Chasing the IIT dream across Palk Bay
Posted on September 6th, 2016


As IITs open gates to international students, many in Sri Lanka are gearing up for the entrance tests to get into them.

​​After completing her AS levels (Class 11) at a Colombo school, Sasmithaa Manickam is exploring options in higher education. If her dream materialises, she might, in a couple of years, be sitting amidst peers at a premier institution in India, learning the fundamentals of computer science engineering.

​The high school student has set her eyes on the Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT). I got to know about the IITs while reading about top techies in places like Google. I have also heard a lot about the institutes from my friends and relatives living in India,” she said after an interactive session with visiting academics from the IITs on Monday.

A team of six IIT professors is in Sri Lanka to orient students to the IIT admission process. Earlier this year, the IITs announced plans to hold entrance examinations abroad — in Singapore, UAE, Ethiopia and SAARC nations. Following that, the Ministry of Human Resource Development, along with the Ministry of External Affairs, has begun its outreach activities.

The initiative enables foreign nationals to compete for IIT seats for the first time. Until now, the entrance examinations were held in other countries only to admit Indians living abroad. The IITs have made it to top slots in some international ranking lists. However, admitting more foreign students will put the IITs at an even higher level globally,” said Santosh J. Gharpure, Associate Professor, IIT-Bombay.

The quality of education, resources and faculty are comparable to some of the best engineering schools in the world, he told a small group of students gathered at the Indian Cultural Centre here. The discussion was organised by the Indian High Commission in Colombo.

Foreign nationals will be admitted to undergraduate and post-graduate programmes of the IITs from 2017-18. They could appear for the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) and Graduate Aptitude Test in Engineering (GATE) in Sri Lanka, on the same day and time, like aspirants in India, but unlike Indian students — who will take the JEE main exam and then advanced exam should they qualify for it — ​foreign students ​can appear for the JEE-advanced examination directly. ​

The IITs will add seats to their existing pool, opening up a new space where foreign nationals compete with ​each other, without any change to the admission process that Indian students go through.

​​An international brand

Sri Lanka has for long been setting an example in the region with its highly-regarded public school and university system. However, the last few years have witnessed a stronger push for private education in the island.

​Moreover, many high school students, particularly those from Colombo, are increasingly considering higher education abroad — even at the undergraduate level — targeting schools in the U.S., U.K. and Australia. For students in the humanities, New Delhi and Bangalore have been among their preferred destinations.

Soon, students who aspire to pursue an engineering degree may also consider schools right across the Palk Bay, now that the IITs have opened their gates to them. To start with, it is so close by. The courses also tend to be more affordable than in the West,” said Kavishna Sekar, who wants to study chemical engineering.

The IITs have so far had international students, mostly as part of exchange programmes. This sort of diversity will be great for Indian students. So it’s an advantage not just to the foreign students, but a great value addition to the experience of our students in India as well. It’s a win-win situation,” said U.K. Anandavardhanan, associate professor from the mathematics department of IIT-Bombay.

The professors said they would hold a similar session in Jaffna.


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