India center on U’s radar

Than Tibbetts

Emerging connections in India and Southeast Asia have University professors and officials talking about opening a center to improve relationships with India.

The proposed India center would facilitate connections between Minnesota and India in both the academic and business worlds, said Kumar Belani, an anesthesiology professor who coordinated a delegation to India and Southeast Asia last month.

Although an India center is still in the preliminary planning stage, Belani said, the center likely would be modeled after the University’s China Center, which was founded in 1979 to facilitate the University’s and state’s relationship with China.

Hong Yang, director of the University’s China Center, said many aspects of the China Center could be copied to an India center.

The China Center reaches out to businesses and corporate partners in the state, he said, and helps them to establish connections in China. In return, the companies help fund the center. It is a “win-win program,” he said.

“India’s economy is very booming,” Yang said. “It would help to tap into University talents and faculty to work with Minnesota business communities to ride the momentum.”

Having both centers would mean the University would have entities dedicated to fostering relationships with the two most populous countries.

Also, more students come to the University from China and India than any other countries in the world. The top six countries on that list are all in South or Southeast Asia, according to the Office of Institutional Research and Reporting.

Belani said the emergence of India as a major force in the world economy and the increasing number of Indians in Minnesota would make the center an important asset.

Belani said that when he came to the United States in 1976, he would stop fellow Indians on the street just to say hello.

“Back then you’d hardly see any Indians here,” he said. “Now many of them (have) graduated from here and set up businesses.”

Ranjan Dumra, an accountant manager for a financial services company, said that because the population of Indians in Minnesota is growing, it is a good idea to understand one another better and to learn about one another’s cultures.

“There’s a lot of knowledge exchange than can occur,” he said. “The University that reaches out early will definitely benefit from exchange of ideas, trade, travel and of course, human resources.”

Belani and Dumra both pointed out that India’s colonization under British rule left behind one important thing; the English language. This provides an advantage over other countries, Dumra said, with English being the language of business.

“Basically there is a need for high-tech people in Minnesota and some of the Indians are fulfilling that need,” Dumra said. “Minnesota is a very stable ” not a fly-by-night ” state.”

Yang pointed out another aspect of an India center that would help the University achieve University President Bob Bruininks’ goal of becoming one of the top-three public research universities in the world ” a global presence.

“We’ve got to go global, we have to position ourselves,” he said. “You can’t ignore China, India and maybe Brazil, as well.”