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Canadian colleges set to play a bigger role in India’s plans to train 500 million

Education was front and centre last month when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi made his official state visit to Canada. This was the first such visit in 42 years and it reflects an ongoing strengthening in bilateral relations between the two countries.

Prime Minister Modi’s visit also provided a grand stage for the signing of 13 memoranda of understanding (MoU) between Canadian and Indian educators, all of which are squarely aimed at India’s massive skills training requirements and at the country’s stated goal of training 500 million people by 2022.

The 13 new MoUs outline agreements between India’s National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) and 12 Canadian institutions – including Algonquin College, Bow Valley College, Camosun College, Canadore College, College of New Caledonia, Durham College, Fanshawe College, Fleming College, Seneca College, and Southern Alberta Institute of Technology.

The NSDC is a public-private partnership charged with training 150 million Indians – roughly a third of the total national skills target – by 2022.

The NSDC pursues this mandate by “catalysing [the] creation of large, quality, for-profit vocational institutions.” It does so through a combination of funding, enabling necessary supports (e.g., curriculum development, faculty training), and by encouraging the participation of large-scale private enterprise in skills training. The NSDC sees itself as a facilitator for initiatives that can have a significant multiplier effect – that is, projects that can scale quickly as others participate in or leverage the NSDC’s work.

The new Canadian MoUs are a good illustration of this approach. Each of the agreements with Canadian colleges and institutes will lead to the creation of a Centre of Excellence for training trainers and assessors, and for the creation of transnational standards through the efforts of NSDC-facilitated Sector Skills Councils and their counterpart groups in Canada.

Each Canadian college will be matched with an Indian partner that is focused on a specific sector, including agriculture, apparel and textiles, automotive, aviation, construction, green economy, healthcare, hydrocarbons, IT, telecommunications and electronics, sports sector, and water.

Seneca College, for example, will work with its Indian partner to strengthen skills training in the aviation and health care sectors. Fanshawe College, meanwhile, will have an initial focus on training for the apparel and textile sectors.

The Indian partners will pay for a variety of services from the Canadian colleges, including curriculum development, “train the trainer” programmes, and support in developing accreditation systems.

In addition, the NSDC signed a 13th MoU with Colleges and Institutes Canada (CICan). CICan is the peak body for public colleges, institutes, and polytechnics in Canada and its NSDC agreement will further facilitate multi-sector collaborations for building training capacity and national skills standards in India.

“As India embarks on an ambitious education reform, this new framework for collaboration will pave the way for initiatives in a variety of sectors such as curriculum development, teaching and learning resources development, occupational standards, testing and certification and labour market information system,” says CICan.

NSDC’s CEO Dilip Chenoy adds, “This partnership with Canada is important for us in multiple ways. Canada has experience in many sectors that India is looking at, such as green skills, agriculture or water management that fit with specific needs of the Indian economy.” Mr Chenoy expands on his comments in the following video interview provided by CICan.

The bigger picture

India’s ambitious training goals for 2022 have brought a sense of urgency to the implementation of the new MoUs, and the work is reportedly progressing quickly. The two countries, however, have a strong foundation on which to build for these new partnerships.

Canada already has strong ties with Indian education and over 8,000 Indian students were enrolled last year in colleges and institutes across the country. In total, Canada enrolled more than 31,000 Indian students in 2013, making India the second-largest source country (second only to China) of international students in Canada that year.

A joint statement issued by Prime Minister Modi, and his Canadian counterpart Prime Minister Stephen Harper, during the recent state visit identified education as one of the key areas of priority for the two countries’ bilateral engagement and agreed to focus on greater student, faculty and “people-to-people” exchanges.

More broadly, Canada is also home to more than a million Canadians of Indian origin, a vibrant community that contributes significantly to both countries. India, meanwhile, is a priority country within Canada’s International Education Strategy along with its Global Markets Action Plan, a high-level strategy for international trade.

From India’s perspective, the new Canadian MoUs are an important next step in a large-scale national effort to upskill a half billion people within the next decade. The challenge is real, but so is the opportunity. “There is an explosion of energy which can propel your economy into a different sphere,” said India’s High Commissioner to Canada’s Vishnu Prakash. “Or, God forbid, you have a situation where there are 10 million people that don’t have jobs.”

The High Commissioner’s comment provides the rationale for why skills development has become a true national project in India. The Modi government is not quite a year old, but it has made skills development one of its key priorities. Its stated goal of making India the “Skill Capital of the World” is grounded not only in the country’s need for skilled workers at home, but also in an ambition to provide a skilled workforce that can move beyond India’s borders as well.

“[Signing the new agreements in Canada] is another important milestone in our efforts to make India the skill capital of the world,” adds Mr Chenoy. “These MoUs are a part of the ongoing collaborations that we’ve been having with various developed and developing countries across the world such as Australia, Germany, Iran, UK, US, etc. adopting best practices from each. This will help us prepare a workforce that will be industry ready not only for India, but for the world.”

The last word on the subject goes to Prime Minister Modi who speaks passionately about the importance of skills development for India’s economy and society in the following video, and of the great potential that India aims to unlock through its skills training initiatives.

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