Insights from the University of Melbourne study tour to Delhi

Photo Credit: Kamna Muddagouni


New Delhi is a bustling and developing city, filled with unfinished freeways, cranes and the sound of drilling. Whilst initially it can be an overwhelming experience, especially faced with India’s huge population and mass urbanisation, New Delhi’s charm lies with the historical appeal of the city coupled with India’s growing role as a power in the international system.

The University of Melbourne’s one-week intensive Graduate subject ‘Security and Development in South Asia’ situated at the University of Delhi is an invaluable learning experience, providing students with a direct insight into a geopolitical and economically important region. Whilst the subject has an overarching focus on India’s rise in the global system and New Delhi’s regional role in South Asia, the subject also focused on the geopolitical problems, human security issues, environmental and economic concerns that engulf the region, from Dhaka to Colombo, to Islamabad to Kabul.

The study tour to Delhi also encompassed a focus on the influence of China in the South Asian region, and whether this could lead to hostile competition between India and China given historical animosities, or could a partnership be forged between the two Asian giants. A focus on the Sino-Indian relationship also illustrated how competing identities play out in the international arena, and the extent to which Indian and Chinese conceptions of power are at odds with one another. Lastly, studying the South Asian region also included a significant focus on the of role nuclear weapons within the region, particularly in regards to the profoundly fragile relationship between India and Pakistan. The India-China dynamic and the India Pakistan relationship was also analysed within the scope of the United States, and Washington’s pivot to the Asia-Pacific.

The advantage of taking the intensive subject at the University of Delhi was the opportunity to engage with a diversity of perspectives provided by guest lecturers and the local student cohort. The future makeup of guest lecturers will likely change from when I attended the University of Delhi in 2014, but the 2014 lecturers included such prominent individuals as Delhi Policy Group Director General Dr. Radha Kumar, Manpreet Sethi from the Centre for Air Power Studies, and Dr. Ravni Thakur from The University of Delhi.

Future students and graduates interested in new areas for both academic and policy work in the Asian region should look towards South Asia. With India being led by the recently elected Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party, Maithripala Sirisena winning the 2015 Sri Lankan election and China’s increasing presence in the region along with the United States, South Asia should be at the core of our present and future focus.

Finally, for those in Melbourne or visiting Melbourne and looking to study in India, it is thoroughly important to attend one of the many and highly informative talks at the Australia India Institute (AII). Furthermore the AII also recently opened their Delhi based Australia-India Institute which would also be thoroughly beneficial to visit. Lastly from my own experience, travelling around India to both large metropolis’ and smaller towns can provide you with an insight into the complex history of India, the diversity of cultures, belief systems and identities that simultaneously compete with the national narrative.


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Thomas Penfold

Thomas is a Master of International Relations Graduate 2014, The University of Melbourne. He has a significant interest in the South Asian and the South-East Asian region with a particular focus on the role of identity formation, the potential for future conflict in the region, and the effect of corruption and climate change on states in Asia. Thomas’s next adventure will be to Loas in late March to do some semi-paid capacity development work for 12 months.'

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