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For Canada's universities, India offers a role on a global stage

That 2011 is the Year of India in Canada is a fact not lost on Canadian universities, many of which are ramping up efforts to play a larger part in serving India's skyrocketing demand for higher education.

Canada has lagged behind its Western counterparts in forging educational ties with India. But bolstered by the perceived success of a visit undertaken by 15 university presidents last November, many schools have begun the slow process of deepening ties with the emerging power.

A groundbreaking is scheduled for next month in the central city of Hyderabad on York University's long-held plans to build the first "full-fledged" Canadian campus on Indian soil.

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On Thursday, the university's Schulich School of Business will sign a formal agreement with Indian developer GMR Group to establish facilities and residences for some 320 students, both Indian and international, to open in the fall of 2013. GMR is spending $25-million to build the campus as part of a $500-million commercial and community development near the city's airport, but Schulich will operate the school.

"For Canadian schools to really be competitive, they must be part of the global competition and marketplace," said Deszo Horvath, dean of the Schulich School. "The money we are receiving from student fees ... will be used to hire more faculty."

On Tuesday, the University of Regina announced it has signed a memorandum of understanding with India's Karunya University to offer a joint degree in kinesiology to up to 30 Indian students each year, with two years taught in each country.

"It is a very small beginning for us," said University of Regina president Vianne Timmons, noting that Saskatchewan has a booming economy but declining domestic enrolment.

Of 160,000 Indian students studying abroad in 2008, fewer than 4,000 were in Canada.

Representatives of Simon Fraser University and the University of Winnipeg visited India early this year, and the latest such voyage from Carleton University president Roseann O'Reilly Runte set the stage for a pair of Canada-India summits on education and innovation later this month, hosting vice-chancellors from Indian universities.

Carleton signed the two newest of its 15 partnerships with India in February, and will soon open a Canada-India Centre for Excellence in Science, Technology, Trade and Policy.

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Dr. Runte said Carleton has no plans to follow York in establishing a campus in India, but described her school's efforts as "just the tip of the iceberg."

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