New York: Last week, the QS World University rankings by British education company Quacquarelli Symonds reiterated a point that would have been particularly prickly to Indian policy makers. Not a single Indian university made it to the list of the world’s top 200 institutions. Fifty US universities found a place.

Not surprisingly, education and skills development will be one focus area when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi travels to the US this week.

Modi, who came to power in May, sets great store by education and skills development to boost the ‘employability’ of would-be entrants to the job market. There has been much debate about the lack of job readiness among new recruits in a country where nearly 12 million enter the labour market every year.

Officials in the human resource development (HRD) ministry and the newly formed skill and entrepreneurship department said Modi’s visit is expected to boost US-India collaboration in education and advance the Obama-Singh 21st Century Knowledge Initiative, or OSI, named after US President Barack Obama and Modi’s predecessor Manmohan Singh.

“PM Modi looks at things from skill perspective and this would be a key area of collaboration during his official visit to the US," said an HRD ministry official, who requested anonymity. “The university ranking is one area where we would like to improve India’s standing and can learn from US institutions."

OSI aims to strengthen collaboration and build partnerships between American and Indian institutions of higher learning, with the goal of promoting educational reform and fostering academic cooperation.

At least three rounds of institutional collaborations in areas ranging from sustainable development, climate change and renewable energy to health, engineering and pure science have already taken place under the initiative, according to the official website of US-India Educational Foundation (USIEF).

The Indian cabinet’s approval for two proposals on education is expected to boost collaboration between the HRD ministry and US institutions in areas like online learning. Indian universities and their US counterparts have shown interest in scaling up efforts in online open education.

The Union cabinet on Wednesday approved the signing of a joint declaration between India’s education ministry and US National Science Foundations to initiate a new scheme called Global Initiative of Academic Networks in Higher Education.

It would also help tap the US talent pool of scientists and entrepreneurs to engage with Indian institutes and help accelerate the pace of quality reforms in the sector, a project the HRD ministry is very keen on.

The government is likely to join hands with a consortium of American institutions to help develop the newly announced Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Goa.

“We are not looking at financial investment much but need their top institutions’ help in course designing, faculty training and exchanges of other intellectual capital," said another official in the HRD ministry.

During secretary of state John Kerry’s visit to New Delhi in July, India and the US said in a joint statement that the two sides had identified “education and skills development as an important area of future cooperation". They called for a partnership between Indian and the US testing services institutions to improve nation-wide student assessments in India.

In 2013, India decided to open 200 community colleges, or institutions that will impart region-specific, demand-oriented skills to improve employability of job aspirants, and enlisted the American Association of Community Colleges for handholding. The project hasn’t made much headway and would need to find direction from the new government in New Delhi, HRD ministry officials said.

“Obviously with a PM who views higher education through skills lens, community colleges project has a lot of hope. In terms of Obama-Singh initiative, it has given impetus to some fantastic on-the-ground research activities in India, which all add up to India wanting to up its game on the world stage," said Lakshmi Iyer, head of the education practice at Sannam S4, a consulting firm.

The Confederation of Indian Industry, a lobby group, is hosting an international conference on education in November in which the US is the partner country, said Shalini Sharma, director of education at CII.

“The issues to be discussed include community colleges—the new paradigm for skilling India, research partnerships between industry and institutes and global collaborations," Sharma said.

The proposed foreign education Bill may be a key topic of discussion during the Prime Minister’s US visit, according to Sharma. The Bill, which would open the doors to campuses operated by foreign institutions and degrees awarded by them to Indian students, has faced several legislative hurdles.

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