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‘Education Pivot in India’s Cooperation with BIMSTEC Countries’

Published: 7th Nov, 2020


It is argued that nurturing the education link within BIMSTEC can play a transformative role in augmenting people-to-people contact and cementing a more fruitful regional connectivity.


  • Education and culture have historically provided essential links of connectivity between India and the member states of BIMSTEC. 
  • The Jataka tales, scriptures, inscriptions, palm-leaf records and accounts of foreign travellers testify to Takshashila, Nalanda and Vikramshila attracting scholars from the region in ancient times.
  • While progress has been achieved—to which India has contributed considerably—there remains plenty of unfulfilled potential.
  • BIMSTEC not only connects South and South-East Asia, but also the ecologies of the Great Himalayas and the Bay of Bengal. With shared values, histories, ways of life, and destinies that are interlinked, BIMSTEC represents a common space for peace and development. For India, it is a natural platform to fulfill our key foreign policy priorities of “Neighbourhood First” and “Act East”.



  • This organization has been very significant for India with the point of view of regional cooperation after the China’s influence in countries around Bay of Bengal, reduction of significance of SAARC after the difference between India and Pakistan.
  • The organization is also relevant to fulfill the political and economic developments through its various East concentrated policies such as Act East policy.
  • India is also leading some of the crucial causes in terms of Counter-Terrorism and Transnational Crime, Transport and Communication, Tourism and Environment and Disaster Management.


  • The Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) is a regional multilateral organization with 7 members.
  • Its members lie in the littoral and adjacent areas of the Bay of Bengal forming a regional unity among the member states.
  • Its members include Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Thailand.
  • It came in existence in 1997 through the Bangkok Declaration.
  • Initially, it was formed with four Member States with the acronym ‘BISTEC’ (Bangladesh, India, Sri-Lanka and Thailand Economic Cooperation). In 1997, Myanmar joined it and in 2004, Nepal and Bhutan became its members.

A significant pivot around Education

  • Since Independence, India became the world’s second-largest provider of higher education and continued to attract students from the BIMSTEC countries.
  • The maximum number of students come from Nepal followed by Bangladesh and Bhutan.
  • Bhutan- Approximately 4,000 Bhutanese students currently study in undergraduate courses in Indian universities. These students are either self-financed or dependent on Indian government scholarships.
  • Bangladesh-“Education for All,” outlined in the Statement of Intent of 7 June 2015, made India and Bangladesh allies in education.A high-level India–Bangladesh Education Dialogue, with representatives from the government, academia and business, promotes strategic institutional partnerships in science, engineering, social sciences, humanities, and gender studies. 
  • Myanmar-In 2012, the then, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Myanmar explored stronger educational cooperation between the two countries. India proposed a new LoC of US$500 million to Myanmar for fostering bilateral linkages, partly to support educational links and assist Myanmar in capacity-building.
  • Nepal-Through the Indian embassy in Kathmandu, India provides around 3,000 scholarships/seats annually to Nepalese nationals, for studying at plus-2 level, as well as for undergraduate and postgraduate courses in engineering, medicine, agriculture, pharmacology, veterinary sciences, computer application, business administration, music, and fine arts.
  • Sri-Lanka- “India-Sri Lanka Knowledge Initiative”was launched following Sri Lankan President MahindaRajapaksa’s visit to India during 8–11 June 2010. India offered Sri Lanka the use of its satellites for societal services.
  • Thailand-By 2017–18, the Government of India was offering 75 scholarships to Thai students under its various schemes. Additionally, there are Thai students who fund their own studies in India.

A better cooperation is needed

  • BIMSTEC was conceived as a regional grouping to “provide a fertile ground for cooperation” and be “a source of sharing and learning among members of the group, for which educational cooperation remains the sine qua non.
  • Unfortunately, a viable and effective mechanism is yet to be developed for cooperation between the BIMSTEC nations within a regional framework.
  • India could start a new initiative for education cooperation within the region, drawing lessons from the bilateral education relationships that already exist within the group.
  • New Delhi could begin regarding BIMSTEC as an alternative to SAARC whose progress is stalled by tensions involving Pakistan.
  • This is particularly required at a time when China is seeking to draw in its net four of India’s BIMSTEC’s neighbouring partners—Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar and Sri Lanka. 
  • It was perhaps in this context of this perceived necessity for India to provide a leadership to the organization.
  • New Delhi must recognise this and take corrective measures, so that the current share of 47,427 foreign students among the 37.4 million enrolled students in the country’s higher education sector can be significantly increased, especially from the BIMSTEC countries.

Significance of the cooperation

  • This brief examined trends and mechanisms at the bilateral level to extrapolate the benefits of cooperation amongst the BIMSTEC nations in the area of education, and explore the unfulfilled potential of such linkages.
  • Such educational links will not only contribute to sustainable development in the region but also aid cultural reconnection.
  • The knowledge sharing around education and technology would work well in the favour of India and BIMSTEC as well.
  • In this context, fostering educational cooperation within the BIMSTEC can play a transformative role in enhancing people-to-people contact, as well as creating closer and more constructive regional links.
  • The imperative is to make BIMSTEC a dynamic regional grouping whose successes can produce a multiplier impact on world politics.


 BIMSTEC brings together 1.5 billion people – 21% of the world population, and a combined GDP of over US$ 2.5 trillion. In the view of the current perspective of global protectionism and over-nationalism, this organization can help India to harness the regional potential and to lead the sub-region. Still, a lot more areas are lying ahead for cooperation and mutual benefit with education and culture among one of them. India should be more proactive in helping BIMSTEC address these gaps in the coming years to make it a more dynamic regional grouping.

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