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

Share

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

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

Ashdown Group: Account Payable Assistant - SW London

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Account Payable Assistant - SW Londo...

Recruitment Genius: Bathroom Showroom Customer Service / Sales Assistant

£14560 - £17680 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Even though their premises have...

Recruitment Genius: Finance Manager

£44000 - £48000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Marketing company based in cent...

Recruitment Genius: IT Installation / Commissioning Engineer - North West

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An IT Installation / Commission...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

If I were Prime Mininster: I would legislate for abortion on demand and abolish VAT on sanitary products

Caroline Criado-Perez
 

Election catch-up: Just what the election needs – another superficially popular but foolish policy

John Rentoul
Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence