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Indian government proposes opening up IITs to foreign students

Foreign students could soon be permitted to study at prestigious Indian Institutes of Technology, due to a new proposal from the Human Resource Development Ministry that it hopes will attract more international students and raise the country’s standing in global academic league tables.

IIT Bombay will be the national coordinator for the initiative. Photo: Wikicommons/Rohan Sethi.

“Allowing foreign applicants is to help IITs start featuring consistently in world rankings. Everyone from the President downwards is concerned about the absence of Indian institutions in the top lists"

Under the proposed reform, foreign students will be allowed to sit the Joint Entrance Examination, the mandatory test students must take in order to be able to enter IITs at undergraduate level, and the Graduate Aptitude Test in Engineering, the equivalent exam for postgraduate study.

“I would see this as the first step of many for our public sector institutions to be really outward looking,”

Currently, the only way foreign students can study at an IIT is through a cultural exchange fellowship, since a legislative change in 2014 excluded them from taking the entrance exams.

HRD plans to add 10,000 places for foreign student at 18 IITs, according to a memorandum issued to the institutions this month, targeting South Asia, West Asia and Africa as key source markets.

The document, issued by HRD Minister Smriti Irani, who is also the chairperson of the IIT Council, specifies that: “There shall be no reduction in the seats available for students in India while providing admissions to foreign students.”

In addition, foreign students will have to pay Rs 4-5 lakh ($5865-$7330) in annual fees to study, compared to the ($1320) paid by domestic students.

Attracting more international students would likely boost the standing of IITs in global league tables by enabling them to achieve higher rankings on international metrics such as the ratio of international to domestic students.

“Allowing foreign applicants is to help IITs start featuring consistently in world rankings,” Lakshmi Iyer, director and head of education at market intelligence and market entry specialist Sannam S4, told The PIE News.

“Currently everyone from the president downwards is concerned about the absence of Indian institutions in the top lists.”

The memorandum identifies IIT Bombay as the national coordinator for the initiative, and it will devise an action plan, identify focus countries and conduct exploratory visits, the document states.

“This would definitely open the Indian institutions to foreign students”

Among other things, the institute will be responsible for identifying countries in which to set up JEE and GATE exams to enable students to sit them in-country.

A special admissions portal will also be developed in order to guide students through the admissions process.

“I would see this as the first step of many for our public sector institutions to be really outward looking,” Iyer said, noting that institutions will need to take further steps in order to attract international students.

“Institutions will need to offer high quality ancillary services from accommodation, food, banking, entertainment and so on,” she explained. “Our top institutions have a long way to go on these fronts.”

Naveen Chopra, chairman of The Chopras, one of India’s largest education consultancies, also advised caution, saying that while “there does seem to be a move in that direction”, nothing has been set in stone yet.

Nevertheless, he forecasted: “This would definitely open the Indian institutions to foreign students.”

“I would expect the students from the African and Asian countries to react immediately and given the IITs have supplied some of the world’s top and successful talents, I would not be surprised if students from western countries start to look at IITs as an option,” he said.

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