Lord Bilimoria was recently interviewed by Philip Slater of Forbes, the business news publication, about the state of UK-India relations.  The piece touches on the UK’s changing business relationship with India and the rise of entrepreneurship in both countries, as well as the lessons that the Britain and India can learn from each other.

The article is available here and a full transcript of the interview is below:



Philip Salter: How has Britain’s business relationship with India changed over recent years?

Lord Bilimoria: Whenever I take people around Parliament I show them the mural at St Stephen’s Hall which depicts Sir Thomas Rowe, Britain’s first Ambassador to India, presenting his credentials to the Mughal Emperor Jahangir in 1614. The UK’s relationship with India spans over 400 years and when I was brought up as a child in India anti-colonial and anti-empire sentiment abounded.

Since liberalization in 1991, everything has changed. The Indian economy has opened up and there is now much more mutual respect between Britain and India. The British Council recently conducted a survey of young Indians’ attitudes to different countries called India Matters and, in almost every category, young Indians rank the United States as their destination of choice, with Britain a clear second. British universities, which are some of the best in the world along with those found in the United States, were singled out as one of the most attractive aspects of moving to Britain.

Prime Minister Modi clearly stated that India now looks upon its relationship with Britain as a relationship of equals during his visit to the UK in November 2015. This, in many ways, is terrific as India’s population is 20 times Britain’s, but it demonstrates the UK’s world-beating capabilities in almost every field. It sits at the top table on the world stage and is a global power, with the fifth largest economy in the world in absolute terms.

However, there is no running away from the fact that the whole world is now trying to do business in India. The UK is the largest investor in India and vice versa – with companies like Vodafone , JCB and Molson Coors investing in India and Tata, Jaguar Land Rover, and Tetley investing in the UK – but there is now strong competition between leading economies to do business in India. The UK needs to ensure that it retains its competitive advantage and that the ties between the two countries remain strong.


Salter: Has closing the post-study work visa route damaged the UK-India relationship?

Bilimoria: In my roles as Chancellor of the University of Birmingham, President of UKCISA, and Chairman of the Advisory Board for the Judge Business School at the University of Cambridge, I have seen the damage caused by closing the post-study work visa route to the UK-India relationship.

The number of Indian students coming to the UK has halved in the past few years. The introduction of the post study visa, which I spearheaded in Parliament, made a huge difference in enabling students, and particularly Indian students – one of the largest groups in the UK – to study here. The visa allowed students to earn money to pay off their university fees, which are expensive by Indian standards, and enabled them to gain necessary work experience. It also helped to build bridges between countries, all while allowing the world’s best and brightest to contribute to Britain’s economy.

The British public support allowing talented international students to stay and work after their studies, with 75% of the public backing overseas students being allowed to work here. The Home Secretary’s immigration policies are economically illiterate when it comes to international students. The broad push to reduce immigration at any cost means that opportunities to attract the immigration that the country needs, highly skilled individuals in a variety of fields, such as finance and academia (30% of academics at our best universities like Oxford, Cambridge and Birmingham are foreign born), are missed. It also disregards the huge amount of soft power gained from international students studying in Britain.

Scotland was the first country in the UK to introduce the post-study work visa and MSPs on Holyrood’s Devolution Committee are now calling for the UK Government to reinstate the visa. This is the right step to take. Theresa May and the Home Office’s attitude, typified by decisions to reduce the number of international students studying in the UK and include international students in net immigration figures, is damaging and takes a short term view, rather than the long term view needed to benefit the UK.


Salter: Which countries are the UK’s key competitors in attracting finance and talent from India?

Bilimoria: Without a doubt, the United States is the number one destination for young Indian people and there are now a number of Indians heading huge US companies, including Microsoft, Google, Pepsi, and MasterCard. The United States is also the most attractive overseas study destination for students, with numbers from India growing fast. Other competitors for Indian students are Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Germany. These countries have put in place ambitious strategies to increase the number of international students attending there and, while there are no targets to increase the number of international students studying in the UK, France plans to double the number of their overseas students by 2020. Theresa May’s Australian counterpart has even thanked the Home Secretary for her immigration stance after the number of students attending Australian universities has surged after the implementation of visa streamlining processes and the depreciation of the Australian Dollar.


Salter: Are you seeing a growth in entrepreneurship in India and the UK? If so, which industries/sectors have the most potential for mutual benefit?

Bilimoria: When I first came to the UK in the 1980s entrepreneurship was looked down on, conjuring up images of Del Boy and second hand car salesmen. Margaret Thatcher’s encouragement of entrepreneurship helped to change that and each subsequent government has successfully promoted entrepreneurship in the UK. Now it is cool to be an entrepreneur. The UK has become a lot more aspirational and is one of the most enterprising countries in the world, with London ranked as the second best city in Europe for entrepreneurship.

India unleashed its entrepreneurial talent during its liberalization in 1991, which saw the rise of global Indian companies. India excels in the tech and telecommunications sectors, producing behemoths like Infosys and Air Tel; these sectors, along with the Higher Education sector, show the most potential for economic benefit between the UK and India.


Salter: What do you think the UK can learn from the way business is done in India?

Bilimoria: There is a lot that the UK can learn from India, but one important principle that is now becoming widely emulated in the West is that of Jugaad – an Indian term for an innovative fix or a simple work-around. Professor Jaideep Prabhu of Cambridge Judge Business School has written at length about the benefits of this type of frugal innovation and Jugaad is becoming increasingly more accepted as a legitimate management technique. Companies around the world are beginning to adopt Jugaad to counteract a reduction in research and development costs and to encourage creative, out of the box thinking in order to maximize resources.


Salter: What do you think India can learn from the way business is done in the UK?

Bilimoria: There is no question that Britain is the best country in the world in which to base a business, with an excellent rule of law and justice system. It is renowned for its fairness and is used by businesses around the world as a center for justice and arbitration. London is the number one financial center in the world and has a number of world-class universities right on its doorstep. Cambridge University has more Nobel prizes than any other university in the world – 92 – and the UK is an excellent center of research, producing the third largest number of research papers in the world. The Royal Society represents the pinnacle of scientific achievement and, incidentally, for the first time in history the President of the Royal Society, Sir Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, is Indian. He is also a Nobel Laureate from Trinity College Cambridge.

Britain is a world leader in a number of fields, including in manufacturing, accountancy, law, architecture, design, and creative industries. It represents the best of the best and the Government’s GREAT campaign does an excellent job highlighting this.

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