Expanding Overseas: IIT India

By Darsh Wasan
Vice President for International Affairs
Motorola Chair and Professor of Chemical Engineering

President Lew Collens has always been supportive of the university’s international expansion, which was a recommendation of the National Commission for IIT. So when Motorola contacted me in 1996 to see if IIT could offer master’s degree programs to its employees in Bangalore, India’s “Silicon Valley,” I was confident Lew would want us to try.

Motorola wanted to give its top performing employees in India the opportunity to advance their knowledge and skills without leaving India. IIT already offered master’s programs to suburban working professionals through IITV, the William F. Finkl Interactive Instructional Network, which transmitted courses via microwave to company sites within a 40-mile radius of downtown.

In 1997, we began offering master’s degrees in computer science and a master’s in telecommunications and software engineering in Bangalore. Initially, we sent videotapes to Bangalore via air courier. Students submitted homework via email or ftp. Occasionally, we held videoconferences.

The Internet offered the potential to deliver courses anywhere, anytime. Motorola provided seed funding to expand that effort. Within a few years, classes in Bangalore were delivered entirely via streamed video on the Internet. Today, 24 hours after professors deliver their lectures in Chicago, IIT Online posts them on the Internet. Even working professionals who travel can access the courses. And students everywhere are held to the same standards as students in the Chicago sections.

At first, five companies participated. Today, 15 companies in India have employees enrolled in our master’s programs. Companies tell us that this initiative helps them recruit and retain highly skilled employees. Some companies have commercialized ideas their employees developed in their IIT classes.

Offering courses in Bangalore helped to spark a dramatic increase in enrollment of Indian students at IIT in Chicago. In 1997, only 250 Indian students were enrolled here. Within a few years, enrollment of Indian students here more than doubled. By 2001, IIT was the No. 1 destination for Indian graduate students applying for United States visas. Today, 1,100 students from India and a total of 2,300 international students are registered for courses in Chicago. These students add a lot of revenue to the university. They also contribute to the base of this country because many of them stay here after they graduate and give back to our society.

Furthermore, these students also extend the globalization of IIT as a quality academic institution and enhance the multicultural vibrancy of the university.

We now offer degree programs in five other cities—Chennai, Hyderabad, Delhi, Mumbai, and Pune. Because we offer the same rigorous courses in India that we do in Chicago, IIT is very respected there. We were the first and only U.S. university approved by the Foreign Investment Promotion Board to operate in India.

We are very proud of the program because it has been quite successful in both building awareness of IIT and helping us better serve students and employers.