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In August 2022, the Central Government set up a committee to consult with the Indian mission abroad to expand IITs globally.
This committee presented a report that shortlisted seven countries based on a number of parameters—level of interest, academic lineage, conducive ecosystem to attract the right faculty and students, regulatory provisions, and perhaps the most critical one of them all, the country’s potential benefit to enhance India’s branding and relations.
United Arab Emirates (UAE), United Kingdom (UK), Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Malaysia, and Thailand, formed this first list. Of the lot, the first international IIT was announced to be set up in Dubai, with IIT Delhi leading the way to set up shop in the UAE, Minister of Education Subhas Sarkar outlaid in a Lok Sabha session in August.
A spokesperson from the office of International Programs, IIT Delhi, confirmed to YourStory Gulf Edition that the project to bring IIT Delhi to UAE is still on. However, the institute remains tight-lipped about its exact roadmap. The first step in this regard was the announcement of its offer of 500 fully-funded PhD fellowships for international students which includes those who are eligible from the Gulf region.
Last year also saw the Joint Entrance Exam (JEE) for IIT conducted in 17 cities outside India. Among them were six cities from the GCC, namely Doha, Dubai, Muscat, Riyadh, Sharjah, and Kuwait.
“The GCC region has one of the world’s largest expat populations, both by number and proportion and the Indian Diaspora forms a sizable chunk of the population,” says Abhishek Rajput, Senior Consultant at Redseer Middle East. “Many children of Indian expats, after having completed their K12 education, consider going back to India for higher education. The number of students who stay back to be with their family remains low,” he adds.
Access to Indian institutes in the region are limited. There are a few notable players with an established presence in the gulf like BITS Pilani, Amity University and Manipal University.
“If you are someone who is born and bred in the gulf and you don’t have the financial capital to send your child to an MIT or a Stanford, which is $100,000 education per year, your only option then is to send them to India,” says Aradhana Khowala, CEO and Founder, Aptamind Partners.
This can come with its own challenges. “The children struggle with the language; they do not feel included or have the sense of belonging as any other child brought up in India,” adds Aradhana.
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Besides giving Indian expats options to send their children within the region, an international IIT could help improve after-school education, says Sachin Bharti, Founder and CEO of Dubai-based edtech startup Knowledge Planet.
The students in this region come from relatively upwardly mobile economic backgrounds. So access to the course material, tutoring, prep, and so on is relatively easy for the populace, adds Aradhana.
“Saudi Arabia, for instance, has historically produced the best quality engineers, but they have all studied at the top engineering schools across the world. By providing an IIT in the Gulf region, you are tapping into an audience which has an appetite for this kind of education,” she adds.
An IIT campus in the region also brings visibility to the Indian education system. Professor AK Verma, Department of Mining Engineering, IIT Kharagpur, says it would create a brand name for the Indian education system along with improving the quality of education in the region.
“I was one of the very few good performers during my time in Careem and I was the only one hired from IIT Bombay. The company got to know about IITs in India and started to hire more people from the institutions. If an IIT comes up in Dubai, this will definitely improve the visibility of the Indian education quality, and the quality of those graduating from the IITs. It will give more students better work opportunities,” says Tanuj Khandelwal, an IIT Bombay alum who now is fintech founder in Dubai.
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One of the biggest challenges that lie ahead for IITs in the gulf is attracting the right faculty and placements. IITs would need to ensure a good placement cell is in place for students in these campuses says an alumnus of BITS Pilani Dubai who did not wish to be named.
“Moreover, while a company has to go to all the campuses in India for placement, it is not mandatory for them to come to the Dubai campus. This is a major irking thing for the students here. So, if IIT is expanding to the Middle East, they need to ensure that the placement opportunities are equal and all,” he adds.
Then comes the matter of curriculum. World over, IIT is known for having one of the tough entrance exams anywhere else in the world. The IIT JEE Main exam in 2021 saw nearly 9 lakh applicants with only 1,41,699 students clearing the round to make it to JEE Advanced.
From here, only 29% were qualified for a seat of which only 12% landed a seat. Challenges that IITs could forsee include ensuring a hybrid admissions procedure, and following an academic curriculum that aligns with education systems in the UAE.
Besides this, IIT will also require support from governments.
IIT Delhi had earlier planned to expand its base in Mauritius in 2013 before the plan got shelved within a year due to lack of government support. Similarly, IIT Madras had also explored the option of setting up campuses in Sri Lanka, Nepal and Tanzania. So far, all the attempts have been regarding expansion of individual IITs, news reports found.
“As each college needs to have its own ethos but simultaneously testify to the global reputation of these colleges, having diversified employees and students is crucial. Local government’s support in terms of regulations and MOUs also remains vital,” says Abhishek Rajput.
Till now, global universities have been at the forefront of addressing the need for quality education in the region specifically in the UAE. The UAE hosts more than 30 international branch campuses and has the highest concentration of international branch campuses globally, according to Abhishek. But for the Indian diaspora, their needs are not being met by the current Gulf colleges and many students still prefer their home country as a more viable option for higher studies.
“The strategic collaborations will make the educational system more relevant and competitive in GCC. The increase in the student pool will have a positive spiral effect on the education sector and economy… GCC companies will also achieve progress in attracting and retaining quality talent…As economies rapidly grow, and industries get quantitatively rigorous, calling for intelligent minds honed by teachers and peers at institutions of excellence will also rise,” Abhishek adds.
Edited by Akanksha Sarma
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