UK university and Indian IIT to offer joint degree for first time

Inaugural intake of students expected to arrive in Birmingham in autumn 2023, but funding and governance still to be determined

July 12, 2022
Source: Alamy

In a first-of-its-kind deal, an Indian Institute of Technology and a UK university have agreed to offer a joint degree, Times Higher Education can reveal.

The Indian Institute of Technology Madras (IIT-Madras) and the University of Birmingham will partner on two-year master’s programmes in the fields of energy systems, data science and biomedical engineering.

Advocates of UK-India education partnerships, including former universities minister Lord Johnson of Marylebone, have long sought to establish outposts of the prestigious IITs on British soil. But the agreement marks the emergence of the first such partnership since India trailed its intention of opening IIT branches overseas earlier this year.

It comes as New Delhi and Westminster look to strengthen ties via a post-Brexit trade deal, with outgoing British prime minister Boris Johnson having said recently that he aims to have a bilateral treaty in place by the time Indians celebrate the holiday of Diwali in October.

Birmingham pro vice-chancellor Robin Mason told THE that he had high expectations for the new educational partnership, underscoring the benefits for both countries.

“I think it will prove to be very popular indeed – and not just to Indian students,” he said, adding that “there’s every possibility” that the first students to be admitted will begin their studies in the autumn of 2023.

According to Professor Mason, under the Birmingham-Madras scheme, students would spend roughly a year apiece in India and the UK, with faculty on both sides also moving between the institutions.

Upon graduation, students would receive a “single degree certificate with both university crests on it” rather than two separate degrees, he said.

Subjects offered would fit with national priorities and also play to the institutions’ complementary strengths, he said.

“IIT-Madras is very strong in devices for biomedical engineering, whereas we tend to be stronger in terms of materials, membranes and synthetic tissues. IIT-Madras doesn’t have a medical school – for these purposes, we do lots of translational science and have a medical school [and] the clinical facilities to run trials.”

Although he was reluctant to specify how many students might pursue degrees under the scheme, Professor Mason said he “could see” each of its three programmes “easily being attractive to 50 students or more a year”.

He stressed that the universities would prioritise quality over quantity, keeping the scheme “highly selective”. “These aren’t volume programmes, so they’re not going to be huge,” he said.

But even if the intake remains small, the partners will need to address the massive difference in cost between Indian and UK university degrees, he conceded.

“Students would pay comparable fees for the two years – it’s not going to work to have IIT Madras costing £2,500 per year and Birmingham £25,000 per year,” he said. “I would expect that students that get on to these programmes will have extensive scholarships that will help to bridge the difference in fees.”

While financial details have yet to be worked out, Professor Mason was confident that the scheme would be accessible to students at both institutions.

“We anticipate that the majority – if not all – of the students will be in receipt of merit-based scholarships, although how much those are funded remains to be seen,” he said, adding, “we’re aware we’ll need to invest in the programme to make it successful”.

Costs aside, the universities will also need to navigate issues of quality assurance and governance. “Joint programmes are challenging – there’s a reason there aren’t lots of them,” said Professor Mason. “But I don’t think these are insuperable obstacles.”

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