A MoU to establish the first international campus of IIT Delhi in Abu Dhabi was signed last month in the presence of UAE President His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan and the Prime Minster of India, Narendra Modi Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

With the world becoming increasingly interconnected, India now finds itself on the cusp of a transformative journey, internationalising its higher education landscape to foster a more globally connected academic community. The push for internationalisation is a strategic response of education institutes to the challenges and opportunities of an interdependent world that brings with it new levels of complexities and paradoxes.

Cooperation and exchange in education and research, and outreach activities have now become paramount for India’s premier institutions seeking to establish their global presence. New ambitious initiatives at the national level also emphasise the significance of going global.

India’s National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 sets the foundation for internationalisation, fulfilling the aspirations of new India. In line with the recommendations of the NEP, the University Grants Commission (UGC) has initiated several measures – such as globally relevant curricula, brand building activities of Indian institutions abroad, academic and research collaboration with foreign universities, student mobility, credit recognition, and a global citizenship approach – to drive internationalisation.

Besides uplifting the quality of education, the NEP reinforces the need to attract a greater number of international students to India. The policy also encourages expansion of Indian higher education outside the country as well as opening the doors for high-quality global institutions to enter India.

Geostrategic importance

As one of the fastest growing economies, India’s rise as a formidable global superpower has massive geopolitical significance, leading to increased attention from countries seeking strategic partnerships. The rise of Indian and Indian-origin corporate leaders and entrepreneurs – with many of them emerging from top universities such as Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) – has further drawn international attention to its education system.

Prof. Bharat Bhasker, Director of Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad (IIMA)

“It is the India growth story that is driving the demand for higher education. India’s economic progress cannot be compared with the growth of other economies. Many of its growth factors are rooted in its ancient wisdom and practices, which find relevance in today’s world. As a result, the world is looking to the east for the future growth of globalisation,” says Prof. Bharat Bhasker, Director of Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad (IIMA), which set up its first overseas branch – IIMA Executive Education – at Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) in 2019.

“The government is encouraging institutions to build international partnerships that will make India a global hub for higher education. The NEP’s focus on research will create avenues for more international faculty to come to India, as our growing economy presents a pull factor for collaborations on research and cases studies,” says Prof. Bhasker.

“The increasing participation and performance of Indian academic institutions in various global rankings has catapulted them into the top league, making them an attractive destination for talented students and faculty from across the world.”

The internationalisation of Indian education focuses on a visionary approach to preparing students and institutions for a rapidly changing world. By embracing diversity and facilitating knowledge exchange, India is on track to creating an impactful education ecosystem.

“In the process of expanding or going global, Indian institutions will have to raise the bar in every aspect of how they function to meet global benchmarks, which will have a positive impact in the way they plan and function,” says Prof. Bhasker.

Forging global connections

The concept of internationalisation traditionally have two components. Internationalisation across borders involves tapping into new markets through campuses and collaborations to reach out to a broader demographic of students worldwide, while internationalisation at home focuses on integrating global perspectives within the local educational environment to foster cross-cultural understanding.

With its reputation for high-quality education, India attracts thousands of students, research scholars and faculty every year. Meanwhile, institutions have started implementing welcoming strategies, including scholarships and streamlined visa processes, to attract more international learners to their campuses.

“From the campus culture to teaching and opportunities for careers, students have an enriching experience in India,” says Prof. Preeti Aghalayam, Professor at IIT Madras’ Chemical Engineering Department.

“The high quality of degrees is evidenced by the rate of success that our graduates and alumni enjoy in various spheres. Moreover, research, innovation and entrepreneurship activities in top Indian institutions are world-renowned and highly impactful,” she says.

IIT Madras has recently introduced specialised and curated postgraduate programmes for international students. It also offers scholarships, and works with organisations like the Indian Council of Cultural Relations to offer full-ride scholarships to foreign students. “These are very popular with students from Nepal, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Sudan, Kenya, and Tanzania. We also have a robust programme of student exchange with several institutions in Europe,” says Prof. Aghalayam.

International students have equal access and opportunity to study at the country’s most prestigious business school, Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad (IIMA), as long as they meet its selection criteria. IIMA also has merit and means-based scholarships for deserving candidates.

“We have recently announced several new scholarships facilitated by our alumni. Additionally, our Postgraduate Programme in Management for Executives (PGPX) has announced scholarships specifically for international students,” says Prof. Bhasker.

Expanding horizons

As part of their efforts to harness the benefits of globalisation, many institutions – both government and private – are exploring opportunities beyond their shores and launching campuses abroad — a strategic move that allows them to extend their global reach and strengthen their presence in key economies around the world.

Embracing a global outlook, India’s premier technical and research university IIT Madras has launched an international campus in Zanzibar, and classes for the first academic year (2023-24) are scheduled to begin in October. “With a physical campus abroad in Zanzibar island, we will further be able to make the international community aware of our academic offerings,” says Prof. Aghalayam, who joins the new campus as the Dean of School of Science and Engineering and its Director-in-Charge.

Prof. Preeti Aghalayam, Dean of School of Science and Engineering and Director-In-Charge, IIT Madras Zanzibar campus

Meanwhile, IIT Delhi – India’s another leading technical education and research institution – has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Abu Dhabi Department of Education and Knowledge (ADEK) to establish a campus in the UAE capital and start offering academic programmes from the next year. The MoU was signed during Indian Prime Minster Narendra Modi’s visit to the UAE last month.

The move towards opening branch campuses abroad has now become an essential step for many universities seeking to foster global collaborations and enhance the overall reputation on the world stage.

“As we envisage enhancing our presence globally, we are reaching out to a larger group of GMAT takers across the world, conducting webinars, engaging with aspirants who are keen to study a globally recognised programme. We are also reaching out to industry leaders to deepen our industry connect across borders,” says Prof. Bhasker from IIMA.

Aligning courses with the demand of the local industries, IIMA in Dubai has plans to offer several short duration programmes on contemporary management topics, such as transformational leadership, strategic cost-management, and digital transformation, in the face-to-face mode in the current academic year.

Students attending an executive MBA class at IIM Ahmedabad’s Dubai campus at DIFC Image Credit: Courtesy IIMA

As a trendsetter in internationalisation, SP Jain School of Global Management — a legacy business school with strong Indian heritage — offers an exclusive learning experience to its multicultural student community in Dubai, Mumbai, Singapore and Sydney, preparing them for global careers.

“The programmes are taught by international faculty, students study with people from different countries, and they do all this in three of the best global cities,” says Dr Christopher Abraham, CEO and Head - Dubai Campus and Director - Executive Education.

SP Jain is a pioneer in the one programme-multiple campus education model. “This unique model by a school with Indian origin has caught the fancy of international students giving them a unique opportunity to enhance their global and cultural intelligence. This experience broadens their perspectives and facilitates successful working in collaborative multinational groups,” says Dr Abraham.

Dr Christopher Abraham CEO and Head - Dubai Campus, SP Jain School of Global Management

Meanwhile, Indian universities have also been proactive in increasing their collaboration with international partners to facilitate student and staff mobility, joint research projects, and academic exchanges. These initiatives have helped enhance their global competitiveness and create a vibrant and inclusive learning environment.

IIT Madras, for example, collaborates with over 300 institutions abroad, for research and student exchange and has agreements with around 20 top-notch institutions for joint doctoral programmes.

“At IITM’s Zanzibar campus, while other discussions are underway, we already have partnerships formalised with the African School of Economics, University of Birmingham, Deakin University, and the Nigerian University of Technology & Management, for academic and research collaborations,” says Prof. Aghalayam.

Attracting talented faculty members and visiting scholars from around the world to diversify the academic community and bring in diverse experiences in classrooms is another way to create a more dynamic learning environment.

“Faculty hiring and research focus at IIMA is aligned to our goal of further consolidating our position as a top-ranked global management institution. Our faculty with enviable credentials hail from the best of institutions in India and abroad,” says Prof. Bhasker.

While emphasising the value of collaboration, Prof. Bhasker cites the example of IIMA’s unique case study centre, a pioneer in adapting the case method of learning in India. “This has roots in the support we received from Harvard during its early years, and we have refined this capability to the point of popularity. Today, our cases are accessed and distributed to worldwide audiences,” he says.

“We strongly encourage our faculty to collaborate with like-minded faculty from the global fraternity in their respective areas of research and take on joint and individual research projects,” Prof. Bhasker adds.

SP Jain has also forged unique partnerships with the University of Milan, Glion Institute of Higher Education and the Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago, to enrich the academic experience.

Breaking barriers

In the past decade, Indian universities have made commendable progress towards the goal of internationalisation, however, the journey is far from over. Overcoming challenges and realising the full potential of global collaborations require concerted efforts from all stakeholders.

“Although inroads have been made, increasing more awareness worldwide about the uniqueness of India’s educational offerings is critical. For example, in addition to programmes in the traditional engineering and science disciplines, IIT Madras has several degrees in interdisciplinary areas; in the humanities and social sciences; and it also has programmes in medical science and technology. But many people are not aware of this range of options,” says Prof. Aghalayam.

When students consider opportunities to study in India, they also look at exploring jobs and careers. However, arranging visas and work permits sometimes becomes a challenge, she says, adding, “Although scholarships are available for international students, considering the disadvantaged environment some of our students come from, more needs to be done to ensure that finances don’t prove to be a barrier.”

Educators highlight that Indian institutions are often criticised for the lack of global diversity in classrooms, but in reality India presents a rich tapestry of cultural, professional and socio-economic diversity on its campuses, allowing students to have fulfilling experiences.

“Indian institutions can leverage the concept of ‘India immersion’ through learning as a distinguishing factor. We can highlight the benefits of an India immersion experience for international students as the next phase of globalisation is here,” says Prof Bhasker. ●