That we live in a tech-driven era is a given. In his address to the Royal University of Bhutan in 2019, His Majesty the King of Bhutan had underscored the importance of leveraging technology for education, job creation, public service delivery and good governance. Similarly at a webinar on Technology-Enabled Development in March 2022, the Prime Minister of India had emphasized the critical role of technology as a medium to empower the people of the country for achieving the goal of ‘Atmanirbharta’ or self-reliance.
It isn’t a coincidence that our leaders have articulated similar views, echoing the importance of technology in human life.
This spirit of engagement with a focus on new and emerging technologies was also evident in the summer of August 2019 when Prime Minister Narendra Modi had paid a state visit to Bhutan. While the visit had witnessed several milestones, the signature of MOUs in the area of STEM between the Royal University of Bhutan and the Indian Institutes of Technology at Delhi, Bombay and Kanpur had signalled an intent to move the friendship into newer areas, thereby adding a fresh dimension to the relationship.
In follow-up, a record 12 Bhutanese youth have been placed in M.Tech programmes at different Indian Institutes of Technology over the last two years, without the requirement of submission of a GATE score, which is ordinarily a mandatory pre-requisite for admission to M.Tech programmes in Indian institutions.
On 21 February 2020, coinciding with the 40th birth anniversary of His Majesty the King, the Prime Minister of India had also introduced the annual India-Bhutan Friendship Scholarship for three students at the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur. A total of five Bhutanese students have been awarded this prestigious Scholarship to pursue M. Tech programmes at IIT Kanpur in 2020 and 2021. Three more are in the wings for the Academic Year 2022-23.
The Indian Institutes of Technology are amongst the global best in tech knowledge, practices, techniques and research. Admission is intensely competitive for both the B.Tech and M.Tech programmes, several IIT alumni head the world’s top tech companies in testimony to this excellence. Sundar Pichai from IIT Kharagpur – Google; Arvind Krishna from IIT Kanpur – IBM; Nikesh Arora from IIT BHU – Palo Alto Networks, and Parag Agarwal from IIT Bombay – Twitter, vividly showcase the strength of our IITs as alma maters to engineering and technology wizards.
And just how do the IITs measure up to other engineering institutions? Several amongst them have been listed by the QS World Rankings within the top 200 of all engineering institutions across the globe including IIT Bombay (49), IIT Delhi (54), IIT Kanpur (107) and IIT Roorkee (176), where Bhutanese students are studying at present. No mean feat!
Incidentally, and starting 2022, we have facilitated an increase in the number of ICCR Undergraduate Scholarships available for Bhutanese engineering aspirants from 20 to 25 at some of our leading tech institutions across the country.
Youth engagement has been another focus of our engagement with Bhutan.
While His Majesty the King has stated that youth involvement and support is needed to build on Bhutan’s achievements, the Indian Prime Minister has spoken to the ‘Can Do’ spirit of Indian youth. “It is because of India’s demographic dividend that India has charted global heights in terms of digital payments.”
In sync with this vision of our top leadership, Youth Visit Programmes have been formulated, starting with a batch of students from schools and colleges across Bhutan in September 2019, at the invitation of the Prime Minister of India. This group was exposed to some of our finest tech institutions: ISTRAC, Bengaluru; TERI, Delhi; IIT, Delhi; Infosys and the Nehru Planetarium, both in Bengaluru. Likewise, the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, New Delhi called in four Bhutanese youth leaders in November 2021, as part of a ‘Gen-Next Democratic Network Programme’ alongside youth from Sweden, Jamaica, Tanzania, Sri Lanka, Poland and Uzbekistan.
The latest in this series is the St. Stephen’s College Young Leaders – Fellowship Programme fully sponsored by the Ministry of External Affairs that commenced on 1 March 2022. Bhutanese youth along with their peers from Bangladesh, Maldives, Myanmar Nepal and Sri Lanka have embarked on this 3-month residential programme which has as thrust areas: Leadership and Administration, Public Policy and Law, Education, Environment and Energy.
STEM linkages and Youth connections reflect our commitment to further enhance people-to-people ties between India and Bhutan. We look forward to working closely with the Royal Government and its various institutions, agencies and groups to progress this new area of activity in the bilateral sphere. Importantly, this is not the end but rather a beginning. We remain ready to welcome many more of our Bhutanese friends to study at our top tech institutions across India!
Ambassador of India to Bhutan