Dr Preeti Aghalayam, the first woman to lead an IIT, hopes to operate at a scale that is impactful and leverages scientific strengths.
The Indian Institute of Technology Madras (IITM), India’s top-ranked engineering and technology university, is set to open its first international campus in Zanzibar, Tanzania, in October, bringing to the African continent its prestigious, world-renowned legacy and expertise headed by Dr Preeti Aghalayam, also the first woman to lead an IIT.
“We’ve been looking at what makes sense for us [as an institution] because we are nationally ranked number one [in India], and what are the places where our kind of education and research will find value,” says Aghalayam, the Dean of School of Science & Engineering and Director-in-charge of IITM’s Zanzibar campus, to FORBES AFRICA. “Also, which nation, or which region would find useful what we bring to the table, which is quite different than other institutions, say in the West, or even in India.”
The Zanzibar campus is expected to onboard 50 undergraduate and 20 post-graduate students in October for bachelor’s and master’s degrees in data science and AI. The academic offerings are expected to be expanded in 2024.
After over two years in the Office of Global Engagement at IITM and an over 10-year career teaching at IIT Bombay (in Mumbai, Maharashtra) and IITM (in Chennai, Tamil Nadu), where she was a professor of chemical engineering, Aghalayam was hand-picked to lead the campus, as part of a partnership with the Government of Tanzania. Aghalayam is also a former IITM student and pursued her post-doctoral research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the United States.
“This whole relationship is at the level of the education ministries of [India and Tanzania] and IIT Madras is a designate of the Government of India,” she adds of the new partnership.
“I believe that Tanzania is also very keen on this, especially in the Zanzibar region, because they are looking to expand their education offerings. Apart from being a tourist destination, they are looking if it can also become an educational destination.”
With a challenging and aggressive timeline to open the campus and build the same institutional reputation, infrastructure, and ecosystem in a new part of the world, Aghalayam is tasked with a difficult feat, but one she is embracing as a seasoned academic and researcher. With scientific rigor and research at the core of her ambitions, she hopes to propel the campus to be both inclusive with more diversity than India sees, but also competitive in nature.
“[We] will offer the type of academic programs that are needed by the young people, not only in Tanzania, but also the larger East African region, at the level of quality that is the IIT hallmark,” says Aghalayam.
“It’s important for us to operate at a scale that is impactful, makes a difference, leverages our scientific strengths etc., because it helps solve global challenges.”