The University of Illinois is "refreshing" its long relationship with India's universities – and creating new ties with its biggest corporations.
A recent Asian visit by interim Chancellor Robert Easter focussed heavily on India, where he met with three Indian cabinet members, the leader of the opposition party and CEOs of five large multinational corporations.
Easter noted that India is one of the world's largest democracies, and a historic partner with the UI. President Obama and a team of U.S. business and academic leaders are there this weekend to explore similar symbioses.
Only one of the five corporations made a firm money commitment to the university, but there are "tremendous opportunities" with the two largest corporations, said Associate Vice Chancellor Pradeep Khanna.
He said there are enormous faculty-interaction and internship opportunities, as well as for employment abroad.
"You could be working for Caterpillar in Vietnam or China," he said.
Khanna said the costs of many of the new international efforts is borne largely by grants, and is net positive for the university. International students are a source of income for the UI, with the tuition often borne by governments or institutions.
"We attract a large number of highly qualified graduate students who pay out-of-state tuition plus an additional fee. There's very little cost to UI – grants and faculty bring in money."
There are 850 Indian students on the Urbana campus this fall, according to the International Student and Scholar Services office at the UI.
"When you say UIUC, it's very respected abroad," Khanna said.
The UI also has strong presences in China, South Korea and Singapore, he added.
But Easter said his recent impetus to re-engage came from a visit to Mexico this summer to the National Autonomous University of Mexico, with its main campus in Mexico city.
Easter, who grew up on the Texas border with Mexico, said the Mexican university has been trying to connect with Latinos in the United States, with an effort in Chicago.
On his October trip to India, he visited familiar spaces, meeting with government leaders and signing agreements with five universities in the Mumbai area, as well as a visit with several dozen alumni in Mumbai, but also had "productive" meetings with top corporations.
First among those is the Tata Group, the largest corporation in India, best known here for Tata Motors.
"Tata is also a very successful steel and power manufacturer. They produce the cheapest automobile in the world (the Nano, at about $2,200) but they also own Jaguar and Land Rover," Khanna said. "They would like to do a U.S. version of the Tata automobile."
The Tata Group of 114 companies operates in 85 countries, including the U.S., where it has 30,000 employees, Khanna said.
Easter met with CEO Ratan Tata, and said the first meeting was "promising."
"Obviously, there are a lot of ways we could work with a corporation of this diversity," he said.
Easter's team also met with Reliance Industries, India's second biggest corporation.
Reliance Chairman Mukesh Dhirubhai Ambani is the richest man in Asia and the fourth richest man in the world, Khanna noted.
"They are very big in petrochemicals, and own the largest refinery in the world. There was discussion of partnership, especially with chemical sciences," Khanna said.
Infosys is an information technology services company with headquarters in Bengaluru, India. It has 114,822 employees in 33 countries.
Infosys wants to set up a center at UI and has committed to an investment of $500,000, Khanna said.
The Urbana team also met the Wipro software giant and an agriculture conglomerate, Mahyco.
Easter said the UI's relationship with India began shortly after its 1947 declaration of independence, but warmed and cooled over the years during different administrations.
India aligned itself with the Soviet Union in the end days of the Cold War.
"India is undergoing a re-engagement of our relationship," Khanna said. "We became somewhat disconnected for a long time at the institutional level, but the faculty has always been doing a lot of work there."
Khanna said one UI relationship, with the Indian Institutes of Technology, goes back to 1951. The UI is celebrating the 50th anniversary of G.B. Pant University of Agriculture and Technology, in Pantnagar, India, which it also helped birth.