I am greatly honoured to address this distinguished gathering at the prestigious King Saud University. I recall my days as a university professor very fondly not least because of the opportunity it gave me to interact with inspiring young minds.
I wish to convey my deep appreciation to the King Saud University for conferring an Honorary Doctorate on me. I consider this as an exceptional honour bestowed on me by one of the premier centers of learning in the Arab world.
The University has been in the forefront of building a knowledge society. Its contribution in promoting fundamental human values, academic freedom, learning and innovation has been second to none.
The Arab world has a long intellectual and educational tradition. History tells us that the Arabs translated and preserved teachings from Greece, India and Persia. It is these texts that inspired a mass movement in the field of education during the 12th century which produced great Arab mathematicians, scientists and scholars.
India’s links with Saudi Arabia and the region go back several millennia. There were regular intellectual exchanges in various fields of human study. These linkages influenced our traditions of learning. Over the years, however, these links weakened and we need to revive such exchanges. The confluence of Arab and Asian ideas and culture will help us to rediscover each other and in the process enrich human civilization.
I am aware of the strong interest of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud in the modernization of education infrastructure. We admire his vision for the development of human capital and for promoting a scientific temper among the youth while preserving cultural traditions.
We have a similar vision for the development of education in our own country. Like Saudi Arabia, we too recognize the importance of education in social empowerment and progress. Almost 20% of the total expenditure of our current five year development Plan is earmarked for education. We are establishing 30 new Central Universities, of which half will be conceived as world-class institutions. We have laid equal emphasis on the development of our infrastructure for science and technology education. We have plans to build five more national institutes of science and more Indian Institutes of Technology and Indian Institutes of Information Technology.
We are keen to build our human resources for the next generation. Every year India produces among the largest number of scientists and engineers in the world. We wish to expand India’s knowledge economy and to build world class facilities for research and cutting edge science in the country.
I am happy that India and Saudi Arabia are seeking closer cooperation in the field of higher education. We signed a bilateral agreement for educational cooperation during the visit of His Majesty to India in 2006.
Yesterday His Majesty and I signed the Riyadh Declaration. In this Declaration we have paid special emphasis on the increasing role and importance of youth in consolidating relations between our two countries. We also reaffirmed our common desire to forge greater cooperation in the areas of education, culture, information technology and frontier areas of science and technology.
We would like to see greater number of students in our universities from Saudi Arabia. We are already receiving Saudi students under the prestigious “King Abdullah Scholarship Programme”. These kinds of programmes should be expanded and popularized.
I am happy that the King Saud University has entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with one of the most prestigious institutions in India, the Indian Institute of Science. I hope that this will inspire similar collaborations between other centres of excellence in both countries.
I see many possibilities for cooperation in the area of human capital formation and skill development. We are both countries with young populations and our educational system should be geared to making every student employable. The knowledge economy offers many opportunities for creative young minds and we should collaborate in nurturing them.
I once again thank you for conferring this honour on me. I am continually inspired by the creativity, energy and dynamism of the younger generation. I wish all the students gathered here today good luck and continued success in the noble task of building this great country.