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Better Together with the Centre for India Australia Studies

Speaking at the launch of the Centre for India Australia Studies (CIAS) at O.P. Jindal Global University in Sonipat, the former Australian High Commissioner to India, Harinder Sidhu, commented, “India now sits at the top tier of countries of importance to Australia. In 2016, the India-Australia relationship is stronger, more diverse, and more active than ever before.”

The CIAS was established to harness the growing momentum of Australia-India relations. Fast forward six years and the bilateral relationship has only continued to deepen. In that time, the CIAS has facilitated hundreds of student and academic exchanges, immersion programs, internships, academic conferences and joint publications. 

Here, we speak with Executive Director Professor Shaun Star who has been with the CIAS from the beginning. He shares how promoting the Australian identity on campus and a collaborative work environment has been key to its success.

Founding Vice Chancellor Raj Kumar, Professor Shaun Star, former Australian High Commissioner to India Ms Harinder Sidhu, and Dean at Jindal School of International Affairs Professor Sreeram Chaulia at the inauguration of CIAS in 2016.

Welcome to the Better Together series. You were born and raised in Australia – what attracted you to a career in India?

In 2009, I received the Prime Minister’s Australia Asia Endeavour Award. I was among 20 undergraduate students selected to study in an Asian country and I was the only one to choose India.

I was attracted to India because I could see how the Australia-India relationship was evolving at the time. I felt India would be the next big thing and of course the bilateral partnership has grown rapidly since then. But I was also interested in the similarities between the Indian and Australian legal systems – in fact, I’ve since written a book about it. I’m an Australian qualified lawyer and much of my career has been dedicated to sports law and governance.  

I intended to immerse myself in the Indian experience for one year. But the opportunities kept coming and one year quickly turned into ten. The most significant opportunity came in 2016 when we launched the Centre for India Australia Studies. While I am currently in Australia, I work full time at O.P. Jindal Global University and remain connected to India through my work and the many friendships I’ve made.

The Centre for India Australia Studies (CIAS) was established to drive collaboration in key areas of the bilateral relationship. What do you feel was missing at that time?

While similar institutions existed in Australia, there were none housed in an Indian higher education institution. So, there was an obvious gap there.

The idea behind CIAS was to increase the Australian imagination in India. It’s about increasing the presence of Australia – Australian culture, policy, law, business and more, in an Indian context so that it wasn’t as foreign to students and faculty as it has been.

I think it’s changing, but historically when Indian students and academics were considering an international opportunity they looked to Europe or the US first. Because of our presence on campus, we’ve had a huge impact. Students and academics will proactively ask us, “What opportunities are there for me in Australia?”

When I first started with O.P. Jindal Global University, I was the only Australian. Now we have 12 Australians working with us and another 27 faculty members with degrees from Australia. Similarly, we’ve had hundreds of students and academics visit from Australian universities and all of us on campus benefit from these experiences.

The CIAS is increasing research collaboration between Australia and India through academic exchanges, conferences, and joint publications. What do you see as the key to successful research partnerships?

Research collaboration between Australia and India is a two-way exchange of knowledge and ideas, so it’s as much about an Australian academic learning from and working with an Indian academic as it is the other way around. In my experience the strongest research collaborations have evolved from these mutually beneficial knowledge exchanges.

I think for far too long the research between Australian and Indian academics has been quite ad hoc; it’s relied on individual academics to connect the dots themselves. 

These collaborations have their place, but we try to promote institutional research relationships. We provide an environment that promotes collaboration. This might look like hosting 10 professors from one Australian university to meet with 10 senior Indian academics to explore shared challenges and similar interests. Often that will have a direct outcome – such as a joint publication or event. But more than that it fosters long-term relationships across multiple universities and disciplines and that of course leads to future partnerships.

I think the benefit of a program like ARCH-India too is that it opens opportunities to researchers outside their own institution. Academics, particularly early-career researchers, can find a mentor or a collaborator and really start their collaborative process in their area of research.

Jindal Global Law School and University of New South Wales' Faculty of Law and Justice jointly held a conference in 2017.

International exchange programs are slowly returning. How have you overcome the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic on academic collaborations?

Initially, it was a huge challenge for institutions to keep teaching, let alone promote international collaborations. We had to focus internally just to keep up and move everything online.

But it’s also opened a whole new world of online collaborative models. The digital shift accelerated the number of joint webinars and online conferences with Australian institutions. Students have taken part in semester-length online exchanges, and some have had the opportunity to undertake subjects from another university. We no longer have to go through the huge expense of sending delegations all over the world.

That said, we are looking forward to hosting students and faculty again on our campus. While there are opportunities which are accessible in an online model, there’s really no substitute for experiencing the culture of a country than going there.  

Students from Murdoch University (Melbourne) take part in the Immersion Program which aims to introduce Australian students to the different facets of India.

What’s next for the CIAS?

We are focused on providing the same proven model – an institutional environment that promotes bilateral collaboration. India and Australia share many commonalities and there’s naturally an interest in pursuing joint research. The challenge for us then is to encourage those partnerships.

We recently received an Australia-India Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative Partnership (AIIPOIP) grant. We’ll be partnering with the University of Wollongong to research the Indian ocean, with a focus on maritime ecology, marine plastics, and regional security. I hope to pursue more joint research and policy funding opportunities like this – those that will have a real impact on business and policy.

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Professor Shaun Star

Institution: O.P. Jindal Global University

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