Indian Institutes of Technology want foreign students

The academics called an IIT proposal to quadruple international student admissions by 2025 as “workable”, but said they would first need to decide whether they would be willing to lower entry requirements for non-local applicants.

Times Higher Education logo, red T, purple H and blue E.This month, a meeting of the IIT proposed raising its international enrolment rate to 5% by 2025, creating 1,000 scholarships for foreign learners and establishing recruitment centres in neighbouring countries, according to news reports.

The proposal follows a recent decision by India’s higher education regulator to allow institutions to reserve up to 25% of seats for international students.

Talk to Academics Times Higher Education The IITs are generally considered to be achievable, especially given that non-nationals do not compete for seats with domestic students. However, they said questions remained about how to change admissions practices to accommodate the large number of overseas applicants.

Philip Altbach, a professor at Boston College’s Center for International Higher Education, said the IIT’s “top global reputation” made it a reality for them to increase international enrollment, with students most likely from South Asia and Africa.

But he said setting entry requirements required some flexibility in the notorious IIT entrance exam that Indians spend years preparing for.

“If they want international students to take the IIT entrance exam and pass it at a competitive pace, that won’t work,” he said.

An unnamed administrator at an older IIT in the country told Times Higher Education IIT’s “brand value” will prove attractive to foreign learners, but he agrees institutions need to rethink their admissions processes. “It is unlikely that the normal route of entrance exams will work for international applicants,” he said.

Academics say IITs may create alternative exams or lower barriers to entry for international students – which is already done domestically under India’s “booking system”, which offers different levels of entry for students from depressed castes or tribal groups.

Those moves still need to be carefully weighed, Altbach said, given the resources invested in test preparation.

“I can see that there may be some resistance from these families who are spending a lot of money on test-prep programs,” he said.

But even if IITs figure out how to make it easier for students applying from overseas to take entrance exams, they will need to consider other factors, including whether foreign students are interested in taking IITs that are located outside major Indian cities.

Scholars point out that the newer IITs, established after the initial few institutions in the 1950s, were less geographically attractive and lacked the more experienced faculty and facilities of their older counterparts.

Some of the newer IITs, located in smaller towns such as Palakkad, Mandi and Dharwad, have “disadvantaged locations,” said Eldho Matthews, deputy adviser at the International Cooperation Department at the National Institute of Educational Planning and Management in New Delhi.

He believes India should focus on attracting international talent to cities such as New Delhi and Mumbai.

“It will help by showing the selective approach of old IITs located in metro centres and big cities,” he said.

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