Russia has been an all-weather partner of India. Unlike, India’s relationship with Russia, India-China relations in the past was marred by strategic mistrust. However, for the past two decades both the countries have been more politically and economically engaged than at any time since the India-China War of 1962.
Economic reforms play an important role in the growth of strategic bilateral and multilateral relationship between Russia, India and China (RIC). Over three decades have passed since China began its economic reforms in 1978; and over two decades since Russia and India embarked on their economic reform programmes. Emerging trends show that these changes have had an impact on the nature of academic collaborations between the three countries.
The relationship between India and Russia, mainly in science and technology, has a long history. According to the Department of Science and Technology of the Ministry of Science and Technology, Government of India  collaborations between India and Russia are primarily in the thrust areas related to Biotechnology and Immunology; Materials Science and Technology; Laser Science and Technology; Catalysis; Space Science and Technology; Accelerators and their Applications; Hydrology; Computer and Electronics; Biomedical Science and Technology; Oceanology and Oceanic Resources and Engineering Sciences; and seven select areas of basic research in science, namely: Mathematics; Applied Mechanics; Earth Sciences; Physics and Astrophysics; Ecology and Environmental Protection; Chemical Sciences and Life Sciences. At present there are seven Joint Indo-Russian Centres of Excellence—five in India and two in Russia--under the bilateral partnership programmes. Apart from the government-led programmes, there are some other recent initiatives that deserve a mention. The Russia-India Biotech Network (RIBN) jointly developed by the Federation of Asian Biotech Associations (FABA) and Russian Biotech Association to enhance collaboration in the biotechnology sector is one example. This platform is expected to bring together the biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies, scientists, university students, etc.
When compared to India-Russia collaborations, research ties between India and China are less strong. However, during the last decade the engagement of Indian institutions with their Chinese counterparts have evolved considerably. As noted by Subbiah Arunachalam and B.Vishwanathan based on Web of Science Data, during the years 2000-07 researchers from India had co-authored 1807 papers. The number of Indo-Chinese papers has steadily increased during this period: from 124 papers in 2000 to 361 in 2007, with Physics being the most prominent area of collaboration. Interestingly in many of the 1807 papers coauthored by the Indian and Chinese scholars there were co-authors from other countries as well. Russia is one of the major collaborating countries with 664 joint papers.
A study by Wen Ke, Zhang Jiuchun, Li Lexuan,Chen Guang, Christina C Melon and Halla Thorsteinsdottir found that health biotechnology is an important area that has seen fruitful collaborations between India and China. The two countries had collaborated in the “Genetics and Heredity” subfield of health biotechnology which involved sequencing the mitochondrial DNA of Indian samples. For this Indian researchers from the Sanjay Gandhi Institute of Medical Sciences in Lucknow collaborated with the Kunming Institute of Zoology in China. This study had found that based on the number of coauthored papers between 1996 and 2009, India is the main developing country that China collaborates in health biotechnology.
An analysis of research collaborations between the RIC countries show that while the increase in the rate of collaborations at various levels between India and Russia has been consistent, India-China collaborations has not been very strong. Although bilateral research collaborations between India and Russia and India and China have been increasing in recent years, this has only been reflected in science and technology and not in social sciences and humanities.
As multiple institutions are involved in bilateral/multilateral research projects, coordinating the joint effort through a single language is important. A study by Jung Cheol Shin, Soo Jeung Lee and Yangson Kim in 2013 titled “Research Collaboration across Higher Education Systems: Maturity, Language Use, and Regional Differences ” had observed that “If a region uses a similar language, shares the same culture, and is tied politically and economically, collaboration within the region is more active”. The RIC countries use different languages and have different institutional structures and different values.
Although the RIC countries have major differences in their political, economic and higher educational systems, they still have some fundamental similarities in their role in the global knowledge system. The three countries with different institutional structures have much to offer; it is only a question of the political priorities of the governments. With the steady internationalization of higher education and research, opportunities for international collaborations will only increase in the future. In order to maximize the benefits, a multilateral consortium of universities could be created as a first step to facilitate researcher-to-researcher academic interactions whereby it is possible to bring together researchers from the three countries to collaborate with targeted actions. What should the concept of such a knowledge network look like?
The proposed network can be visualised from a multilateral knowledge network perspective. As a first step, a discipline-wise research group could be formed on non-strategic areas that could bring together researchers from at least one university from each country. Activities under this initiative should generate a new dynamic as far as the academic relationships between the three countries are concerned. This will certainly nurture academic interactions that is different from the stereotypical academic collaborations existed in the past.
The success of the proposed initiative depends very much on the domestic political support from the member countries. It is time that policy makers in the RIC countries address this issue in a well-planned manner and ensures a favourable environment conducive to fruitful collaborations by breaking down the existing barriers.