City University of Hong KongBeyond Boundaries: internationalising and diversifying top-tier education in India

Beyond Boundaries: internationalising and diversifying top-tier education in India

The second instalment of City University of Hong Kong’s Beyond Boundaries series focuses on the challenges of globalisation facing India’s most prestigious university

There is a saying among tech and business entrepreneurs in India: “When you get one foot in the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), the other foot has stepped into Silicon Valley.” IIT has a strong reputation for producing some of the world’s most successful business leaders, but admission to the university is competitive. Out of 1 million applicants, only the top 3,000 candidates are selected each year.

IIT’s leaders must consider how to scale up the university when places are in such high demand while also adapting to shifting global demands – especially while remaining loyal to student experience.

For the second episode of Beyond Boundaries, an interview series produced by City University of Hong Kong (CityU), the university’s president, Way Kuo, visited the IIT campus in Delhi. There, he met with Valipe Ramgopal Rao, who was director of IIT until February this year.

The two leaders discussed the challenges of globalisation and the need for institutions like IIT to adapt to changing market needs.

CityU is an international university that emphasises the integration of research and teaching. The university has a strong focus on diversity through cross-cultural studies, and it was Kuo’s ambition to explore this theme further in making the Beyond Boundaries series.

Speaking to Rao, Kuo noted that “the contribution by IIT, not only to India but to the world economy, is tremendous”. “What is your view of the education system in India, how does [IIT] differ?” he asked.

According to Rao, “autonomy plays a big part” in IIT’s popularity and success. “[IIT] was created to only answer to parliament, and the government is generous with funding,” Rao explained.

Additionally, IIT’s reputation fosters a competitive atmosphere on campus, Rao said, making for a unique student experience. “There is a lot of peer pressure which drives the system…When students join it’s not an incremental experience, it’s transformative.”

When India became independent in 1947, there was an urgent need for a large number of engineering and technical personnel. IIT was created a few years later with this need in mind. But the world has changed significantly in the past few decades, Rao noted, and the university has recognised the need to diversify, both in terms of the student population and the subjects taught at IIT.

“We are not international enough in terms of student admissions,” Rao said. In response to this gap, IIT has announced 500 PhD fellowships for foreign students applying to IIT, alongside its existing financial support packages for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. “Now any good student from any part of the world who wants to study with us can receive free tuition and support,” he told Kuo.

IIT has expanded in recent years, opening multiple smaller sites rather than expanding to become one large campus. “If we started admitting more, we couldn’t fit them on the residential campus…It would end that bonding experience,” Rao explained.

“Internationalisation means mutual understanding and mutual learning” said Kuo, adding that leaders could learn from the example of IIT.

“As long as we remain transformative in nature, I think IIT will survive,” Rao concluded.

 Find out more about CityU’s Beyond Boundaries series.

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