IITs plan to lure top foreign academics and students

As part of a plan to internationalise the Indian Institutes of Technology or IITs, the country’s top institutions are stepping up efforts to attract top academics from overseas and have agreed a new programme to open up to foreign students, with the aim of luring an additional 10,000 students.

A number of IITs have already been on recruitment trips to Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom to hire faculty. One of the newer institutions, IIT-Ropar in Rupnagar, Punjab, for example, identified potential candidates during a three-nation recruitment tour in May and June. Most were Indian-origin academics looking to “return to their roots”, the institution’s officials said.

Other IITs are also preparing recruitment drives overseas. “We are now putting together teams of officials and academics who will tour Ivy League colleges in the US and offer incentives to attract the best people to come and teach in our institutes,” V Ramgopal Rao, director of IIT-Delhi, told University World News.

Rao said India’s Ministry of External Affairs has been approached to relax visa rules to enable foreign nationals to take up regular teaching jobs at the IITs. “This is not easily possible under present rules,” he said.

IIT sources say the current system requiring approval from both the ministries of External Affairs and Home Affairs can lead to delays of more than six months – in some cases more than a year – in obtaining visas for faculty, which usually leads to foreign faculty candidates turning down the job offer.

Other constraints on attracting overseas faculty include lower salaries and very different work and living environments compared to major Western countries. On the other hand, IITs are involved in many research projects with foreign industry, which is a draw.

Foreign students

The plan to attract foreign academics complements a new programme announced earlier this year to open up the IITs to foreign students from 2017.

The 23 IITs are hoping to enrol some 10,000 overseas students overall, in addition to their normal intake. The IITs have a total enrolment of around 72,000, with plans to increase numbers by 2020, and the proportion of foreign students will be kept under 10% of the total – a figure approved some years ago to increase diversity, though it has never been filled.

“There shall be no reduction in the seats available for students in India while providing admissions to foreign students,” said a memorandum from the Human Resource Development Ministry sent to the IITs in January.

A version of the joint entrance examinations for the institutes will be held in nine countries – Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, Maldives, Singapore, UAE and Ethiopia, with support from Indian diplomatic missions.

According to Rao, the examination for foreign students will be different from the stiff Joint Entrance Examination and the Graduate Aptitude Test in Engineering for post-graduate studies. This is to level the playing field – foreign students are unlikely to have access to the sizeable private coaching industry for IIT entrance exams that has mushroomed in India – only 2% pass the exam and the majority of these have been coached.

An outreach programme for the smooth conduct of the first exam next year has been initiated by IIT-Bombay with support from the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, a branch of the Ministry of External Affairs.

International recognition

Foreign students will not be able to take advantage of the heavily subsidised course fees the IITs offer Indian students but could pay closer to the actual cost of tuition – up to six times more than the current fees of around INR90,000 or US$1,350 annually, according to proposals put forward earlier this year, but which still have to be adopted by the IITs.

Nonetheless, the IITs believe they could be a high-quality low-cost option for foreign students who are unable to secure research or teaching fellowships to support their studies.

Rao believes opening up the IITs will increase international recognition and lead to a better performance in international university rankings. The IITs boast alumni in top academic and business positions all over the world, but they tend to fall down on the internationalisation criteria that are an important measure in the global university rankings indicators.

Overall, the push to internationalise will help build up high-quality capacity in the IITs that will, in turn, help regular Indian students get the best possible training at home, Rao said, adding: “This could be a major turning point for the IITs.”

Large numbers of Indian students go abroad in search of quality higher education, internationally recognised degrees and attractive academic programmes.

According to the Indian Students Mobility Report 2016, the number of Indian students studying abroad saw “12% growth in 2014, and now clocking an even higher rate of 17.8% – this is the second year in a row that India’s [growth] rate has been higher than China”, the report said.