By Professor Charlie Jeffery, Senior Vice-Principal, the University of Edinburgh
Next stop Mumbai – amongst many other things home to the University of Edinburgh India Office, run by the indefatigable Amrita Sadarangani, the mastermind of this fortnight when the University has popped up all over India developing new partnerships and deepening existing ones.
First up here was Gateway House, a small independent think tank focused on international relations. A conversation about what the University is doing to develop its partnerships in India quickly turned to questions about what on earth is happening in Scottish, UK and EU politics. All sorts of parallels suggesting shared concerns emerged – how to accommodate diverse and divergent places together in the same state, and how to re-engage those alienated from conventional politics. We left with an agreement to work up an exchange involving our academics working on UK and EU, but also to create internship opportunities for our students at Gateway House.
We had a truly inspirational meeting with Dilip Khatau, Chairman of the Corbett Foundation, named after the conservationist Jim Corbett. Once a hunting enthusiast Dilip is now delivering programmes, through the Foundation, aimed at securing the future of endangered species in India, foremost the tiger. The method is to change how human presence compromises animal habitats.
Our Vet School is a key partner, working with the Foundation in rural communities to develop livestock management practices which can produce healthier cattle populations. Healthier cows communicate fewer diseases to related species like antelopes, so tigers get their due fill of antelope. But if unhealthy cows communicate diseases that reduce antelope populations, tigers end up coming into villages to eat cows and other livestock, and farmers then kill tigers. Ergo healthy cows mean tigers are both well fed and not hunted.
We signed a Memorandum of Uderstanding (MoU) to underpin the Vet School’s collaboration – but there’s plenty of scope to look for more, perhaps through our local collaboration with Edinburgh Zoo on conservation projects, perhaps by looking for opportunities for staff and students in anthropology, environmental geography and elsewhere to develop work around the Foundation’s projects.
Finally, an animated conversation with an old friend, Sharon Memis, Director of the British Council in Mumbai, and Colin Wells from the British Deputy High Commission there. As with everywhere else we have been there was tremendous enthusiasm from British institutions about the University’s partnership strategy in India. There was particular interest in this conversation in our Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and the potential that such learning methods has for extending the reach of our activities in India. Sharon’s office works across a population of 200,000,000 people. So why not a University of Edinburgh-British Council MOOC – surely an unmissable opportunity to build a community of learners engaged with the University?