India-US Global Challenges Institute: A Catalyst for Interdisciplinary Research

The India-US Global Challenges Institute, a groundbreaking initiative aimed at tackling complex global issues, is set to transform the landscape of higher education and research. In this interview, Prof Abhay Karandikar, co-chair of the institute and director of IIT-Kanpur, shares insights into the institute’s mission and its potential impact on research culture, faculty mobility, and interdisciplinary collaboration.

Collaboration of Nations

The Global Challenges Institute, to be established through a partnership between India and the United States, is poised to engage in cutting-edge research to address pressing global challenges. It will also facilitate the mobility of research fellows and foreign faculty members. This virtual network of partner universities will initially focus on key sectors such as energy, health, and telecommunications.

Prof Abhay Karandikar, who will co-chair the institute, expressed his optimism about this collaborative venture. He emphasized that the institute’s scope extends beyond IITs, aiming to harness expertise from various institutions dedicated to research in these domains.

A Nexus for Research Advancement

India and the United States have engaged in discussions on collaborations in critical and emerging technologies, including semiconductors, sustainable agriculture, Artificial Intelligence, and quantum science. Recognizing the need for comprehensive research into contemporary global challenges like the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ministry of Education (MoE) established a taskforce chaired by Prof Karandikar to promote international collaboration in cutting-edge research.

One of the institute’s primary objectives is to encourage mobility among PhD students, particularly postdoctoral fellows, who will have the opportunity to split their research between Indian and American universities. This dual PhD program will result in degrees from both institutions, benefiting both countries by retaining top-tier talent.

Fostering Research Culture

The reluctance of students to pursue full-time research programs is a common concern, not only in Indian institutions like IITs but also in American universities. Prof Karandikar believes that collaborations like this one will invigorate research culture by providing opportunities for students to engage in global research initiatives.

Furthermore, the institute aims to enhance faculty mobility, allowing foreign faculty members to spend extended periods at Indian universities. They will actively participate in collaborative research projects and contribute to teaching and lectures, enriching the academic environment.

Institute’s Operational Framework

The India-US Global Challenges Institute will function as a virtual network of partner universities, with a possible secretariat or program management office in Delhi and Washington DC. The governing council will include members from both India and the United States.

Over the next few months, the institute will identify lead institutions in various thematic areas, including the Indian Institute of Science in Bengaluru, Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research (IISERs), IITs, IIITs, NITs, Delhi University, and Jawaharlal Nehru University, among others. Researchers from these institutions will collaborate on proposals, seeking funding from agencies in both countries.

While the institute has received an initial seed fund of $10 million, further funding will be required for specific research projects. The overarching goal is to engage in multi-institutional and multi-faculty projects that address global challenges and drive technological advancements.

The Road Ahead

The timeline for the institute’s full-scale operation is still taking shape, with plans to initiate research projects in the next three months. The initial thematic areas of focus are expected to include energy, health, and telecommunications.

Global Impact Through Collaboration

Prof Karandikar underscores the importance of interdisciplinary research to address complex global issues. He believes that this collaborative partnership is mutually beneficial, as India has made significant strides in areas such as cybersecurity, telecommunications, and biotechnology. By pooling resources and expertise, the India-US Global Challenges Institute aspires to make a substantial contribution to solving pressing global challenges, from climate change to pandemics.

In conclusion, the India-US Global Challenges Institute heralds a new era of collaboration, research excellence, and faculty mobility in the field of higher education. This initiative has the potential to not only nurture a vibrant research culture in India but also make a lasting impact on global challenges that affect us all.

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