As a lecturer teaching social science, I often set my students the following exercise: Imagine you enter a lift and find Karl Marx/Max Weber/Germaine Greer inside. You’ve got 60 seconds – what would you talk about?
I have found myself thinking the same recently in reference to Malcolm Turnbull and his forthcoming trip to India. What would I talk to the Prime Minister about in the lift?
I would begin by asking the PM about his agenda and gently suggesting some areas of focus. He would do well to push existing collaborations, for example in areas such as cyber security, counter-terrorism, and trade. He also needs to advance cooperation in new spheres: health, urban infrastructure, water, sustainability, and logistics.
Malcolm Turnbull needs to focus especially, though, on tertiary education. India needs to skill and educate vast numbers of young Indians over the next two decades and foreign assistance is going to be crucial. The PM should seek agreement around Australian and Indian universities setting up branch campuses in each other’s countries. He might usefully discuss the mutual recognition of skills qualifications and degrees in India and Australia.
Next, I’d stress the need to understand and appreciate India past, India present, and India future.
India has deep understanding and historical experience in key areas in which Australia is looking to partner. India has been a world centre for critical education for centuries. It has equally long and rich histories of action in areas such wellness, innovation and governance.
On India present, it is enough to simply note that India has transformed itself over the past 70 years into the world’s fastest growing major economy and a place known for its start-ups, technology, and reform. India is also a centre for knowledge of federalism and democratic practice. The pace of change is increasing, too. India is markedly different in 2017 to how it looked even as recently as 2007.
And on India future, the point is simple: India will almost certainly be the largest country in population terms and the largest economy in the world by 2060. Australia needs a long lasting relationship with this nascent superpower.
The lift doors are opening now. So just one final thought: Humility, excitement and willingness to learn are the qualities that Australians need to cultivate in collaborating with India. A good and lasting relationship will require patience, and it will also need to draw on human ties, as represented for example by the Indian diaspora in Australia.