Remarks at the opening of Internet2/NKN Partnership Discussion

Centre for e-Governance
Department of Electronics and IT, Govt. of India
6 CGO Complex, Lodi Road
New Delhi, India
March 20, 2014

Introduction

Thank you very much Dr. Chidambaram1 for that kind introduction and for hosting us today. It is good to see you again and on behalf of the Internet2 delegation, I want to express our thanks for your strong support for the partnership between Internet2 and India’s National Knowledge Network (NKN) that we celebrate today.

Thank you, too, Secretary Satyanarayana2 and Professor Raghavan3, for your support as well.

I am very pleased to be back in India, which is such a dynamic country with such an extraordinary history, and which is of such central importance in the world today.

I know that we will all watch in awe next month as the world’s largest democracy votes in an election that dwarfs all others will 800 million eligible voters. It will be a further remarkable testimony to the vibrancy of Indian democracy.

On behalf of Internet2, let me say how much we appreciate the opportunity to collaborate with the NKN.

And I am honored to be here with leaders from a number of India’s finest universities as well as leaders and technologists from institutions in the U.S.

I should add that I was last in India in 2011 with an Indiana University delegation. We were here to extend and expand Indiana University’s partnerships and exchanges with a number of Indian universities, including the Indian Institute of Management Lucknow; the University of Hyderabad; and O.P. Jindal Global University.

In fact, our partnerships with Indian institutions of higher education have grown so robustly and successfully that, last year, we opened our first international gateway office, which I visited earlier this week. The IU India Gateway Office, centrally located in Gurgaon, now serves as a home base for IU activities in this country. This reflects our long-term commitment to our partnership with India.

Our office is also co-located with the American Institute of Indian Studies, an NGO run by a consortium of U.S. colleges and universities that is a vital resource for American researchers and scholars studying aspects of India, ancient and modern.

The office includes a state-of-the-art videoconferencing facility—technology that is essential in fostering the international collaboration that is the core mission of our Gateway Office, and those in other countries, which we will soon be opening.

The Gateway Office supports scholarly research and teaching, international study and distance learning, business partnerships, alumni events, and other activities.

I should add that IU has more than 3,600 Indian alumni, and that number continues to grow. IU’s Bloomington campus ranks 10th in the U.S. in terms of the number of international students, with over 1000 Indian students, and 5th in terms of the number of undergraduate students who study abroad every year. We have seen the number of IU students studying in India triple over the last five years.

A Presidential Perspective on Globalization, Research and Education

It is truly a pleasure to be here today, though, in my capacity as chair of the Board of Trustees of Internet2, to celebrate what I know will rapidly become an extremely productive partnership between Internet2 and the National Knowledge Network.

I was, for many years, a member of the international networking community and gave many networking and IT talks to meetings all over the world that, of course, reflected the perspective of a chief information officer, as I then was.

But my perspective on IT and networking now entering my eighth year as president of a university with a $3 billion budget, 115,000 students and 20,000 faculty and staff, as well as being partners in a $5 billion hospital system, has, frankly, evolved a great deal.

So, this morning, I would like to say a few words, from a presidential perspective, about how globalization has changed—and is changing—research and education, and why advanced information communication technologies are so critical in this changing environment. I will also say a few words about why the United States and India are critical partners, and how this new partnership between Internet2 and the NKN—and the increased connectivity that it will bring—has the potential to make an enormous positive impact in higher education as well as in big data research, and in many other areas.

The United States And India: Critical Partners

Let me first say that the United States and India—the world’s oldest and largest democracies—are vital partners in everything I will discuss today.

As President Barack Obama said in addressing a joint session of the Indian Parliament here in Delhi in 2010: “it is my firm belief that the relationship between the United States and India—bound by our shared interests and our shared values—will be one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century.”4

President Obama went on to discuss some of the many ways our two countries can build upon the progress they have made, and the ways in which we can realize the full potential of our partnership—in his words—“not just in one or two areas, but across many; not just for our mutual benefit, but for the benefit of the world.”5

The partnership we celebrate today between Internet2 and the NKN is just such a partnership, as it will have substantial and wide-ranging impact across many areas for our mutual benefit and for the benefit of the world.

The Impact of Globalization on Research and Education

As all of you are very much aware, the proliferation of information and communication technologies has advanced at an unprecedented speed. These technologies, of course, have caused some of the oldest obstacles to human interaction—language barriers, geographic separation, limited information—to fall, and they have given rise to a new era of human creativity.

Of course, as a university president, I try to view everything that we do through the prism of what have been the fundamental missions of higher education from the earliest days of the most ancient universities, the oldest of which were established right here in India over 25 centuries ago! These missions are:

  • the creation of knowledge (research & innovation),
  • the dissemination of knowledge (education & learning), and
  • the preservation of knowledge (information repositories)—a mission which, though it receives less attention than the first two, is one of vital importance to the academic enterprise.

And as all of you know, high-speed global computer networks are—or are becoming—fundamental in every one of these areas. They are the means by which international digitally enabled education and research is taking place. It is no exaggeration to say that research and science have become almost totally digital. Data is being generated, collected, processed, analyzed, visualized and stored in digital form. Simulations and modeling are being carried out completely digitally. And the historical and contemporary archives of science, certainly the main material, have been converted fully into digital form. 

At the same time, science has become completely international in character. In the academy, scholarship and research in just about every discipline from anthropology to zoology is truly international—a process, of course, hugely accelerated by the Internet. There is, in general, no such thing as American anthropology or Indian zoology—just anthropology and zoology (though there may be contending schools of theory and analysis within these disciplines).

This scholarship and research takes place within a global research or scholarly environment where it is, in general, facts and reason that determine progress, not national origin. Hence, the quality of the programs and research at universities is determined by the quality of the faculty and students who contribute to them, and they can come from anywhere in the world. And fundamental to research, especially in the sciences, is collaboration, whether it be two co-authors on opposite sides of the world, or a group of thousands from dozens of countries working with some major experimental facility, most famously for example, the CERN particle accelerator in Geneva, but this is only the most visible of hundreds of such facilities.

I said a moment ago that research and science have become completely international in character. The same is certainly true of education. There is no area of education that has not been affected by internationalization. It is true of research because the Internet has dissolved the boundaries of space and allowed it to become truly international, but it is also true of education where the international dimension of education in almost any field has become essential.

And education is becoming truly international with universities establishing campuses and other facilities all over the world—like the IU India Gateway Office and the facility the University of Chicago will open soon—with many degrees now requiring some international component, with the rise of 2+2 and similar degrees, with global collaborative courseware platforms, with instruction becoming multilateral and virtual—and with all of this fuelled, in part, with ubiquitous very high quality video conferencing and telepresence technologies.

The Critical Importance Of Advanced ICTs

In this new environment, then, it is clear that advanced information and communication technologies are absolutely essential for education and research around the globe.

Moreover, as the Global Information Technology Report, issued last year by the World Economic Forum, notes: 

“Information and communication technologies (ICTs) …are increasingly recognized as a key source of innovation that can generate increased economic growth and new sources of high-value-added jobs. This ability to innovate,” the report continues, “is essential in the current information revolution that is transforming economic and social transactions in our societies.”6

From the perspective of a university president, then, one of my primary concerns is that faculty, students, and staff have available to them the infrastructure that will allow them to work at the most sophisticated level and to collaborate effectively with colleagues from all over the world.

In fact, it is impossible to imagine a college or university of any size operating effectively today without such infrastructure.

And, as the 2009 report, ICTs for Higher Education, from the UNESCO World Conference on Higher Education pointed out, applications of ICTs are particularly powerful but also uncontroversial in higher education’s research function.

As you know, there are a number of reasons for this. The steady increases in bandwidth and computing power available today have made it possible to conduct complex calculations and analysis on massive distributed data sets.

Improved communication links make it possible, as I have already noted, for research teams to be spread across the world instead of concentrated in a single institution.

The combination of communications and digital libraries has helped to equalize access to academic resources, which greatly enriches research possibilities for smaller universities and those outside large cities.

For example, on Tuesday, I saw a wonderful digitization project at the American Institute of Indian Studies at Gurgaon. They are creating a digital repository of tens of thousands of unique images of thousands of years of extraordinary Indian architecture, and of thousands of recordings of ancient Indian vocal and instrumental music.

Moreover, taking full advantage of these trends to create new dynamics in research requires national policies for ICTs in higher education and the establishment of joint information systems linking all higher education institutions—which, of course, is the aim of the Internet2/NKN partnership. And, as you know, high bandwidth is a key priority in this endeavor as it allows IT resources anywhere on the globe to be aggregated and linked together.

The Partnership Between Internet2 And The National Knowledge Network

I spoke a moment ago about the nature of global collaboration among scientists around the world. In the coming decades, we can certainly expect to see collaboration between American and Indian scientists greatly increase as a result of the partnership between Internet2 and the NKN.

Research using so called “big data” will also be accelerated. As a computer scientist with a background in artificial intelligence, high-performance computing, and networking, the prospect of harnessing big data and using it for applications in the physical and social sciences has been a research interest of mine for over 20 years. And it is no secret to any of you that the analysis of “big data” is becoming a key basis of competition. Nor will it come as a surprise to you that big data analysis has the potential to underpin new waves of productivity growth and innovation.

I have already mentioned some of the ways the Internet2/NKN partnership has the potential to substantially change education in both countries, but there are many, many more.

As the 2012 report from Nesta, the UK’s innovation foundation, noted, if India is to harness “the potential of its human capital for research and innovation… qualitatively different models of higher education are required, which maximize the opportunities of new technologies and experiment with new approaches.”7

The Internet2/NKN partnership will greatly expand connectivity and will help to maximize those opportunities and innovative approaches in higher education. This partnership will allow laboratories to be used in the most optimal way, and it will facilitate distributed classrooms, which will increase opportunities for students in both countries to learn from the best educators.

This partnership will also help to make quality open educational resources created in the U.S. and India more readily available to students in both countries, and thus has the potential to help bring down the cost of education.

Our two countries will also be better able to share best practices in areas ranging from the governance of educational institutions to pedagogy to student evaluation methods.

The advanced networking partnership between Internet2 and NKN truly has the potential to have an enormous impact in a wide range of areas in both of our countries, including agriculture, public health, the arts and humanities, business, and in many, many more fields of endeavor.

Conclusion

Once again, let me say on behalf of the Internet2 delegation, how pleased we are to be here today and how excited we are about the prospects for this partnership.

I will close this morning with some words shared by Kapil Sibal, India’s minister of Communications & IT and Law & Justice, who I met with here two years ago, during the second India-U.S. Higher Education Dialogue, in which I also had the pleasure of participating in 2012.

In his opening remarks, Minister Sibal, then-minister of Human Resource Development, noted that as we moved into the second year of the higher education dialogue, we were “mov(ing) away from the spacious highways of collaboration to the dedicated corridors of connectivity."8

Today, as we celebrate this advanced networking partnership between Internet 2 and the National Knowledge Network, we, too, move from the spacious highways of collaboration to the dedicated corridors of connectivity.

May the connections that are made in those dedicated corridors lead to innovations that will enhance the quality of life for people in both our countries and around the world.

Thank you very much.

Source Notes

  1. Dr. Rajagopala Chidambaram, Principal Scientific Advisor to the Government of India
  2. Shri J. Satyanarayana, Secretary of Electronics and Information Technology, Government of India
  3. Professor S.V. Raghavan, Scientific Secretary in the Office of the Principal Scientific Advisor, Government of India; Chief Architect of the National Knowledge Network.
  4. Remarks by Barack Obama to the Joint Session of the Indian Parliament in New Delhi, India, delivered November 8, 2010, Accessed March 10, 2014, URL: http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2010/11/08/remarks-president-joint-session-indian-parliament-new-delhi-india
  5. Ibid.
  6. Beñat Bilbao-Osorio, Soumitra Dutta, and Bruno Lanvin, (eds.) “The Global Information Technology Report 2013: Growth and Jobs in a Hyperconnected World,” (World Economic Forum, 2013), v.
  7. Kirsten Bound & Ian Thornton, “Our Frugal Future: Lessons from India’s Innovation System,”, July 2012, www.nesta.org.uk
  8. Opening Statement of Minister for Human Resource Development Mr. Kapil Sibal at the U.S.-India Higher Education Dialogue, Embassy of India, Web, accessed March 10, 2014, URL: https://www.indianembassy.org/archives_details.php?nid=1826