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Researcher Spotlight: Ujjwal Krishna

Ujjwal Krishna is a Research Fellow at the Australia India Institute, where he works on various aspects of bilateral engagement including skills development and education. Currently pursuing his PhD at La Trobe University, he is also a Specialist Doctoral Research Scholar with the DFAT-funded Developmental Leadership Program. Recently, he accomplished two significant milestones in his academic journey: completing his doctoral thesis and co-authoring the Institute's latest publication, Opportunities for Transnational VET in India: Insights for Australia.

What are you working on right now? I’ve recently completed my PhD thesis on the political economy of research uptake in international development policy and programming, while being embedded with the Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT)-funded Developmental Leadership Program. At the Australia India Institute, I work on bilateral cooperation across various fields including skills development and education. My research on the experiences of bilateral donors and foreign providers in India’s VET ecosystem was supported by the Australian Government Department of Education.

What gets you excited about work? I’m excited by the prospect of learning more about how development initiatives can be supported, and my work has explored such processes across a range of sectors and contexts. 

My PhD research sought to understand how development actors engaged with research, evidence, and expertise in their work, and I am fascinated by the rationales and motivations of individuals from different disciplinary and professional backgrounds in making decisions and pursuing initiatives that they value. 

I also enjoy observing how networks, coalitions, friendships, and relationships based on intellectual and personal regard develop during the course of new and exciting research and engagement efforts.

What sparked your interest in your field? I understood fairly early on during my undergraduate studies in economics at the University of Delhi that I’m interested in political economy and development issues, and would enjoy more interdisciplinary education and work going forward. I went on to pursue a Masters degree in development studies at the University of Sussex where I spent an extraordinarily enriching year learning from academics and practitioners with diverse perspectives and backgrounds. I later worked at ICRIER, a leading Indian think tank, and was fortunate to secure a PhD scholarship from DFAT to study research-to-policy linkages at La Trobe University, which allowed me to explore with greater academic focus and freedom the very questions I was already thinking about in a professional setting.

How are you collaborating with colleagues in India and Australia? Through my research at the Australia India Institute, I have had the opportunity to collaborate with academics and practitioners based in India, as well as leverage my existing networks and relationships with policymakers and policy professionals in New Delhi to add value to my current work. For my research on transnational VET models in India, as well as through allied engagement initiatives such as the Skills Visitors Program and the Skills Masterclasses organised by AII, I interviewed and interacted with senior and mid-career Indian and Australian professionals and decision makers in the skills development space across government, industry, academia, and bilateral and multilateral organisations. 

I also enjoy sharing ideas and collaborating with Indian academics based in Australia, and understanding the themes and issues they are passionate about.

What are you reading at the moment? I find it challenging to restrict myself to any particular genre at any given point of time. As such, I’m reading Irwin Allan Sealy’s excellent book The Trotter-Nama, which offers a fascinating perspective into the precarious nature of the Anglo-Indian identity, and is situated in and around the familiar environment of my hometown Lucknow. I’m also reading Jennifer Ackerman’s outstanding book The Genius of Birds which delves into the complexities and advanced nature of bird intelligence, as well as what they reveal about human behaviour despite the millions of years of evolutionary divergences between us.

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