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IIT Delhi at Abu Dhabi: Excellence beyond India’s borders

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Dharmendra Pradhan

The recent visit of Prime Minister NarendraModi to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) happened at a time when   bilateral relations between India and the UAE have already been elevated to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership. Reaffirming the strategic engagement, Prime Minister Modi and His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the President of the UAE had conceived of a campus of IIT Delhi in Abu Dhabi—the actualisation of the decision in record time attests to the common vision and priorities of the leadership of both our countries.

An exemplar of New India’s innovation and expertise, the IIT Delhi’s campus in the UAE is set to serve as an edifice of India-UAE friendship in the field of education. It reflects the shared vision of the two countries in focusing on areas of educational excellence, innovation, knowledge exchange and investment in human capital. It will, no doubt, set a brand-new template for leveraging the power of knowledge for both mutual prosperity and global good.

Coming a full circle

IIT Delhi’s international campus signifies the evolving paradigm of the internationalization of educational institutions as envisaged in New Education Policy. The strategic recommendations of the Radhakrishnan Committee, which was initially set up for conceptualizing international campuses of IITs, pointed towards a role for institutions like IIT Delhi and IIT Madras (with a campus in Zanzibar) to envision a broader international footprint — global, not only in reputation but in presence.

Making bilateral commitment and fulfilling it through credible and timely action remains the hallmark of India’s engagement with friendly countries. The record time taken in the completion of IIT Delhi – Abu Dhabi campus reveals a fascinating synergy of efforts between the Ministry of Education, Government of India and Abu Dhabi Department of Education and Knowledge (ADEK). From an agreement between the leaders of the two countries in early 2022 to signing of MoU on July 15, 2023 to completion of the campus and commencement of the classes of the first batch of students on January 29, 2024, the IIT Delhi – Abu Dhabi   has traversed a fairly long distance in a very short time exemplifying remarkable bonhomie in India-UAE bilateral relations.

In many ways, this is coming of a full circle. Historically, India pioneered internationalization of education with the Nalanda University – “the first residential university of the world” – where renowned scholars from many countries came and studied in India. The IITs today are taking their excellence beyond the borders and making the country proud.

Academic excellence and real-world relevance

At the heart of its Abu Dhabi campus lies IIT Delhi’s commitment to academic excellence. The institution’s curriculum is   meticulously adapted to align with the unique needs and aspirations of the region. Leveraging IIT Delhi’s unparalleled experience in undergraduate and graduate-level teaching as well as research, the Abu Dhabi campus seeks not only to provide world-class academic offerings but also to diversify them, becoming a hub for innovative and region-specific programs.

The inaugural academic program, the Master of Technology in Energy Transition and Sustainability, reflects the institution’s forward-thinking approach. Recognizing the critical role of clean energy transitions in addressing climate and other sustainability challenges, this program aims to prepare students to become leaders in managing this transition effectively.  The curriculum emphasizes a multidisciplinary approach, integrating technical knowledge with an understanding of transition management, innovation processes, and energy-sustainability interconnections. The launch of this program comes close on the heels of UAE’s celebration of year 2023 as the Year of Sustainability and hosting the landmark COP28 Conference in Dubai. A majority of the students in this program are sponsored by ADNOC, the major oil and gas company of Abu Dhabi, which is looking to reorient itself towards renewables and energy transition. This industry interface with academia augurs well for the future of this fledgling institute.

The first batch of students, stepping into the classrooms of IIT Delhi Abu Dhabi, will become the recipients of cutting-edge knowledge. The IIT Delhi – Abu Dhabi campus plans to focus on areas such as AI, Data Analytics, Energy and Sustainability, and Healthcare.   The research agenda will be aligned with the needs of the host country in the context of rapidly emerging global challenges.

Quality Assurance and Benchmarking:

Quality assurance, another cornerstone highlighted by the Radhakrishnan Committee, is embedded in the ethos of IIT Delhi-Abu Dhabi. Accreditation, periodic curriculum reviews, and institutional assessments will not be treated as routine official exercises but mechanisms to ensure that the quality of education matches with the highest global standards.

Benchmarking student intake quality through standardized tests, academic progress, internships, and job placements is in line with the institutional commitment to producing graduates who not only meet the expectations of excellence but exceed them in good measure.

New partnerships for a changing world

Abu Dhabi, the vibrant capital of the UAE, is more than just a location for this new campus. It has been a full collaborator and partner in this bold venture of education and innovation. Such a seamless and productive joint effort is very much in line with the objective and approach of the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership between India and the UAE.

The intermingling of cultures, ideas, and perspectives that is expected on this campus will be critical towards strengthening the deeper cultural ties between our two peoples. For example, it is envisaged that the undergraduate programs will have Indian students side by side with Emirati students and other international students. Similarly, IIT Delhi also expects to recruit faculty and staff from UAE as well as internationally who will work with faculty from the Delhi campus to develop and deliver world-class teaching and research programs at the Abu Dhabi campus.

Looking Ahead

The partnership between India and UAE in having IIT Delhi campus at Abu Dhabi is full of promise and potential. It will surely be a bulwark of the larger partnership between two countries and two peoples. It also will add value beyond the two countries by training students and researchers for international academic joint ventures aimed at the betterment of the world.  As IIT-Delhi continues to enhance its global footprint, its destination is not a point on the map but a shared vision of knowledge for shared global prosperity. Leading Indian institutions have come of age and they are now focused on deepening their global impact towards solidifying the image of India as ‘VishwaMitra’ in consonance with India’s philosophy of ‘VasudhaivaKutumbakam’.

The author is the Union Minister of Education and Skill Development & Entrepreneurship

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