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Creating a true collaboration with Indian universities and scholars

November 8, 2023

By Barbara R Snyder

Barbara R Snyder, President of the American Association of Universities, writes about the value of global partnerships.

AAU is leading a new initiative to deepen research ties with an emerging scientific powerhouse: India.

As the COVID-19 pandemic made all too apparent, our world is increasingly interconnected. Whether it is pandemics caused by viruses that know no borders or natural disasters made worse by climate change or international semiconductor shortages that hamper automotive and electronics industries, our world is increasingly beset with challenges that are global in nature.

The good news is that America’s top research universities are leading the way in addressing global challenges by partnering with their global counterparts to find cutting-edge solutions to some of the world’s most pressing problems. The Association of American Universities, which I lead, has long recognized the importance of international partnerships in advancing scientific research and discovery — and we are proud to lead a new effort to deepen research ties with an emerging scientific powerhouse: India.

This article is from the Not Aloneopens in new tab/window newsletter, a monthly publication that showcases new perspectives on global issues directly from research and academic leaders.

AAU recently created the Task Force on Expanding United States-India University Partnershipsopens in new tab/window to determine key focus areas for bilateral research and education cooperation with research universities in India. The task force’s goal is to identify existing programs that could provide blueprints for future partnerships, and to formulate strategies on how best to move forward.

While international collaboration among scientific researchers is nothing new, this effort recognizes the key role institutions can play in fostering and scaling up that kind of global engagement. Institutions can help provide critical infrastructure and funding for programs that bring people with diverse perspectives together. They can create mechanisms for knowledge and skill transfer between students and researchers from different backgrounds and allow them to benefit from shared resources. Institutional partnerships can enhance the quality of research, accelerate scientific advancement, and even improve or forge diplomatic ties through cultural exchange.

AAU institutions have long had partnerships with higher education institutions around the world. But this special focus on India is timely; with its fast-growing economy and new status as the world’s most populous nation, India must be a strategic partner in any effort that seeks to solve global challenges.

India boasts not only an enormous talent pool, but also tremendous new government investments in its scientific and research enterprise. Indian leaders recently eased the process to establish foreign collaborations opens in new tab/windowwith its universities and set up a new science-funding agencyopens in new tab/window which, according to Scienceopens in new tab/window, “aims to inject some $6 billion into basic and applied research over 5 years.” Earlier this year, the Indian cabinet also granted approval to fund a National Quantum Missionopens in new tab/window. India’s recent successful landing of a rover on the moon provides merely a glimpseopens in new tab/window of the nation’s immense science and engineering talent. The AAU task force recognizes that greater investments by both nations’ governments — and more intentional cooperation between our leading research universities — will only bolster these initiatives and lead to increased scientific advancement and economic development.

One important aspect of the task force’s work so far is the recognition that US and Indian universities must participate in true collaborations. This means a partnership where faculty engage in joint research projects, hold dual appointments in Indian and US universities and have access to research facilities and infrastructure in both countries; where record numbers of students travel not just from India to the United States but also from here to India to study, work in research laboratories, complete internships or apprenticeships, or participate in cross-country competitions to address global challenges; and where quick technology transfer results in new commercial ventures that spur economic development and benefit the citizens of both nations.

AAU formed the task force in consultation with the White House as part of the US-India initiative on Critical and Emerging Technology (iCET)opens in new tab/window that President Biden and Prime Minister Modi announced last year. While many AAU membersopens in new tab/window already have research ties with India, iCET provided a prompt to further strengthen and expand those relationships.

The iCET initiative seeks to grow “strategic technology partnership and defense industrial cooperation between the governments, businesses, and academic institutions” of India and the United States. The initiative signals that both the US and India are ready to work together, as well as with industry and the academy, to build a robust innovation system that benefits both countries. The White House announced AAU’s task force as one of the first bilateral programs under iCET; having this level of buy-in and commitment from the highest levels of both governments is significant and bodes well for the future success of the task force and our efforts.

AAU presidents and chancellors answered our initial call to form a task force with great excitement and enthusiasm. The task force is co-chairedopens in new tab/window by five AAU university presidents and chancellors: Pennsylvania State University President Neeli Bendapudi, University of Illinois Urbana-Campaign Chancellor Robert J Jones, University of California San Diego Chancellor Pradeep K Khosla, University at Buffalo President Satish K Tripathi, and Tufts University President Sunil Kumar. The task force also includes other members appointed by AAU university presidents. The task force members bring deep knowledge and expertise about forming global partnerships and forming institutional partnerships with Indian universities in particular.

The task force has been meeting monthly since it was formed to determine how to expand research partnerships between US and Indian universities and scholars. In June, the task force issued an interim reportopens in new tab/window that reflected its deliberations and included some preliminary recommendations. The task force incorporated input from a small group of leaders from top Indian institutions in its report and expects to issue a final report later this year.

The task force recognizes that there are some barriers we must surmount to deepen research ties between India and the US. For one, both countries must work to establish equitable sources of sustainable, long-term funding to support joint research initiatives. The US must also solve its visa backlogs that have led to extremely long wait times for Indian citizens. There are other regulatory matters to address as well, such as issues concerning intellectual property ownership and export controls. Finally, both countries need to foster hospitable campus climates and provide infrastructure that allows students and faculty members to feel welcome and enables them to achieve their education and research goals.

None of these challenges is insurmountable, however, and the task force offers several preliminary recommendations to pave the way for increased scientific cooperation. These include setting up a new binational institute to address societal and scientific grand challenges; scaling up student-based research collaborations and exchanges; expanding opportunities for internships and apprenticeships; providing targeted support to faculty to catalyze collaborative research; broadening participation in existing programs designed to engage international faculty in instruction and research; hosting Indian researchers at core US labs and research facilities; accelerating knowledge transfer from lab to marketplace; coordinating nationwide international education strategies in both countries; and surging staffing resources to rapidly process visa applications.

I am pleased to note that the task force’s first recommendation — to establish a new joint Indo-US Global Challenges Institute — is already taking shape. The Institute will be a virtual network of universities focused on fostering research partnerships and people-to-people exchanges between US and Indian institutions focused on solving significant national and international challenges. It will facilitate high-impact research collaborations in areas like semiconductor technology and manufacturing; sustainable agriculture and food security; sustainable energy and the environment; health equity and pandemic preparedness; and critical and emerging technologies.

In September, the White House and the Modi administration announcedopens in new tab/window a joint commitment of $10 million to set up the Institute. AAU and our partner in India, the Council of Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT Council), are currently working together to establish a governing council that will help develop the organizational framework for the Institute.

I am especially grateful for the leadership of former IIT Kanpur Director and current Secretary of the Indian Department of Science and Technology Abhay Karandikar in helping the Global Challenges Institute get off the ground. While we have been working with numerous Indian academic leaders, all of whom have been extremely enthusiastic about the task force, Karandikar was a key partner in helping establish, and seek support for, the Global Challenges Institute.

Secretary Karandikar is an electrical engineer and is well known for his contributions to India’s telecommunications sector — and especially for his work in developing national telecommunications standards and policies for deploying 5G technology in India. He is also renowned for his research in rural broadband and wireless connectivity. I am excited about working with him in his new role as secretary and about what we can accomplish together with the continued support of the Indian and US governments.

As the task force moves to the next phase of its work, I’d like to issue an open invitation to universities across the United States interested in forging ties with Indian universities to get in touch with us. AAU intends our efforts, including the activities of the Global Challenges Institute, to be inclusive of non-AAU members.

I also want to emphasize that, although we are currently focused on partnerships with Indian universities, AAU members work with universities around the world, and our work with India does not mean we are backing down from collaborating with universities or scholars in countries with whom we have had long-standing partnerships, including China. As I mentioned earlier, we all benefit when science is collaborative, international, open, and inclusive of diverse perspectives. I am excited to see where our efforts to expand partnerships with India leads to; come join us and be a part of this historic endeavor.

Barbara R Snyder

Barbara R Snyderopens in new tab/window is President of the Association of American Universities. Prior to that, from 2007 to 2020, she served as President of Case Western Reserve University, where she encouraged interdisciplinary excellence, catalyzed institutional collaboration, and reinvigorated alumni engagement and fundraising.

Snyder began her academic career as an assistant professor at Case Western Reserve’s School of Law, then joined the faculty of Moritz College of Law at The Ohio State University. After serving in several leadership positions at Moritz and within the central university, Snyder became OSU’s Interim Executive Vice President and Provost in 2003 before securing the permanent position the following year. She graduated from the University of Chicago School of Law, where she served as executive editor of its law review and earned her bachelor’s degree from Ohio State.

Snyder is a director of KeyCorp and Progressive Corporation. She is an elected member of the American Law Institute. Before coming to AAU, Snyder served as past chair of the board of directors of the American Council on Education, past chair of the board of directors at the Business-Higher Education Forum, past vice chair of the board of trustees of Internet2, past director of the Greater Cleveland Partnership, past director of Jobs Ohio, past trustee of University Circle, Inc, and past member of the Ohio Business Roundtable.


Barbara R Snyder


Barbara R Snyder


American Association of Universities (AAU)