Known for quality education ecosystem in the world, India has in recent years begun extending power of knowledge beyond the country’s boundaries by setting up campuses of internationally recognised institutes like IITs in foreign land---all this with the aim of providing top-class higher education opportunities to students globally
A major tool of ‘soft power’ diplomacy, education not only helps in promoting cultural exchanges but also works as a bridge to the global knowledge gap.
The term soft power was first coined by American political scientist Joseph Nye. In his book ‘Bound to Lead,’ he describes it as “the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than coercion or payments.”
According to him, the sources of soft power lie in the attractiveness of a country’s culture, political ideals, and policies. For India, however, globally recognised institutions like IITs and IIMs serve as important soft power tools to showcase the country’s educational excellence to the world.
Objective behind setting up higher education campuses
By setting up higher educational institutions in foreign shores, India aims to enhance its reputation globally as a powerhouse of education all along enhancing the quality of education and research further, due to student and faculty diversity from the international campuses. It will also serve to deepen research collaborations with other top-ranked academic institutions world-wide.
Besides, India’s efforts to bring world-class education in Africa, Gulf, and other foreign countries will have a far-reaching impact on the local economy in attracting investment and fostering a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship.
Several IITs have been receiving requests from foreign countries to set up their campuses on their soil. Thailand, Vietnam, Middle East, and African countries have reportedly shown interest in having IIT campuses.
IIT Madras is preparing ground for setting up a campus in Sri Lanka. It has already established a campus in Tanzania’s Zanzibar where classes commenced in the last week of October 2023.
While IIT Delhi, which set up its first offshore campus in Abu Dhabi in 2023, is trying to make the UAE-based campus as a research-oriented centre so that it could contribute to the research and academic ecosystem of the Gulf country.
On February 13, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during his visit to the UAE, interacted with the first batch of students from the IIT Delhi-Abu Dhabi campus. In his speech the Prime Minister said, “this (the IIT Delhi—Abu Dhabi campus) not only begins a new chapter in bilateral collaboration between India and the UAE, but also brings the youth from the two countries together.”
Apart from IITs, India’s National Forensic Sciences University (NFSU) has also set up its overseas campus in Jinja, Uganda; it was inaugurated by External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar on April 12, 2023.
The campus, set up in collaboration with the Ugandan People’s Defence Forces, will offer courses in forensic sciences, behavioural sciences, cyber security, digital forensics, and allied sciences while promoting research in these areas.
NEP 2020 and internationalisation of Indian education
In recent years, there has been a significant shift in the narrative around internationalization of Indian education. The National Education Policy 2020 encourages Indian institutions to lay emphasis on attaining global standards.
It stipulates various measures, which include facilitating research and teaching collaborations and faculty and student exchanges with foreign higher education institutions; it encourages high performing Indian universities to set up campuses in other countries. In view of this, IIT Madras-Zanzibar and IIT Delhi-Abu Dhabi aim to fulfil the goal of providing state-of-the-art programmes to students from Tanzania and the UAE.
India’s engagement through skills and capacity building
Though overseas campuses of IITs have been set up recently, developing skills and building capacities have always been part of India’s engagement with countries in South Asia, Southeast Asia, Africa, and Latin America. The India Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) which was launched in 1964, has been a key pillar of the cooperation between New Delhi and countries in the developing world in the domain of capacity building and skilling.
The ITEC, a demand-driven programme that represents an important arm of India’s soft power diplomacy, relies on innovative technological cooperation to fulfil the needs of developing countries. Since its launch 60 years ago, thousands of students, and professionals from around 160 countries have benefitted from the ITEC programme.
Professionals from developing countries are offered unique training courses, both civilian and defence, in different centres of excellence in India. In the civilian sector, the training offered includes a wide and diverse spectrum of disciplines ranging from IT, rural development and parliamentary practices to entrepreneurship, marine and aeronautical engineering etc.
In defence, the training covers fields like security and strategic studies, defence management, marine and aeronautical engineering, logistics and management. Over 12,000 scholarships for study in short and long-term courses in India’s leading institutions are offered annually under ITEC.
Partner countries are free to choose their personnel and the courses that are relevant for their development needs. ITEC programmes are often moulded to suit the specific requirements of partner countries
As a result of different activities under this programme, there is now a visible and growing awareness among other countries about India’s competence as a provider of technical know-how and expertise as well as training opportunities, consultancy services and feasibility studies. These programmes have generated immense goodwill and substantive cooperation among the developing countries.


Indian universities like Manipal and BITS Pilani have their campuses in Dubai; Amity has a campus in London and Singapore while SP Jain School of Global Management runs its offshore campus in Sydney in Australia for the past few years.
But the recent decision by internationally acknowledged institutions like IITs to open campuses in foreign countries, reflects India’s commitment to offering quality education beyond borders. It also signifies a paradigm shift in the country’s education sector; all this along it aligns with the vision of fostering academic excellence on a global scale.