Opinion: India and WA – A reluctant super power and a wiser State

April 21, 2015

Professor Andrew TaggartIn an editorial piece for West Australian, Acting Vice Chancellor Professor Andrew Taggart discusses the importance of India as a business and education partner, and how WA must learn from earlier mistakes made with other Asian trading partners to make the most of the relationship.

Premier Barnett recently announced that India (the sub-continent) would be WA’s “next big frontier”. His return from a visit to the country last week echoed in a sense of optimism immersed in realism, doing business with the reluctant superpower will be challenging. Nevertheless while I agree with the premise, I hope that we will be a little wiser in our plans for India than we have been with those of other Asian trading partners. Being wiser means understanding our partners’ cultures as well as learning from earlier failures. And even if they were not failures, we certainly need to learn from our inability to embrace our partners beyond the field of material resources.

Mahatma Gandhi, the leader of Indian independence and synonymous with peace and non-violence, had both compelling wisdom and foresight. He advocated that “there is more to life than simply increasing its speed” and on change he professed that “we must be the change we wish to see”.

While such pragmatism as speed of delivery of natural gas may be important, we in WA must also have the maturity to willingly accept and embrace change. How much have we changed due to our relationship with China? Mandarin speakers? Chinese students? Chinese tourists? Given that we are entering maturity in that relationship (20 years now), have we really become “more” Chinese?

Mr Barnett recognises that we must go beyond LNG exports and help “to modernise their (India’s) mining” and improve that country's skills in its “unsophisticated agricultural sections”. In fact, there is great potential around agriculture – particularly food security – in partnerships with India. Similarly, we can learn much from Indian IT which in many aspects leads the world and also in pharmaceuticals where they have a sophisticated network of production. Being the “change we wish to see”, however, takes WA well beyond where we have travelled with Japan and more recently China. As we work to understand and grow with India we need to, as advocated by Andrew Robb, Federal Trade Investment Minister, develop a more sophisticated understanding of our export products and our markets. It will be the breadth of our product range which builds a sustainable partnership with India, far beyond our China connection. Geography, language, democracy and the Commonwealth make India an irresistible partner for us.

The range of products we share with India should highlight our undeveloped exports. Western Australia should try to improve its performance in attracting Indian students to WA. During the past 12 years, India has moved from ninth to Australia’s second biggest foreign education market. Student numbers are up 55 per cent in Australia but only recently have we seen this surge in WA. This growth should be supported and encouraged along with higher education institutions ensuring quality learning and living experience. WA should be recruiting around 25% of all Indian students coming to Australia.

While WA is well positioned to capture Prime Minister Modi’s push for the skilling and training of 500 million Indians by 2022, our universities and VET providers must work more effectively with the State Government to ensure that Indian students look to Perth, the Indian Ocean capital of Australia. LNG plus higher education students could create significant gains for the WA economy. The link between international students and tourism is strong, so WA can make significant gains in areas of the economy where we currently perform below reasonable expectations. Foreign student earnings grew to more than $16 billion in 2014 and given our geographical advantage we should perform well above our 10 per cent benchmark.

Our export product range should build on LNG demand but also present a more holistic and interconnected mosaic of our resources together with services and social and cultural commodities which enhance our partnership. For example, will WA with its very small proportion of Hindi speakers invest in the teaching of India's dominant language in our schools? Andhra Pradesh, its 50 million people, and its capital Hyderabad, who share our Indian ocean, can be the catalyst for a wiser policy framework for the forthcoming partnership.

Economic trade and investment structures are becoming more favorable in both Australia and India and will support our growth. Unlocking uranium exports were a crucial change in this and we are now presented with an opportunity to make unparalleled advances in our collaborations with India.

If we are to truly partner with India it will be the breadth of exports and a willingness to learn from India that will build a more sustainable and vibrant partnership. Our partnership with China since the 1990’s should not be slowing down but should continue to grow with a broader range of export products beyond resources.

While our Premier is understandably upbeat, Mr Robb claims that with India we have nothing less than “a spectacular opportunity before us. The real test is working out ways to make the most of it” (The Australian; 2015, March 25). I hope that the Premier will be communicating a WA story which goes well beyond LNG. Western Australia must grow with India, appreciate its culture (e.g. Bollywood/Tollywood collaborations), teach their dominant language (Hindi) and better understand their religious and cultural behaviours. With Andhra Pradesh as a key partner we have specific opportunities to create an India-WA Centre for Food Security (India loses 40 per cent of its food, not to vermin but from failed supply chains) to highlight WA’s leadership in food and agriculture, indeed Andhra Pradesh is the ‘Rice Bowl of India’. Similarly, and unlike other parts of India it has a strong livestock industry, also a growing fishing industry that can benefit greatly from a two-fold approach to understanding the ocean we share. Mine site rehabilitation and environmental sustainability around resource developments are areas of mutual interest and benefit. The State should support the exchange of WA and Indian industry, business and education leaders – the Indian Council for Cultural Relations does this now and we should reciprocate – and offer scholarships to the brightest Indian students to come to WA to study at our universities in areas of mutual benefit particularly in areas like food production, fisheries, livestock and the film arts.

As the tenure of the first Indian Consul General for WA, Mandarapu Subbarayudu, comes to an end, after three-and-a-half very productive years, WA must show its international, regional and Indian Ocean colours and secure a long-term, multi-dimensional partnership with our neighbour, our fellow Commonwealth member and the most “like-us” partner in the region. With LNG as the catalyst for the partnership the State can work as we have with iron ore or do things differently. Increasing speed will be driven by big business but being “the change we wish to see” must be nurtured by government and supported by business. I look forward to hearing a wider narrative about our wiser partnership with the Reluctant Superpower.

Print This Post Print This Post

Media contact: Jo Manning
Tel: (08) 9360 2474  |  Mobile: 0408 201 309  |  Email: j.manning@murdoch.edu.au
Categories: General
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Comments (One response)

Eric Whittle April 23, 2015

It is difficult to imagine there would be too many dissenters to Professor Taggart’s call to widen WA’s scope for business. But I note, with some dismay, that the concept of accepting Indian students into our universities has been confounded with the concept of exporting liquid natural gas to India; social beings are reduced to “social and cultural commodities”.

Social members are not cargo. To treat them as such has consequences. In this case, importing large volumes of international students to fix a failing Australian university ‘industry’ involves necessary corruption, cheating, plagiarism, ghosting, enactment of dubious academic policies at all levels, and eventually the manipulation of assessments just to get the ‘commodity’ off the shelf. Something stinks, and it’s not natural gas. There is no other way to keep the business going because it is the very fact that students (and academic staff members) are cultural beings in every detail which invokes these dodgy business practices. For example, international students are under pressure to satisfy the expectations of those at home, and academic staff members are under pressure to satisfy the expectations of those above. Something has to give.

As it stands, I think the university institution in Australia still enjoys a measure of respect from those outside the system. It still makes sense to most Australians, and perhaps some Indians, to include predicates such as ‘prestigious’, ‘trustworthy’, ‘principled’ and ‘honourable’ in the same sentence as the term ‘Australian universities’. But that perception will change, in the same way it has changed in other cases where institutions have cashed in the good will afforded to them by the ones they are meant to serve.

A more worrying thought: To what end is all this commodification and growth? It appears that the type of economics encouraged at university level is disconnected from environmental science.

Leave a comment

You can use these tags : <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

We read every comment and will make every effort to approve each new comment within one working day. To ensure speedy posting, please keep your comments relevant to the topic of discussion, free of inappropriate language and in-line with the editorial integrity of this newsroom. If not, your comments may not be published.

Thanks for commenting!