In late December, I had the chance to visit with one of the newest Indian Institutes of Technology – in Gandhinagar, in the state of Gujarat, India. This latest addition to the IIT franchise was launched four years ago, along with several other IIT campuses, by the Government of India as part of its ambitious goal to create 1000 universities in India in the next few decades. I was there to look at collaborations between Northeastern University, in Boston, and IIT Gandhinagar. What struck me was the unique opportunity to see a global university as startup. There was no billion-dollar endowment, no resident faculty and no leafy campus. But this academic startup was keenly aware of the nature of the global economy, how it must prepare its graduates, and how it must organize itself to be relevant in this global innovation economy. Even though nobody on campus said this to me, it was clear that their strategy could itself be a disruptive innovation in the higher education model.
In the United States, the last few years have seen a strong push by colleges and universities to become more innovative and entrepreneurial. There is general agreement that innovation and entrepreneurship is our competitive advantage and that we should maximize it. Indeed, President Obama’s National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship, along with the higher education community, have identified five ways in which universities can be more innovative and entrepreneurial – through student engagement, faculty entrepreneurship, technology transfer programs, greater industry collaboration and as a driver of regional economic development. Colleges and universities are raising and spending millions of dollars to find ways to figure out if they have the next Twitter or Genentech on their campuses.
What is interesting about IIT Gandhinagar is that it is building itself from the ground up with this framework in mind. They have built a curriculum focused on student problem-solving and real world engagement, rather than just book learning, which is the norm in India. They have recruited faculty from all over the world to come and teach their students in a multi-disciplinary manner. On the day I visited, they were hosting a business plan contest / faculty research demonstration conference that attracted over 100 faculty from the region.
Dr. Sudhir Jain, the Director of IIT-G, as it is called, also spoke about the opportunity that IIT has in the local community. Gujarat is one of India’s most economically dynamic states, particularly in the areas of manufacturing and pharmaceuticals. Dr. Jain stressed to me the importance of joint research and collaboration with local industry and of placing IIT students in internships in local industry. Finally, IIT-G knows that it can be a driver of the local economy through startups and spinoff’s as it grows and matures into a full institution. Already, it is incubating two data analytics’ startups on campus and planning for many more when it moves into its new campus in 2015.
As the institution grows it is thinking about research, innovation and real-world relevance from the bottom-up and integrating that into the curriculum and campus culture. And because of its global brand, it will always attract India’s best and brightest. While this may seem like a unique situation, it is actually becoming quite common around the world. Particularly in Asia and other emerging markets, we see new universities and institutions launching regularly. They are leveraging their global brands, like the IIT’s, or their deep pockets, like Saudi Arabia’s KHOUST. And they are all building from the ground up with a focus on innovation, entrepreneurship and driving economic value in their countries. Not only is this disruptive to higher education, but it will make the world much more competitive with the United States over the next several decades.
Source: Education News