IITs plan ‘chain’ of branch campuses in other countries

India’s premier technology institutions, the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), are set to branch into other countries after a government-appointed committee to facilitate the development of overseas campuses for IITs recommended seven possible locations abroad where they could be set up.

In a recent report submitted to India’s Ministry of Education, the committee of top IIT and university leaders suggested a model under which a chain of offshore campuses of IITs would be set up under the brand name of the Indian International Institute of Technology, with domestic IITs and other top-ranked universities as mentors.

Indian missions abroad and India’s Ministry of External Affairs will facilitate the process, the committee report said.

In the past the government had referred only to plans by individual institutes to set up campuses abroad. According to the committee’s report, an IIT can either establish an overseas campus on its own, or do so with a group of higher education institutions in alliance with a reputed host university abroad.

Director of the National Institute of Technology Karnataka (NITK) Surathkal, Professor Udaykumar R Yaragatti, who is also a member of the committee, told University World News: “We are ready to offer help in whichever country they attach us to.” However, he declined to provide more details at this stage.

NITK Surathkal was part of the committee to help facilitate the setting up of IIT campuses because it ranks among the top 10 institutions in India for engineering in the National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF) 2022.

India has some 23 government-funded but autonomous IITs.

Seven top destination countries

The committee conferred with Indian diplomatic missions abroad earlier this year to identify possible countries where IIT campuses could be set up and noted seven prospective locations: the United Kingdom, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Malaysia and Thailand, all of which performed well across a range of important criteria.

The parameters included the amount of interest and commitment from countries where IITs could be located; the academic lineage or reputation of educational institutions that already exist in the host country, including the performance and achievements of scholars and students; the ecosystem’s capacity to attract excellent staff and students; regulatory requirements; and potential advantages to India’s branding and reputation.

Apart from the seven main countries already listed, the committee also ranked Bhutan, Nepal, Bahrain, Japan, Tanzania, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Serbia, Singapore, South Korea and Uzbekistan just below the seven countries and said Indian authorities should also work out arrangements in these countries.

The 17-member committee, led by IIT Council Standing Committee Chairperson Dr K Radhakrishnan, also includes the directors of the IIT Bombay, IIT Kharagpur, IIT Madras, IIT Delhi, IIT Kanpur, IIT Guwahati and IIT Dhanbad.

The vice-chancellors of Delhi University, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Banaras Hindu University, the University of Hyderabad and the director of the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru are also on the committee.

It recommended developing IIT-like fully residential overseas campuses with a 1:10 faculty to student ratio; a semester format which would include an India component; and multiple channels for admission – ranging from the competitive Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) currently used for IIT admissions in India, a Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT), to an offshore version of the JEE – to cater to the global and local student population, besides the Indian diaspora.

Plans still at ‘nascent’ stage

However, plans are still at a very early stage.

A member of the committee, Amit Agrawal, dean for international relations at IIT Bombay, told University World News developments were still at “the nascent stage”.

“There is a substantial Indian population at all these different places where offshore campuses are initially planned and they are very keen to have an IIT there because they are aware of the quality of education that IITs provide. This is the basic idea with which this has been planned.”

On further details, he said: “I think it is too early to say anything about any of these things as of now.”

The Ministry of Education said in early August in a reply to a question from the Lok Sabha, India’s lower house of parliament, that IIT Delhi had held two rounds of meetings with the Abu Dhabi ministry of education to set up a branch campus. IIT Delhi also indicated interest in setting up campuses in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, the ministry said.

The committee report noted that India’s High Commission in the UK has received “six concrete proposals for cooperation” in setting up global campuses of IITs. They are from the University of Birmingham, King’s College London, University of Exeter, University of Oxford, University of Cambridge and University College London.

IIT Madras said it is considering several countries in which to open a branch campus including Tanzania, Nepal and Sri Lanka, among several others, with a final decision still to be taken.

“IIT Madras is in discussion with multiple countries, including Tanzania and some other African countries to establish offshore campuses,” an IIT Madras spokesperson said, pointing to demand for courses in mining in African countries and energy systems in Nepal. However, its course in artificial intelligence is a top choice “almost everywhere”, according to the spokesperson.

Operation of overseas campuses

The committee has suggested that overseas IIT campuses should be given more freedom than the current IITs, and that faculty hiring be exempt from the government’s service conditions of lifelong job contracts to allow recruitment of top academics on long-term contracts at competitive salaries.

The committee also made some important suggestions on the operation of overseas IIT campuses, saying the host government should make the required arrangements for setting up the campus within the country.

“A certain minimum commitment of area for the campus is required from the local government while establishing the new institutes. The institutes are being established not for commerce, rather for building the image of the country abroad. Therefore, these institutes should cater to the local student population (which could be the Indian diaspora),” the committee report said.

However, it recommended that the maximum number of Indian students at these overseas campuses should be not more than 20% of the student body.

The committee report has hinted there will be no reservations for students or employees unless provided by local laws. This is unlike reservations for lower castes and other underrepresented groups that exist in India and which are required under the Indian constitution. Offshore campuses will have to follow the laws and regulations of the host country, it said.

However, the report noted that the host nation’s government or the Indian government will have to make a generous investment so that the project does not become a financial burden for domestic IITs.