Tom McEnaney in Bangalore THREE Irish colleges have signed formal agreements with Indian educational establishments on the first day of the trade mission to the sub-continent.
One of the key aims of the mission, which includes representatives from 17 Irish colleges and institutes of education, is to deepen the ties with India with a view to encouraging a greater number of Indian students to study in Ireland.
Education Minister Mary Hanafin was in Bangalore to witness the formal signing of the agreements and is expected to officiate at four more such agreements before the end of this week. Ms Hanafin is accompanied on Ireland's first trade mission to India by Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, Enterprise minister Michael Martin and Tourism minister John O'Donoghue on a six-day mission which will take in the cities of Bangalore, New Delhi and Mumbai.
Ms Hanafin said that in the coming days she and her colleagues intend to sign two agreements with the Indian government, one to foster cultural cooperation between the two countries and one to encourage greater links in science and technology.
Ms Hanafin is due to meet her Indian counterpart Shri Arjun Singh later this week.
Only a very small number of Indian students choosing to study abroad opt for Ireland, in part because of difficulty securing visas. Some Indian students complain of not receiving a visa even having paid their college fees.
The Irish Government is attempting to alleviate this problem by seconding four officials from the Department of Justice to the Irish Embassy in New Delhi. It is also opening 10 regional centres as the first point of contact for visa applicants.
TCD, UCD Smurfit School of Business and Dublin Business School signed formal cooperative agreements yesterday with the National Centre for biological Research, the Indian Institute of Management and T. John College respectively.
Trinity also announced that it is to open a permanent office in New Delhi to facilitate Indian students who may wish to take up a place at Trinity.
John Hegarty, the provost of Trinity, is the only head of an Irish university taking part in the trade mission. He said that 7pc of the students enrolled at Trinity are from outside Ireland but that the college hopes to increase that by at least 50pc.
Ms Hanafin said the Government wants to increase the number of students pursuing PhDs in Ireland from 4,000 to 12,000 and to increase the research positions from 7,000 to 15,000.
In her speech to the assembled representatives from Irish and Indian colleges yesterday, Ms Hanafin referred to "India and Ireland's shared experience of imperialism" which, she said, meant that there were many similarities between Ireland and India.
Mr Hegarty said that in the 19th century Trinity, which was one of the colleges used by the British government to train civil servants for work in India, even had a professor of Sanskrit.