India's decade is about to begin. William Hague needs to make sure Britain has a role to play

He could start by looking at the way the government treats international students


Narendra Modi, a man who began life selling tea on Gujarat railway platform, today presides over the world’s largest democracy with the biggest electoral majority the nation has seen in three decades. The message from modern India is clear: the entrepreneurs are coming.

That George Osborne and William Hague’s two-day trip to the world’s second most populous country has come so soon after the new Prime Minister’s victory is a reassuring sign that the British government takes India’s potential seriously. Now it’s up to British businesses to rise to the challenge.

According to the ONS, the UK now exports £15bn outside the EU compared to £11bn within it, a mirror image of 2011’s figures. But while the numbers are encouraging, they still leave much to be desired.

The UK still exports more to Sweden (a nation of fewer than 10 million) than India, a country that is home to more than one in six of the world’s population. While some may put this down to a recent lull in Indian economic growth, that certainly hasn’t stopped Germany (who's exports to India are more than double the UK's) or Switzerland (where they are more than triple).

Read more: Gandhi 'peace' statue will be erected in London (so why was the announcement made the day after UK signs £250m arms deal with India?)

As the Modi administration hacks away at the overregulation that has traditionally strangled growth, it will be paving the way for the rise of an emerging market superpower to rival even China. British firms need to recognise that if they don’t act now they are sure to be left behind.

What frustrates me is that so much of the work has already been done to pave the way for greater cooperation between our two countries. India, after all, is a nation where English is widely spoken and cricket is the national pastime.

Growing up in India “Made in Britain” was the ultimate mark of quality. This is a message that still resonates with many modern Indians, and not without reason. Britain boasts excellence in just about every field, from engineering to aerospace, automobiles to architecture, opera to accountancy. 

Nor is this excellence limited to London alone; Cambridge is a world-class hub for technology, Nissan’s Sunderland assembly plant is the largest in the UK and my own business, Cobra Beer, brews its larger in partnership with Molson Coors at the nation’s largest brewery in Burton upon Trent.

I spend a good deal of time travelling around Britain, meeting entrepreneurs who are continuing Britain’s proud legacy of innovative business. But, while their quality is beyond question, I always feel a twinge of disappointment at how few hands go up when I ask how many of them have considered expanding to India.

British businesses need to have the ambition to think of their commercial potential on a global scale. We have a unique opportunity to provide the infrastructure and services that India will need as it’s economic machinery gathers momentum, and in a world where the balance of commercial power is shifting it could be the key to ensuring that Britain maintains its seat at the top table of the world.

Of course, the onus is not on the private sector alone to lead the march of Anglo-Indian economic co-operation. And while the Chancellor’s trip to India is an important statement of intent for the UK economy, he would do well to look closer to home if he truly wishes to foster greater links with the sub-continent.

British universities are one of our nation’s greatest assets. Institutions like Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial, LSE and Birmingham (of which I am proud to have recently been appointed Chancellor) are standard bearers for UK excellence the world over. Yet, last year for the first time in our nation’s history, the number of overseas students in UK higher education dropped. That includes as 25 per cent fall in the number of Indians being educated in British universities.

The coalition government, pursuing its simplistic target of reducing UK immigration to the “tens of thousands” while continuing to include students in net immigration statistics, has had a large part to play in this shift. According to an NUS poll this year, 51 per cent of international students feel the UK government to be unwelcoming. It’s a worrying state of affairs.

Action that could be taken immediately is the reintroduction of the post-study work visa – shamefully scrapped by the government several years ago. I fought for the legislation's introduction hoping it would help Britain's universities not only to attract the brightest and best, but to keep them in the UK. That work is now swiftly being undone. 

Yet it is not just Indian scientists, mathematicians, engineers and doctors, that Britain's economy needs, it needs the friendships that universities forge. As someone who was born in India and came to Britain to study I know first hand that the international bonds of friendship that one forms at university can last generations. The US educates more world leaders than any other nation. This automatically gives those nations a powerful link with the US. We should be fostering those same links through our own foreign students.

We are on the brink of India’s decade, let’s just hope that the Chancellor will be the first of many Britons touching down in Delhi to make sure the UK has a central role to play.

Lord Bilimoria is chairman of Cobra Beer, a member of the Prime Minister of India’s Global Advisory Council and founding chairman of the UK-India Business Council.

Read next: Is Ian Thorpe gay? Does anyone care?
Even when it brutalises one of its own teenage citizens, America is helpless against Israel
I recall the rumours of child abuse in Westminster in the 1980s. They weren’t taken very seriously  

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Engineering Project Manager

£35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is going through a period o...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Software Developer - Java

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This award-winning digital publishing solution...

Austen Lloyd: Construction Solicitor - City

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: NON-CONTENTIOUS (0-2 PQE) - A rare opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Financial Analyst

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Financial Analyst is required to join...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Numbers of rapes reported to police have soared by almost one-third over the last year  

At last, the DPP are confronting some toxic rape myths with their new guidelines

Sian Norris

Fighting Ebola: When I'm home, I'll be able to touch people again - it's something you miss here

Catherine Mahony
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness