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German Minister of Education & Research Cooperation Annette Schavan at the launch of the Science Express in India
© REGIERUNGonline/Steffen Kugler
‘Once you value German products, you appreciate German education’

February 14, 2008

by Indrani Bagchi

In an interview, German Federal Minister for Education and Research Cooperation Annette Schavan outlines the priorities and says cooperation in Science and Technology is high on the Indo-German agenda.

What is the reason behind Germany investing such a lot of money into Indian science and research fields?

The German Government has a long-term strategic partnership with India. Scientific and technological cooperation (STC) is among the most important future fields in Indo-German relations. Federal Chancellor Merkel stressed this point once again during her recent visit to India. About one year ago, the Federal Government adopted its High-Tech Strategy for Germany, which is being implemented under the leadership of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). One element of this strategy is the expansion of our cooperation with dynamic research nations in growth markets, which has the aim of enhancing our research and innovation competence. Owing to its quickly expanding R&D expertise, India is a partner country for Germany in many fields, for example in biotechnology and production engineering.
Is education a prime focus of Germany’s interest in India? Exchanges of students and young researchers are a major pillar of Indo-German partnership. Student exchanges pave the way for research cooperation. Establishing international science networks through an international, cooperative and bottom-up approach is of special importance in this context. That is why the Federal Government is encouraging Indian students to come to Germany to study or carry out research at an early stage and, conversely, in drawing German students’ attention to the possibility of studying in India. From 2009, the BMBF will provide about €4.3 million annually for the programme “A New Passage to India” of the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) with the aim of increasing exchanges. Currently, about 4,500 Indian students study in Germany, while only a few hundred German students are enrolled at Indian universities.

DAAD is a way of building linkages between German and Indian technical sectors. How do you see this translating in the applied fields particularly in R&D?

Personal relations forged during study and research periods in the partner country often provide a good basis for future joint projects. In addition to DAAD’s support, we are also promoting the mobility of our researchers by means of funding provided by the BMBF’s International Bureau (IB), which is used to support visits aimed at preparing projects with Indian colleagues, fact-finding missions, as well as
workshops and symposiums.

Is Germany thinking of collaborating in R&D with India? In what sectors? Why?

Germany and India have been collaborating successfully in science and technology for more than 30 years. A broad and intensive R&D collaboration has developed during these three decades. According to the decisions made by the Indo-German STC Commission in 2003 and 2006, the focus of cooperation is on the fields of biotechnology, health research, information technology, environmental and sustainability research, materials research, space research, production engineering as well as disaster and security research.

For most Indian students US, UK and Australia are favoured destinations for overseas study? Why should they choose Germany?

A high-quality level of studies coupled with the hands-on practical experience that students are exposed to makes Germany a popular study destination. The quality of German higher education can be compared to the quality of the products that have made Germany the world’s number one export nation. Once you value German products for their technological superiority or their durability, you also appreciate German education, which has formed the minds behind these leading products. This outstanding education is now easily available to international students thanks to international degree programmes. These are study programmes in various fields, especially engineering and science, that offer English as the teaching language. Furthermore, Germany stands for high-quality education at a fraction of the cost of higher education in many other western countries.

Is there any way in which you can make it easier for students to stay on and work in Germany after they complete their studies?

Studies or research in Germany are the best way to get in touch with German companies who are all highly interested in employing the best. In a more and more globalized world these companies operate worldwide and careers with them are possible not only within Germany or India but all over the world. However, today high-income top achievers can stay on and work in Germany anyway.

Is there any interest in working with India to build more IITs in this country?

IIT Madras, which has been developed with major German support, has become a symbol of a strong Indo-German scientific and technological cooperation. From 2009 and within the framework of DAAD’s “A New Passage to India” programme, BMBF will fund the establishment of a centre of excellence for engineering and environmental sciences at IIT Madras. By establishing this centre, BMBF will make a long-term contribution to intensifying the exchange of doctoral students. The centre of excellence will include a preparation centre, where Indian students can learn the German language and familiarize themselves with German culture before coming to Germany. There is a lot of interest in developing new methods of science education in India’s schools. Would German science institutions consider working with Indian schools to develop science and technical education at a more fundamental level? The further development of science education is also an important topic in Germany. The Leibniz Institute for Science
Education (IPN) in Kiel is among the leading centres in Germany in this field. The Institute’s activities include basic research in the field of science education. The current teaching issues and projects are addressed in an interdisciplinary approach by teams consisting of natural scientists, teachers and educators as well as psychologists.

What will be the brief for the newly developed Science Centre with India? How will it benefit industry?

Minister Sibal and I signed a Memorandum of Understanding in Delhi on 30 October 2007 concerning the establishment of an “Indo-German Science and Technology Centre (IGSTC)”. The Centre is to take up its work in Delhi in autumn 2008. During the first five years, the BMBF and the Department of Science and Technology (DST) will each provide up to €2 million per year for the support of applicationoriented (industry-related) bilateral research projects. The IGSTC’s main responsibility will be the support of socalled “2+2 technology projects” involving the participation of government and industry on both sides on the basis of joint Indo-German calls for proposals in different research areas. In addition, it will organize joint workshops and symposiums for German and Indian researchers.

What are the new directions in health and energy research that Germany is working on with India?

A close collaboration has been established between India and Germany in the area of infectious disease research. Projects have been initiated with the aim of developing new strategies for anti-infectives and vaccines. This research involves the investigation of basic infection and immunity mechanisms. The goal is to translate findings into clinical applications and to use them for both clinical and industrial purposes. The participating partners are the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and the Jawarhalal Nehru University (JNU) on the Indian side and the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI) on the German side. The cooperation agreement between the Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres (HGF) and the Anna University will promote and intensify cooperation in the field of energy research, with particular emphasis on solar energy and other alternative energy sources. A steering committee of experts
from both Germany and India will identify joint research projects at its first meeting, which is to take place in Chennai in late January 2008.

Indrani Bagchi is the Associate Editor of the Times of India.
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