Principal Jan Royall called for a strengthening of ties between Britain and India “in a world in which nativism is on the rise”, with Somerville College playing its part by doubling the number of India scholars.
Speaking at a summer reception for friends of the Oxford India Centre for Sustainable Development, Baroness Royall said relations between the two countries had been long and often bumpy, especially when India beats England at cricket.
She told guests at the House of Lords that there will be 12 India scholars at Somerville College this coming academic year, thanks to the generous support of benefactors. The plan is to raise this number to 20 scholars.
Lord Patten of Barnes, Oxford’s chancellor, who was speaking at the same reception, said that Oxford is a university of the world and India is a part of its future.
As well as nearly 400 Indian students, Oxford has a range of research collaborations with India, Lord Patten added.
In a week marked by sporting success and political turmoil, there was laughter whenever speakers referred to Brexit.
The Indian High Commissioner to the UK, His Excellency YK Sinha said he expects ties to strengthen further when Britain leaves the EU – “if you leave the European Union,” he added.
But he warned against a “uniformly negative” message on immigration which risked deterring students. “The UK should not lose out on its best soft power – education,” he warned.
The Chancellor and Baroness Royall gave special thanks to The Oliver Wyman Group for sponsoring the event, and in particular to Kumar Iyer who was the former British Deputy High Commissioner to India, now visiting academic at Hertford College Oxford and partner at Oliver Wyman.
Guests gathered at the Lords to discuss ties between the two countries included Hemant Sahai, founding partner of HSA advocates; Sarosh Zaiwalla, founder and senior partner of Zaiwalla & Co; and Kusoom Vadgama, founder of the Indo-British heritage trust.
Supporters of the Oxford India Centre were welcomed by Dr Vivek Nanda, the centre’s executive director, the Rt Hon Patricia Hewitt, chair of its advisory board, and Debottam Bose, the centre’s senior adviser.