Eager to make a mark on international ranking lists for educational institutions, the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) on Thursday decided to step up inter-disciplinary research collaborations tailored to meet the national development agenda and open the premier engineering institutions to more foreign students at the post-graduate and research levels.

This was agreed at a retreat of IIT Directors, hosted by the Union Human Resource Development Ministry, which was also attended by senior heads of public sector undertakings like Oil & Natural Gas Corporation and Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd, besides the Indian Council of Medical Research.

In advocating greater intake of foreign students, the IITs see a double-advantage. First, it will help internationalise IITs. As per the report of the IIT Ranking Committee — which was presented and accepted at the Retreat — IITs are “weak, almost nowhere, on internationalisation” as per the criterion of the ranking agencies.

Like their own alumni who have returned from foreign universities to work in India but continue to fondly recall their campus days overseas, the hope is that foreign students of IITs would become IIT brand ambassadors.

Indigenous equipment

As for collaborations, a pan-IIT approach would be adopted both with the various PSUs and ICMR. In the case of ICMR, the effort would be to develop surgical implements in India to contain the cost of treatment. More than the monopoly that some international companies have over surgical implements, a bigger issue pertains to mindset. With some IITs having already begun work on this front, the directors said that many an Indian doctor was reluctant to use indigenously developed implements on the premise that lives are at stake.

As for ONGC and BHEL, it was decided that workshops would be organised to help identify requirements of the two specific industries. According to officials, ONGC has indicated interest in increasing research investment in IITs to have these institutions as “research referral units” for the oil company. Again, the effort would be to adopt a pan-IIT approach so that ONGC does not have to scout for which IIT is best positioned for collaboration in a particular field.

Design schools

Also, the IITs have decided to set up design schools “to develop a design spine in engineering education.” As per a concept note, this would be done by not just making design an autonomous field of education by establishing centres or departments for design in IITs but also ensuring that design thinking percolates into other areas of expertise.