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March 01, 2013

Weaving a Sustainable Web between Canada and India   Feb 7 and 8, 2013


The one day and half Symposium sponsored by the Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute in collaboration with Simon Fraser University (SFU) in Vancouver, British Columbia. Canada provided a unique opportunity for the Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute and its members in BC to showcase excellence in academic and institutional partnerships, collaborative research and youth engagement between Canada and India.

The event gathered a diversity of young and senior researchers as well as partners such as community workers and library experts to discuss the challenges and opportunities involved in strengthening partnerships between Canadian and Indian universities.

Further to the words of welcome by Dr. Bilkis Vissandjee and Dr. Craig Janes, co-chairs, Ms. Janice Larson, Executive Director for the BC Ministry of Advanced Education, Innovation and Technology; Dr. Randall Martin, Executive Director of BC Council for Advanced Education and Mr. Ravi Aisola, Consulate General for India in Vancouver proceeded with selected remarks highilighting the effective relationships established over the years between members universities in BC and the Shastri Institute.

Student mobility was the forefront topic addressed throughout the Symposium, illustrating successful partnership stories. As a matter of fact, the academic year 2010-2011 marked the presence of 2,800 students from India in BC’s universities, making India the number 8 source of international students in the province, notwithstanding the several educational arrangements, partnerships and memorandum of understanding between the province of British Columbia and selected states in India. One of the highlights was the 2011 BC Trade Mission when an MOU was signed between the BC Ministry of Education and the advanced education in with the State of Punjab.

The opening evening reception featured Dr. John O’Neil as a keynote speaker and an awardee of the 2012 Shastri Kanta Marwah Lecture Series. This award is considered an important vehicle to promote dialogue on issues of strategic significance to India-Canada. Honoring Dr. O’Neil with this lecture award was mainly linked to his extensive work involvement in India. Among his multiple contributions, along with a diversity of partners, he is known for his seminal work addressing the culturally complex context of traditional sex workers and HIV/AIDS in rural India particularly in Manipal and Nagaland. Dr. O’Neil illustrated in his presentation selected challenges faced by government and NGOs in India to sustainably prevent and treat HIV/AIDS.

Before holding his current position as the Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences at SFU, Dr. O’Neil was Director of the Manitoba First Nations Centre for Aboriginal Health Research and Professor and Head of the Department of Community Health Sciences in the University of Manitoba’s Faculty of Medicine.

Dr. Shanthi Johnson, Vice President and President Elect of the Shastri Institute gave an overview of the Institute’s achievements in promoting academic collaboration between Canada and India as well as the Institute’s strategies in reaching out to key stakeholders in Canada and India. Dr. Johnson noted that part of the strategies to move forward is engaging MPs, Minsters, Diplomatic players and the diaspora in continuous discussion.

The evening reception provided a platform for networking between the Shastri executives and the BC stakeholders. In this regard, Mr Ravi Aisola highlighted the convergence between the mandates of the Government of India and that of the Institute’s in terms of strengthening India-Canada academic and institutional relations.

On Friday Feb. 8, three sessions were held building on the Institute’s strengths over the years: Canada-India Student and Faculty Mobility; Canada-India Information Exchange and Networking and Canada-India Building Sustainable Partnerships. Each session highlighted the contribution of Shastri’s alumni from each member Institution: Simon Fraser University, University of Fraser Valley, University of British Columbia, University of Victoria and Kwantlen Polytechnic University. Various achievements demonstrating the added value and importance of Canada-India relations were featured with case studies and other forms of illustrations.

The richness in the diversity from each member university enhanced the outcomes of this Symposium. The discussions reinforced Shastri’s niche areas in promoting excellence through Student and Faculty Mobility; Youth Internship; Institutional Partnership and Promoting the Study of Canada and India.

The Canada-India information Exchanges and Networking session used the current networking communication opportunities, such as skype. Ms Jana, the Library program Officer from the Shastri India Office, provided an overview of the two library programs managed by the Institute: the Canadian Studies Library Program funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada (DFAIT) and the India Studies Library Program funded by the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) – Government of India. The audience in Vancouver applauded this initiative.

This panel discussed the relatively high demand and use of the India Studies and language materials in each member institution as well as the needs and expectations of Canadian students and scholars to use the material in an electronic format, with remote access from their home or office. Selected recommendations included:

  • Strengthening both the Canadian Studies and India Studies Library Programmes to move towards electronic access materials for scholars in both countries;
  • Creating an online India-Canada expert directory as well as access to references (online publications and course materials when possible).

The concluding plenary session summarized the one and half-day discussions, lessons learnt and the way to move forward. The following are the highlighted selected overall recommendations:

  • To hold a Shastri-BC-India Table where Shastri Alumni involved in research in India meet on a yearly or bi-yearly basis to discuss specific theme. Participants were enthusiastic that Shastri members Institutions should and could take the lead in organizing such initiatives and inviting local organizations focusing on India – Canada relationships;
  • To host an India Studies conference in Canada and bring together academics of the province;
  • To strengthen relationships with funding agencies such as CIHR, SSHR, IDRC, NSERC;
  • To engage the BC government in examining further exchanges with India in areas of trade and innovation.

For more details about the program, please visit this link: Symposium_Program.pdf

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