University of Delhi: Inspiring innovation

By Professor James Smith, Vice-Principal International, the University of Edinburgh

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Yesterday we visited the University of Delhi – our strongest Indian partnership – as the Principal was guest of honour at the opening of the Innovation Plaza at the Antardhwani Cultural Festival 2015. Coincidentally, several thousand miles and 20 degrees Celsius away our own students were coming to the end of Innovative Learning Week. The more we move, the more there is to share….

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We arrived a little late for the full pageantry (we can blame typical Delhi traffic for that) but the reception at the Innovation Plaza was incredible. The Plaza is a showcase of the efforts of hundreds of undergraduate students who have been working in groups of up to ten, with small teams of academic supervisors to undertake research that is socially, economically, environmentally and technologically transformational.

This is an area close to my own heart. How do we generate social innovation? How do ensure that technology meets local needs? How do we ensure that students are equipped for tomorrow in a rapidly changing, globalising world? These are questions that strike to the heart of multiple threads of internationalisation within the University of Edinburgh and elsewhere.

The student projects were outstanding. Many of the students were second years but I witnessed neural network simulations controlling robots, new formulations of biodiesel, waste recycling projects, alternative energy models – an endless array. At the core of each project is interdisciplinary collaboration, problem-focused research and a real zeal to ensure that undergraduates are fully-fledged student/researchers.

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The similarities between our aspirations for our own students, indeed the aspirations of our own students, was telling. While we can debate whether there are truly Indian problems to be grappled with or whether Indian problems are simply the transformational problems of the rest of the world to a greater or lesser degree, it is clear that part of the solution at least lies in ensuring our graduates combine disciplinary strength, interdisciplinary flexibility and innovative vision. I would add international perspective to that list and I hope that next year we can find a way to combine some of our Innovative Learning Week with Antardhwani 2016 through student exchange, interaction and collaboration. The results, I am sure, will be amazing.

(En)gendering Migration: Narratives from South Asia and Beyond

By Professor Crispin Bates, Director of South Asian Studies, the University of Edinburgh

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With five papers being presented in two sessions (by myself, Samita Sen, Paula Banerjee, Supurna Banerjee and Lauren Wilks), and a round table discussion involving eight leading experts (including Saswati Ghosh, Swati Ghosh, and Ishita Mukhopadhyay), this was a full, rewarding and thoroughly interdisciplinary workshop.

The audience included staff and postgraduates from institutes and departments across the city of Kolkata, whose questions at the end of each session and to the panellists were pointed and extremely helpful. By the conclusion of the proceedings there appeared to emerge a general frustration with most economic theories of migration.

Particularly noted was the tendency of general economic theory to regard marriage migration as unrelated to work migration (which it actually is in India in every sector). Most speakers favoured an abandonment of conventional push-pull explanations in favour of the ethnographic study of networks and the intermediaries who connected together the worker and employer. The coercive control exercised over plantation and domestic workers was described, but it was noted that all forms of employment, even in developed societies, involve an element of un-freedom, and as sociologists and historians we should be looking for the ways in which workers exercised agency and fulfilled their ambitions though migration.

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In the concluding panel, the very high level of female migration (higher than that of men) in Bengal in the past decade was highlighted. This makes migration a particularly important issue for women in the State. Instead of demonising and denouncing it as the result of economic insecurity and the source of crime, disease, family break-up and moral corruption, several panellists argued the very opposite . In other words migration is normative behaviour and we should therefore pay more attention instead to the coercive behaviour of the state and elites in civil society, who discourage migrants and prevent their employment becoming more secure, at the same time as benefitting from their cheap labour.

This is clearly a rich field for future enquiry, with multiple intersections with other developmental, and social concerns. There was a general desire expressed therefore to repeat the workshop and to encourage some form of international collaborative research. There were lengthy chats amongst the participants over coffee, tea, lunch, and high tea at the end of the day, and we could see some very important ‘networks’ of our own being established or renewed. We all very much look forward to keeping in touch and meeting again in the near future and are extremely grateful to the Institute of Development Studies Kolkata (IDSK) for hosting this event.

A woman’s work

By Ranald Leask, International Press Officer, the University of Edinburgh.

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The subject under discussion in Kolkata today is indeed topical. Women’s position in Indian society has long been an issue of heated debate. Recently, the abuse suffered by many at the hands of men has been highlighted in some horrific cases.

Attitudes appear to be changing, at least in the sense it’s a subject that some Indians are willing to debate. Last night the University held a reception for Edinburgh alumni – an opportunity for graduates to catch up with old friends and make new ones. One recent anthropology graduate told me that as a writer, she is finding it easier to have articles on female abuse cases since the recent spate of rapes received national and international attention.

It’s a topic that has been analysed from many angles at today’s conference, entitled (en)gendering Migration:Narratives from South Asia and beyond. PhD student Lauren Wilks, Professor Crispin Bates and Professor Roger Jeffery from Edinburgh were joined by colleagues from India and abroad.

In this interview, Dr Bates explains why such topics require thorough debate.

The appliance of science

By Dr. Neil Robertson, School of Chemistry, the University of Edinburgh

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Sustainable Chemistry touches upon so many parts of modern life and is the grand challenge theme for our UKIERI project with National Chemical Laboratory in Pune. Our joint symposium has provided the centre piece for a fantastic but hectic week here in India.

Our group of four academics from Chemistry in Edinburgh, and one from our EaStCHEM partners in St Andrews, began the week in Mumbai where we had the chance to visit some schools to give talks on sustainable polymers and solar energy to engaged and informed pupils.

On Tuesday we moved on to NCL in Pune where our well-attended joint seminar programme covered topics including solar energy, catalysis, efficient lighting and biodegradable polymers. The other main purpose of our NCL visit was to set up exchanges of PhD students through our UKIERI programme and the enthusiasm from students on both sides has been outstanding. It’s great to know that we can provide such a superb international experience for both the Indian and the UK students who take up the chance.

The links between Chemistry in Edinburgh and India go back to P.C. Ray, “the father of Indian Chemistry”, who completed his PhD in Edinburgh in 1887. It’s a pleasure to keep up this tradition and to extend it to the next generation of students.

We are now rounding off the week with a visit to the Indian Institute for Chemical Technology in Hyderabad to catch up with our ongoing collaborations in solar energy as well as make new friends and contacts. NCL and IITC represent the international leading edge of Indian chemistry, with an astonishing 1400 PhD students between them. One can only keep coming back again and again to such places and I’m already looking forward to my next chance!

The way to the stars…

By Prof Andy Lawrence, Dr Beth Biller, and Prof Cait McPhee at the Delhi Science Centre.

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Beth Biller, Cait MacPhee, and myself are this years Physics and Astronomy reps in the annual Edinburgh-in-India adventure. Our original plan was essentially one of outreach – giving inspiring science talks to schools and public talks at science centres, touring from Mumbai to Pune to Delhi. We like doing concrete demos, like Cait re-crystallising chocolate, Andy dropping books into imaginary black holes, and Beth handing out do-it-yourself Origami Brown Dwarf models. (That’s models of cool sub-stellar dwarf stars, not small brown people!). We have indeed done all these things, and they have been enjoyable and and emotional experiences; but unexpectedly, India also came to us, and collaboration began to emerge. Add to this the fact that any trip to India is a kind of sensory maelstrom, and it has been a rewarding but exhausting week.

By accident, we picked the week of the annual Astronomy Society of India meeting in Pune. For decades, India has had a strong reputation in radio astronomy and astronomical theory; but now they are on the verge of a significant expansion – joining the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), and the LIGO project, and preparing to launch their first astronomical space mission (Astrosat), within the year. I was particularly keen to attend a workshop on Transients, as this is the big push in the UK just now. Meanwhile, Beth, who is an exoplanet expert, hooked up with Sujan Sengupta, who is the very first person in India to move into the exciting new exoplanet field. Beth and Sujan cooked up a plan to make radio observations of brown dwarfs.

Even my outreach work turned into a collaboration, rather than just me wheeling out my latest Powerpoint presentation. I was keen to develop the idea of an innovative show which combined live planetarium display with research images, finding the objects on the sky, to tell a story that would be an immersive experience in surround-vision as it were – something I first tried at the Imiloa planetarium in Hawaii.

As it turned out, this was also exactly what Rathnasree Nandivada at the Delhi Planetarium was also thinking; in the fortnight before I came out we began exchanging ideas and images by email. The final performance will be carried out jointly between us, and will be recorded so that the Delhi Planetarium can show it when I am not there! Furthermore, it should be exportable in a format I can take to other dome projection systems – for example Dynamic Earth in Edinburgh, or the Centre for Life Science in Newcastle.

Well, as I write, we haven’t actually delivered this promise yet…so cross your fingers!

Modi in Bangalore, Edinburgh in Kolkata

By Ranald Leask, International Press Officer, the University of Edinburgh.

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With Edinburgh staff busy engaging with Indian colleagues across the country, India’s Prime Minister has highlighted the importance of the University’s partnerships during a visit to the Centre for Brain Development and Repair (CBDR) in Bangalore.

Narendra Modi, met researchers at the Centre for Brain Development and Repair (CBDR) in Bangalor –
an international collaborative centre between the University of Edinburgh, the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS) and the Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regeneration Medicine (inStem).

Dr Sumantra Chattarji, Director of CBDR and an Honorary Professor at the University of Edinburgh, welcomed the Prime Minister to the new laboratory facilities at CBDR, saying: “Brain disorders pose a major health challenge globally and our partnership with the University of Edinburgh highlights the extent to which international collaboration is required to understand and treat these debilitating disorders”.

Meanwhile, day one at the State Building in India conference in Kolkata saw a diverse array of subjects under discussion.

In this short film, Professor James Smith, Vice-Principal International, explains why such events are so important.

Nation Building in Kolkata

By Dr Wilfried Swenden School of Social and Political Science

So, here were are in Kolkata, the proud capital of West Bengal and one of India’s most esteemed centres of learning and history. For someone who spends most of his research in and around Delhi, travelling to the more peripheral states of this vast country makes for a welcome and much needed change.

The politics is clearly different here: no Narendra Modi or Arvind Kejriwal greeting us from the bus stops or billboards (Delhi has just come out of an important state election), but Mamata Banerjee, the supremo of the Trinamool Congress, West Bengal’s version of the SNP (well…kind of!).

The Universities of Edinburgh and Calcutta have long-standing ties, something which the heads of both universities amply emphasized in their welcoming addresses. They range from William Robertson’s landmark study on Indian civilisation, to the first Indian woman to study medicine in the west – at Edinburgh. More recently, the Indian scientist Saheyendrath Bose had part of the Higgs-Boson named after him. Professor Peter Higgs, winner of the Nobel Prize for Physics is just one person to have since paid tribute to his Indian colleague.

Yet, the ties between both universities are not just a thing of the past. I, along with ten of my colleagues (mainly historians, sociologists, political scientists), have travelled to Kolkata to explore future research collaborations in the history of science and medicine, architecture, migration, and diaspora studies.

My colleague from the School of Politics and Political Science, Kristen Hopewell, and I will participate in a session on foreign policy and India’s engagement with the global economy. That the University of Calcutta takes a particular interest in the role of the states therein is no surprise: in that respect it can take some interesting cues from Scotland’s engagement with Europe and the world.

In a city famed for the passion of its populace and its fondness for arguing over the issues of the day in the many coffee houses to be found here, our own debate has found a natural home.

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Animal health, welfare and production discussed in Delhi

By Ranald Leask, International Press Officer, the University of Edinburgh

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Day two of the production animal health and welfare conference at the Indian Council of Agricultural Research in Delhi is underway, with interesting discussions involving experts from India and Edinburgh.

Researchers from The Roslin Institute, the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies and Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) have all made valuable contributions to today’s exchanges, that focus on production animal health & welfare and dairy research.

In this short film, Dr Dave Roberts from the Dairy Research and Innovation Centre at SRUC and Dr N G Jayasinha from the Animal Welfare Board of India discuss why such knowledge exchange is so useful.

Animal health the focus for Delhi conference

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By Ranald Leask, International Press Officer, the University of Edinburgh

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One of India’s most important sectors – agriculture – is the focus of a two-day symposium in Delhi, attended by researchers from The Roslin Institute, the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, and Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC).

A wide range of topics are being discussed, with the common aim of improving animal production and welfare standards. Partnership working is key, and by bringing together animal scientists, government policy makers and Indian veterinary university academics, the delegation from Edinburgh has the ambition of addressing some of India’s biggest challenges, including ensuring food security and addressing population growth.

Today saw a Memorandum of Understanding signed between the University of Edinburgh and a key Indian partner, the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR). This will strengthen the already fruitful relationships between the two bodies.

Two of today’s presentations were delivered by Professor Bruce Whitelaw and Professor Dave Burt, both from The Roslin Institute. In this short film, they explain why India and its animal population is so important to their work.

Reflections now I am back in Edinburgh….

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By Dr Rowena Arshad, Head of Moray House School of Education, the University of Edinburgh

As Prof Roger Jeffery mentioned in a previous blog, the first week of the University’s events in India, is over. So what struck me in that altogether brief, but packed, week? It has to be the sheer scale and diversity of India. The traffic in Delhi is seriously scary and you require a good horn, excellent brakes and guts to drive in the City. I was pleased I did not have to do so!

More seriously though…I was struck by the fact that Scotland is smaller than most of the states in India and the closest in population size is the state of Himachal Pradesh (21st smallest of 29 states).

In terms of women and school leadership, there is also a big difference. In Scotland, according to the 2014 Scottish Government teacher census – 87% of primary headteachers and 39 % of secondary headteachers are women. In India, there are hardly any women headteachers other than in primary. Where they exist, they tend to be in ‘acting’ positions which means women in these posts are in it on a temporary basis. The states of Kerala, Delhi, Goa, Tripura and Daman & Diu show a move towards higher representation of women in school leadership positions and in many other states, as Dr N. Mythilli from NUEPA indicates, women’s representation at headship level is ‘abysmally low’.

Where there is commonality is in the issues affecting female teachers in both countries. Scottish and Indian women still have to juggle the complexities of life-work balance, deal with everyday forms of sexism, and grapple with helping others understand that ‘woman’ is not a homogenous group. Factors such as age, caste/class, ethnicity, linguistic diversity, geography and place, religion and beliefs and ability impact on our life opportunities, both in India and Scotland.

It will be both a challenge but also incredibly exciting to identify the research area that is original and makes sense to two countries that are so different in scale. However, I look forward to this challenge as well as being able to return to Delhi to take forward further collaborations with NUEPA and beyond.