Exploring Ways to Engage Indian Diaspora

Participants at Overseas Indian Higher Education Conclave at IIT Gandhinagar. The Feb. 22-23 conclave celebrated IITGN's overseas supporters and brainstormed on ways to engage NRIs to promote global student and faculty exchanges and advance learning.

N on-resident Indians' contributions to Indian higher education came under focus at a Feb. 22-23 conclave at the Indian Institute of Technology Gandhinagar (IITGN) that explored ways to engage with the NRIs, Persons of Indian Origin and global professionals to advance the country's educational stature.

The "Overseas Indian Higher Education Conclave" celebrated IITGN's overseas supporters and brainstormed on ways to engage more widely and deeply with overseas Indians to promote global student and faculty exchanges and educational advancement and fundraising.

Recognizing that many overseas Indians contribute their time, talent and treasure already, participants at the conclave explored models, challenges and opportunities for partnerships.

"The large number of professional NRIs and PIOs are an incredibly valuable resource that Indian educational institutions can tap for their academic and institutional advancement," Prof. Sudhir K. Jain, director, IIT Gandhinagar, said.

Jain, according to an IIT Gandhinagar press release, noted that several overseas Indians serve as visiting faculty, scholars in residence or industry associates at IITGN while many others volunteer their time and effort in fundraising or expanding out overseas network.

Nearly 40 percent of IIT Gandhinagar's undergraduate students and 75 percent of PhD students receive options to study abroad and other international opportunities, which is among the highest in India and three times the average at universities in the U.S.

In addition, from 10 to 15 percent of IIT Gandhinagar's faculty are visiting faculty from India and abroad.

The conclave included intellectually-stimulating discussions on various aspects of overseas Indian contributions to Indian higher education through sessions on "Models for Global Partnerships: Examples and Experiences," "Facilitating Global Student and Faculty Exchanges," "Global Fundraising: Opportunities and Challenges" and "Leveraging Overseas Indians in Fundraising and Institutional Development."

Nitish Thakor, professor of Electrical, Computer Engineering and Biomedical Engineering, Johns Hopkins University, said, science and technology have become a global enterprise as no longer are there small pockets of excellence as the U.S. used to be. "Now modern education (and research) should also be a global, and collaborative enterprise, complementing mutual strengths, talents and specializations," Thakor said.

Jamshed Bharucha, former President Emeritus of Cooper Union, New York, and vice chancellor, SRM University, Amaravati, Andhra Pradesh, said, global exchanges are critical because Indian higher education needs radical reform.

"First, while India has tremendous intellectual talent, the systems of education tend to stifle imagination, creativity, originality, innovation, and risktaking. Second, while Indian higher education is good at deep dives into traditional academic disciplines, the most important emerging areas of knowledge are not within traditional academic disciplines, but rather at crossdisciplinary intersections," Bharucha said.

Samir Desai, founder and CFO, The Desai Foundation, U.S., said that overseas Indians can emulate social programs such as those between The Desai Foundation and IITGN to uplift rural women and children. He said, "participating students are learning to become future social leaders and teamwork. It's a great way to contribute to education and do good."

Since its inception in 2008, IITGN has benefitted immensely from the support of several overseas Indians who applauded the Institute's innovative programs and expressed an interest in contributing to India's educational development.

NRIs have been crucial in the success of several of IITGN's signature programs, including faculty chairs, fellowships, scholarships and interdisciplinary centers. Their support has turned IITGN into a holistic global campus.

California-based NRI, Navin Doshi recently established a chair on water and sanitation at IITGN and last month, Dr. Kiran C Patel, a renowned cardiologist and philanthropist based in Tampa, Florida, established the Dr Kiran C Patel Centre for Sustainable Development at IITGN.

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