the client base of learners has completely evolved.” Anant Agarwal, CEO of edX

MOOCs can help bridge the gap as institutions are figuring out how to staff their classes and get the right people on board.” Rajika Bhandari, Deputy Vice President of Research and Evaluation, Institute of International Education (IIE).

“Over-regulation means the ability to innovate decreases. If the state had a slightly lighter hand in India, you would see a lot of interesting innovations happening in higher education.” Pratap Bhanu Mehta, President, Center for Policy Research, India

Research networks

“If you consider the last 50 years, the total research output from South Asian Association for

Regional Cooperation (SAARC) countries is about 2.86% of the total global output.” Dr Vivek Kumar Singh, assistant professor of Computer Science, South Asian University (India).

“These countries have such high percentages of young people, but they are being denied proper education and job opportunities. It should be compulsory for governments to match, dollar for dollar, any contribution coming from abroad for research projects.” Professor Raghbendr Jha, Head of the Arndt-Corden Department of Economics, Australian National University and Executive Director, Australia South Asia Research Centre.

“In fact, if anything, industry is quite hungry to get involved. It just doesn’t know how. And the researchers on the other hand, don’t know where to start either.” Professor Tarun Khanna, director of the South Asia Institute, Harvard University.

Skills gap

“India has been left behind in construction innovation and technology – there is a deficiency in this area across the board from procurement, equipment selection to design.” Mark Griffiths, Chief Operating Officer, Leighton India.

As in much of Asia, there is a huge emphasis on final exams in India, especially at university level. Rote learning and repetition of expected questions in exams is a major issue for translation into the workplace.” Associate Professor Peter Mayer, School of History and Politics, University of Adelaide.

“Many Afghani students are not even aware of the availability of vocational training. The majority of high school students want to be physicians, engineers and lawyers.” Professor S. Mohammad Mohaqqeq, Kabul University.

Women researchers

“Only when you have published your own research do you become visible as a woman. And unless you’re visible, you don’t take the next crucial step to senior management positions, which have all the authority and power.” Rekha Pande, professor and head, Department of History, University of Hyderabad.

“If you were to ask me for the percentage of female professors in India, I would be able to tell

you based on my own study, there is no government data. The data doesn’t exist, or whatever there is it is not updated.” Naleem Kumar, scientist, National Institute of Science, Technology and Development Studies (NISTADS), New Delhi

“Often, post-doctorate work is overseas and can involve more than one institution. So if you can’t relocate for a variety of reasons it makes it very difficult.” Tanya Fitzgerald, Associate Dean (research), Faculty of Education, La Trobe University

About the British Council

The British Council is the UK’s international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities. We create international opportunities for the people of the UK and other countries and build trust between them worldwide.

We work in more than 100 countries and our 8,000 staff – including 2,000 teachers – work with thousands of professionals and policy makers and millions of young people every year by teaching English, sharing the arts and delivering education and society programmes.

We are a UK charity governed by Royal Charter. A core publicly-funded grant provides 20 per cent of our turnover which last year was £864 million. The rest of our revenues are earned from services which customers around the world pay for, such as English classes and taking UK examinations, and also through education and development contracts and from partnerships with public and private organisations. All our work is in pursuit of our charitable purpose and supports prosperity and security for the UK and globally. 

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