Scholars have called a proposal by the Indian Institutes of Technology to quadruple their international student intake by 2025 “feasible” but say they will first need to decide whether they are willing to lower entry requirements for nonlocal applicants.
This month, a meeting of IITs proposed to boost their international intake to 5 percent by 2025, creating 1,000 scholarships for foreign learners and establishing recruitment centers in neighboring countries, according to news reports.
The proposal comes on the heels of a recent decision by India’s higher education regulator, which allows institutions to reserve up to 25 percent seats for international students.
Scholars speaking to Times Higher Education broadly agreed IITs could reach the target, particularly given that nonnationals would not be competing with domestic students for seats. Still, they said large questions remain around how admissions practices will need to change to accommodate sizable numbers of overseas applicants.
Philip Altbach, a professor at Boston College’s Center for International Higher Education, said that the IITs’ “global top reputation” made it realistic for them to ramp up their international intake, with students most likely to come from South Asia and Africa.
But he said that setting admissions requirements would require some flexibility on the infamously difficult IIT entrance exams, for which Indians spend years preparing.
“If they’re going to expect international students to take the IIT entrance exam and to pass it at a competitive rate, then it won’t work,” he said.
An administrator at one of the country’s older IITs, who asked not to be named, told Times Higher Education that IITs’ “brand value” would prove an attractive draw for foreign learners, but he agreed that institutions would need to rethink their admissions processes. “The normal entrance exam route is unlikely to work for international applicants,” he said.
Scholars said that IITs could potentially create a replacement exam or lower barriers for international students—something already being done domestically under India’s “reservation system,” with different entry levels for students from depressed castes or tribal groups.
Still, such moves would need to be carefully weighed, given the resources invested into exam preparation, said Altbach.
“I could see there might be some pushback from these families who spend lots of money on coaching courses for the exam,” he said.
But even if IITs figure out how to make entrance exams more accessible to students applying from abroad, they will need to address other considerations, including whether foreign students will be interested in attending IITs located outside India’s main cities.
Academics noted that newer IITs, which were established after the initial handful of institutions in the 1950s, are less geographically attractive and lack the more seasoned faculty and facilities of their older peers.
Eldho Matthews, a deputy adviser to the Unit for International Cooperation at the National Institute of Educational Planning and Administration, in New Delhi, said that some of the newer IITs, which are located in smaller towns such as Palakkad, Mandi and Dharwad, have “locational disadvantages.”
He believed India should focus on drawing international talent to cities including New Delhi and Mumbai.
“A selective approach by showcasing the older IITs located in the metro centers and big cities would be helpful,” he said.