Dame Asha Khemka explains what was behind her recent visit to India, and why colleges should renew efforts to have a stake in its skills development.

It was an honour to be one of five college principals that joined Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg’s 40-strong trade delegation to India to explore opportunities presented by the new Indian government’s focus on economic growth.

To see the FE sector represented so strongly on the education and skills group that also included Dawn Ward OBE [Burton and South Derbyshire College], Stella Mbubaegbu CBE [Highbury College, Portsmouth], Norman Cave [Bournville College] and Paul Little [City of Glasgow College], along with the Association of Colleges’ international director John Mountford, confirmed the importance in which it is regarded by the government.

Moreover, I was delighted there was such a strong focus on skills during this first high-level visit to India since Prime Minister Narendra Modi was elected in May.

With Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg emphasising time and again the role UK FE colleges can play in supporting India’s ambitions to train 500 million people by 2022, I felt we had somebody truly championing the work we do, on the international stage.

Our meetings with ministers and senior Indian government officials, and discussions with business leaders during the three-day visit to New Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore gave valuable opportunities to continue the work started on Prime Minister David Cameron’s delegation in 2013, of which I was also a part.

So, why is India such an important market?

As one of the world’s fastest-growing economies, a large portion of the global workforce is sitting in India. Indeed, many of its citizens come to work in the UK. Why not play a part in ensuring they’re even better-skilled when they arrive here?

That doesn’t mean prioritising Indians over our own students. But let’s be clear. Many of our industries already employ large numbers of Indians; therefore our country directly benefits from having a highly-skilled, well-trained workforce.

Similarly, many British companies now have a sizable presence in India. This is mirrored by our own FE sector — albeit on a much smaller scale — with several colleges already operating there.

Indeed, my own college is working with the Cordia Group of Educational Institutes to develop the vocational curriculum for its planned new construction college in Sanghol.

Meanwhile, our subsidiary company bksb’s recent expansion into India will help thousands of citizens develop their English using its functional skills on-line learning solutions.

This demonstrates the opportunities that India’s growing skills agenda presents.

And in forming its first-ever Skills Ministry, the Indian government has stated its intentions very clearly.

Yet the UK faces huge competition from countries such the USA, Australia, Germany and Switzerland.

Why not play a part in ensuring Indian workers are even better-skilled when they arrive here? That doesn’t mean prioritising Indians over our own students

Individually, our colleges can only do so much. Yes, the consortium approach of AoC India has given us a credible voice and a seat at the table. It has also been successful in attracting £400,000 of funding through the UK-India Education and Research Initiative (UKIER) to enable member colleges to forge partnerships with Indian community colleges.

But now is the time to take things to the next level.

That is why I have written to Nick Clegg setting out a six-point plan to make a quick and visible impact in India.

My proposals include the formation of a Skills Task Force made up of ministers, government advisers, skills agencies, UK Trade and Investment, UK India Business Council and FE colleges to create a large-scale skills development project plan.

Initially working with a small number of large employers, we would consider their skills needs, develop a framework and, ultimately, train their workforce. By pooling our resources and talent, we can create and deliver a strong and successful skills landscape.

Re-creating the UK’s world-class education and skills system in India would reap rewards for both nations.

However, we need to move quickly if
we are to be a part of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.