T5E interviews the Dean of International and Alumni Affairs, Prof. R. Nagarajan, about his views regarding international exchange programs – something that most of us would want to experience atleast once in our academic life.
Well, we realized that there was a lot of synergy between the two offices of Alumni Affairs, and the International Relations office, because most of our alumni are actually abroad. Part of the reason IITs are not ranked highly in global college lists is because we do not have a very good international image. In order to do that, we need to collaborate with international academia, industry, etc. and we happened to realize that a lot of our alumni are currently abroad, and are leaders in these fields. We need to reach out to these alumni and build up our international collaboration, also improving what we have done so far. We cannot have one without the other.
We have been handling our international relations so far in a very tacit way. Some university approaches us, we approve or disapprove the request. An MoU is signed, then things just go their own way. In order to achieve something we need to go about this in a planned manner. We have a strategy known as the ‘International Collaboration Drive’. First, we identify universities that are ideal for collaboration and partner with them. Faculty members interact with each other and exchange of research scholars takes place. Once that happens, a strong link is formed between them and us. We also have collaboration on the entrepreneurship front, in terms of opportunities for students to work in startups abroad, and international students to come here and work. We would like to have some sort of collaboration with our Centre for Innovation (CFI) and international students and for joint enterprises. The opportunities for PG students is in terms of research, and for UG students it is in terms of academics and entrepreneurship.
Professor Bhaskar (the director) and I visited the US in June and went on a trip of around 10 cities.Till now, we were asking alumni for donations only. But that is only a limited use of what they have to offer. By the formation of this new office, we can gladly enhance our international relations. Our objective is to get into the top 30 QS rankings. Currently, we are ranked 69th.
2. Can you tell us a little bit about the upcoming ‘International Day’? What is its main purpose?
International Day is being held on 4th Nov, Sunday at SAC. It is essentially being celebrated to recognize the multicultural nature of our campus, hopefully sowing the seeds for further relationships between our students and international students. Currently, international students are in a minority. This day is being celebrated to recognize all the visitors, make them feel as part of the campus, and to recognize the culture that they bring in. It is similar to what we have started on the alumni front, like Alumni Day, etc.
A lot of activities are planned – presentations by international students and faculty on their campuses and culture and reasons why our students should go there. In addition to that, we have an Indian cultural show, a food court serving international cuisine, a spanish movie playing at CLT, etc.
3. What motivation do international students have for visiting our institute?
Well, for starters, we offer a residential campus in an area almost similar to a wildlife reserve. They appreciate the opportunity to live so close to nature. They usually come to India to experience the culture here. Within India, Chennai in particular offers a good, pure Indian experience. Apart from that, research at IIT-M is also what draws them here. We have good, well recognized faculty in many fields. Also, the pedagogy of our teaching is something they really appreciate. Some of them claim to learn more from NPTEL than in their own classes! And of course, like most of our own students, going to an IIT is something they would want on their resume as well.
But some of them are not very serious about their academics here, they often complain that IIT students study a lot – something that is otherwise unheard of by me!
4. Why are exchange programs recommended for our students? In your view, what do they gain out of it?
Mostly it is to avoid the ‘Frog in the well’ syndrome. If you live all your life in one place, you cannot appreciate the fact that there are better things and things here that can be improved. You really learn how to develop upon going abroad. From a technical viewpoint, it is advisable to avoid inbreeding of knowledge and import learnings. It is not only a matter of academic exposure, but also cultural, social, and personal exposure. Don’t limit your views about other countries solely based on what is portrayed in the media. Getting international exposure as part of an exchange program is organized, it is like walking on a tightrope with a safety net.
5. How is a student expected to adjust his semester credits while applying for an exchange program?
That is usually done on a case by case basis. There is no singular system to do the same. If we have an agreement with the university and know how their grading system works, the academic section usually works it out and agrees to convert credits and grades. However, if you go to a brand new university, you have to work it out on your own. You will need to review all your courses with your faculty advisor and HoD and figure out whether they will be sufficient. You will also need to inform the same to the Dean of Academics and get his permission. We are quite flexible in this regard and the Dean’s office will extend its support in all cases.
6. What about the funding for these exchange programs?
The funding is slightly different for UG and PG students. Since PG students usually go abroad for research, the university that hosts them has something to gain out of their visit. Hence, they are usually obliged to provide a stipend equal to that of a local graduate over there.
The travel costs can be partially borne by alumni funding and a portion of it can also come from the student’s guide. We also have an ‘Excellence in research’ travel grant which covers up to 80% of a student’s personal expenses.
For UG students, if we have an MoU with the university in question, the tuition fees are waived. But the student will have to pay for his/her living and travel since only he/she gains from the exchange program. Again, with alumni funds, we can ensure coverage of up to 50% of the travel expenses.
Same is the case if an international student comes to study here. We pay graduate students the same stipend we pay our own graduate students, and for undergraduate students, the tuition fees are waived if we have an MoU with their university.