By Thomas K. Grose
no longer have to leave India to get an American engineering education,
as U.S. schools are increasingly setting up shop in this heavily populated
No argument that
India's engineering students and professionals are among the finest
in the world. That's why they are in such high demand. Each year
Indian universitiesin particular the six Indian Institutes of
Technologyturn out thousands of high-caliber, extremely motivated,
well-educated graduates. And every year, there is a mad scramble by
American graduate schools and businesses to scoop up as many of those
graduates as they can, or to lure away young professionals who have
a few years of experience under their belts.
That helps explain
why 35 percent of the country's engineering students head overseasmostly
to the United Statesbefore the ink has dried on their newly minted
diplomas. It also accounts for the fact that 40 percent of Silicon Valley
startups are headed by Indians. And it's the basis behind fears
that India suffers from a brain drain.
But despite the
exodus, huge numbers of students and young engineers remain in India.
And they constitute an untapped potential for American tech schools
who want to dip into that talent pool and, at the same time, help India
retain its brightest lights and bolster its domestic industries.
is obvious, says Darsh Wasan, vice president of international
affairs at the Illinois Institute of Technology, and an India native.
India has a reputation for turning out top high-tech students
and professionals, many of whom have come to the United States and made
successes of themselves. Vinayak Dravid, an engineering professor
at Northwestern University's McCormick School of Engineering and
Applied Science, agrees: In a global world, India is a leader
in information technology . . . it offers talented students and faculty.
Certainly, it is a country that has not taken full advantage of its
technological prowess. While it exports $7 billion worth of software
annually, less than five Indians in 1,000 own a personal computer. And
with a population of one billion, many of whom are poor and undereducated,
India has not yet learned to use technology to tackle the severe social
problems that poverty and ignorance spawn.
But just as there
is no one way to teach a course, build a bridge, or design software,
neither is there one true path to India for America's tech schools.
And three schools that are now (or soon will be) operating in IndiaIllinois
Tech, Northwestern, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technologyarrived
there by taking very different routes. Here is a look at how each of
these schools has forged links with a country whose engineering potential
Institute of Technology
Northwestern and M.I.T. have only just announced their India programs,
Illinois Tech got in the game a while ago. Its program of offering two
cutting-edge engineering master's degrees to Indian
professionals may have been the first foray onto the subcontinent by
an American tech school. And it owes it all to Motorola.
A division of the
American company, Motorola India Electronics has a software operation
in Bangalore, India, and asked Illinois Tech to use its expertise in
distance education to offer advanced software engineering degrees to
some of its up-and-coming young staff. Wasan thought that was a marvelous
idea, but wanted to expand upon it. I saw a need to offer it not
to just one company but to open it up to others, he recalls. Motorola
agreed, and soon companies like Infisys, Oracle, Lucent, Digital, and
Honeywell were involved. I had these companies select some of
their top performers, young people who could not get to the United States,
but deserved an American graduate degree, says Wasan, who believes
that the best graduate engineering degrees in the world come from US
Today, 150 studentsalmost
all of them professionalsare in the program, and each year 15
to 20 sponsoring companies are involved. Two advanced degrees are offered,
one in software engineering, the other combining software engineering
with telecommunications. There are 10 to 11 courses, and on average
it takes students two years to earn a degree. Twenty-five students graduated
in March, and another 15 will graduate in November.
calls the degrees a bargain for Indian students, who pay $8,000 to $9,000with
some help from their companiesfor degrees that would cost $30,000
if taken at the Illinois Tech campus. Still, in India that remains a
high price, says Santosh Vijay, 28, a program manager at Sasken Communication
Technologies. He was in the first class and earned a master's in
software engineering/telecommunications. Moreover, he adds, the cost
becomes greater each year because of the depreciating Indian rupee,
while financial aid from sponsoring companies has fallen to 10 to 25
It's not a
huge profit center for Illinois, either. We don't make much
money, but we are raising the profile of our school, Wasan says.
If you ask me what we get out of it, from a selfish point of view,
I'd say I get a lot more Indian students coming to my college.
Increased enrollment of Indian students at Illinois Tech's Chicago
campus has been an unexpected benefit of the program, says Mary L. Dawson,
associate vice president of international affairs. She thinks it has
helped Illinois gain a strong reputation within India's engineering
Illinois Tech has
a long history of offering degrees to working professionals and has
been a pioneer in distance learning. So it was natural to take on the
challenge in Bangalore. Still, as Dawson says, it was very difficult
in the early days, because the Internet was less established in India
then and connections were unreliable. Students do have the option of
going to Illinois study sites in India and using the school's computers,
and initially there was a heavy reliance on videotaped lectures. But
now, with better online links, the school regularly uses streaming video
and live PC conferences. And students communicate with professors in
Chicago using e-mail, electronic office hours, phones, and
Dawson says the
school is still grappling with class sizes in India because too many
students can overload the professors. Still, she adds, the faculty has
embraced the project with enthusiasm. And professors take turns going
to India to teach occasional short courses to give the students class
time. The first to go over was the chairman of the computer science
department, who wanted to get a sense of the students' capabilities.
He returned obviously impressed. Indeed, Dawson notes, he
wants to go back.
logistical nightmares are inadvertently caused by students
who are working full time and also traveling for business. Again, the
Internet has eased this problem by letting people do class work when
it best suits them. Vijay says that he was often in Paris in 1998-99,
and had a bit of a tough time managing customer's expectations
and finding time for studies. Then there was the time when he
was juggling three courses and had to take three weeks off for his honeymoon.
When he got back, he had to catch up on 24 hours of missed classes,
quite a few assignments, and a couple of projects . . . plus there was
also three weeks of backlog at work. Vijay survived, thanks to
understanding profs who gave him a bit of extra time.
Dawson says Illinois
Tech is considering adding more graduate degrees to its India program,
but the focus will remain on working professionals.
And Vijay, whose
cumulative grade point average in the program was 4.0, says it was definitely
worthwhile. It has spiced up his résumé, and his impressive
GPA shows that he understands the concepts in his field. He now also
helps as a local teaching assistant in the program and enjoys that experience
And Wasan is also
proud that under Illinois Tech's program, India is not losing
brain power . . . We help industry there to create wealth, which helps
McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science is, at least for
now, eschewing a degree program in India for cost and operational reasons,
and instead is taking a more grassroots approach, says Dravid.
Last June, the school signed a five-year partnership with the Indian
Institute of Technology, Bombay (IITB). Under the exclusive agreement,
the two institutes will send faculty to each other's campuses to
teach classes and seminars, set up undergraduate and graduate student
exchange programs, and collaborate on research projects.
Dravid, an architect
of the agreement, says the schools have strengths that complement one
another. Northwestern, for instance, is noted for its expertise in high-technology
equipment and nanotechnology, while IITB's areas of excellence
include computer sciences and biotechnology. By combining their strengths
in new research projects, he says, they will be able to tap into newly
available global research grants from places like the World Bank. And
because, Dravid says, teaching and research are inseparable, those new
funds will help underwrite the exchange programs.
Dravid is an alumnus
of IITB, class of 1984, who has been at Northwestern since 1990. Because
IITB and the other Indian Institutes have spawned so many successful
graduates, many of those alumni have been involved in donating money
to the schools, he explains. He calls the Northwestern partnership a
natural outgrowth of fundraising . . . something that goes beyond that.
Reaction from faculty
and students has been very positive, Dravid says. That has been
extremely pleasing for me. When the head of IITB made a quick,
short-notice trip to Northwestern a few months ago, Dravid hastily convened
a meeting with faculty and students. He was astounded to find it was
standing room only. Dravid says as a member of the scientific community,
he knows that the world's intellectual capital must be exploited.
There is a need to see science as a global playing field.
He is also certain
that IITB will benefit from the McCormick School's rich resources.
And as for McCormick, this offers it a chance to partner with
one of the top-notch institutes in Asia.
Institute of Technology
research laboratories have renown outside their fields of expertise.
Not so with MIT's Media Lab. Since its creation in 1985, the Media
Lab has gained street cred by involving itself in the kinds
of high-tech research that often capture the public's interest.
These projects include such areas as wearable computers and interactive
cinema. The Lab's funding comes from a long and impressive list
of corporate sponsors, including Eastman Kodak, Mattel, and DaimlerChrysler,
who agree to share the fruits of its labors. The Lab has also benefited
from the high profile of its founder, Nicholas Negroponte, who has become
a sort of information technology guru. Now the Media Lab is venturing
into a scheme to expand its brand globally, into countries that want
to further their technological abilities.
Last year, it opened the Media Lab Europe in Dublin. And in June, it
signed a one-year contract with the Indian government for an exploratory
project to create a Media Lab Asia (M.L.A.), which would be based outside
Bombay and have regional outposts around the country. The government
has ponied up $12 million, of which $1.7 million goes to MIT, which
will supply visiting researchers to M.L.A. If the project goes ahead,
it's estimated to cost as much as $1 billion over 10 years, with
20 percent of the money coming from public coffers in India. Further
seed money will come from corporate sponsors, as it does in the US and
The focus of M.L.A.
will be on India's social problems and on using technology to advance
education. The overarching goal of M.L.A. will be to facilitate
the invention, refinement, and deployment of innovations to benefit
all sectors of Indian society, Negroponte says. Areas for potential
research include disaster control, bringing the Internet to rural Indian
communities, using digital technology to improve health care, and providing
low-cost computers. Explains India's Information Technology Minister
Pramod Mahajan: The idea is to take information technology to
the people and change their lives.
K. Grose is a freelance writer based in London.