Foto frå delegasjonreise til India
Professor Ashok Jhunjhunwala fortel den norske delegasjonen om innovasjon ved IITMRP. Framme: ekspedisjonssjef Anne Line Wold og ambassadør til India, Hans Jacob Frydenlund. Foto: Karoline Opåsen, Diku

Research collaboration with Indian researchers may soon be a reality for Western Norway Research Institute, following the institute’s recent participation on an official, Norwegian delegation visit to India. One of the institute’s IT researchers, professor Rajendra Akerkar, travelled to New Delhi and Chennai in February, making new academic contacts.

The delegation trip was organised by The Ministry of Education and Research, The Research Council of Norway and Diku – Norwegian Agency for International Cooperation and Quality Enhancement in Higher Education. The invitation was extended widely to Norwegian research and education institutions, and both Western Norway Research Institute (WNRI) and Western Norway University of Applied Sciences took part, along with universities such as the University of Tromsø and NTNU.

The visit started on 3 February in New Delhi with a reception at the Norwegian Embassy and ended on 6 February in Chennai, India’s 4th largest city, formerly known as Madras.

Reconnecting with India

Professor Rajendra Akerkar, the head of WNRI’s big data research, is of Indian origin. However, having spent nearly three decades working abroad, at universities in Asia, Europe, and North America, quite a few years have has passed since he last cooperated with researchers at Indian academic institutions. Therefore, this opportunity to establish new connections was of great interest, both to him and the institute, which seeks to expand its international networks in various fields.

Foto av Rajendra Akerkar og ambassadøren
Rajendra Akerkar with Hans Jacob
Frydenlund, Norway's Ambassador to India.

Meeting Indian counterparts was an important objective for the delegation visit, and the participants were assisted both by the organisers and by the Norwegian Embassy in India in contacting relevant institutions. Whilst several memorandums of understanding (MoUs) between Norwegian institutions and Indian counterparts were signed during the visit, WNRI participated with an open agenda – yet on the lookout for potential research partners.

Hoping for relevant calls

An academic programme comprised the core of the visit, the programme echoing the goals for research and higher education in “Norway – India 2030”, the Norwegian Government’s strategy for cooperation with India. Research topics covered included smart cities, sustainable societies, renewable energy, climate, and oceans – topics that, while highly relevant to WNRI at the institute level, are not directly overlapping with Rajendra Akerkar’s research.

Still, the visit was very useful to WNRI. “Being there provided me with an understanding of what goes on in the various academic fields, as well as an overview of who does what, both in Norway and in India. I managed to make some new contacts and reconnected with some old contacts,” Rajendra says. He is hopeful that the Research Council of Norway and the European Commission will release relevant calls to encourage future research collaboration with Indian partners.


Found interesting partners in Chennai

In his search for research partners with a matching or complementary competence, Rajendra found particularly promising opportunities in Chennai’s IIT, one among the foremost institutes of national importance in higher technological education: the Robert Bosch Centre for Data Science and Artificial Intelligence (RBC-DSAI). The centre was established in August 2017, with the aim of becoming an internationally renowned centre for data science research and artificial intelligence. Presentations of ongoing research were exchanged. “The Robert Bosch Centre does cutting-edge research in the same fields as us. They do joint research for big industries and collaborate with US universities and companies”, Rajendra recounts.

Another visit that stands out, was the day spent at IIT Madras Research Park, with several start-ups and research labs. The delegation met with the famous professor Ashok Jhunjhunwala, a pioneer in bringing industry and universities together.

Anders-Johan, the managing director of WNRI, is hopeful that the week Rajendra Akerkar spent in India will yield future collaboration in the field of technology and society: “Western Norway Research Institute has a history of international research collaboration. The delegation visit to India is of great use to us, both in strategic and academic terms. It is a step on the way to expanding our international and national networks and to achieve the overall aim of establishing new, large research projects in coming years”.

Foto av deltakarar på delegasjonreise til India
Collaboration with India is of high priority to Norway, and during the delegation visit to Chennai and New Delhi in February, several Norwegian universities and research institutes signed memorandums of understanding.