A private engineering college on India’s southwest coast has suddenly come into the limelight.
At a time when newspapers and TV channels brood over the successes of students from the elite Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) or the Indian Institute of Management (IIM) to the exclusion of all others, a private engineering college in Manipal, on India’s southwest coast, has suddenly and unexpectedly come into the limelight. Two alumni of the Manipal Institute of Technology (MIT) are making news for their extraordinary rise up the global corporate ladder, upturning the popular belief that only the IITs and IIMs produce engineering or managerial stars.
The alumni are Satya Nadella, who was recently named the CEO of the $78-billion-in-sales Microsoft, and Rajeev Suri, who has been identified as a frontrunner for the top job as global CEO at Nokia Corporation. Two cases in such quick succession illustrate that this could not be a mere accident. And that the Manipal Insitute of Technology is really the “other MIT”, the original being the renowned Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
India’s MIT is located in the country’s only university town, Manipal, a charming, small municipality wedged between the Arabian Sea and the mountains of the Western Ghats on India’s west coast. Its population of about 35,000 consists almost entirely of students. MIT is part of Manipal University, whose origins go back to 1953, when T.M.A. Pai founded India’s first privately-run medical college there. The barren stretch of land of the 1950s and ’60s has now transformed into a bustling university town with 22 colleges, including engineering, medical, management and communication colleges. The vast campus has food courts, movie halls and air-conditioned hostels with laundry facilities.
What sets it apart, or MIT’s secret ingredient, is its mix, which no other Indian institution can provide. MIT’s students are exposed to a wide variety of learners from other disciplines, students from varied social strata and even a diversity of nationalities. Currently, Manipal has students from 60 countries. Its medical school, for instance, has trained a fifth of all doctors in Malaysia.
The rise of MIT’s alumni is even more remarkable because it does not get India’s most meritorious, who naturally gravitate towards the government-funded IITs. What it does get is the country’s next cut of bright students, from middle class and upper middle class backgrounds, whose basic academic foundation is very strong. This year, over 50,000 applicants fought over 1,800 MIT seats. The successful crop is more well-rounded and articulate as a whole than a batch from any IIT. Students’ non-academic interests are eclectic and range from sports to debating.
Manipal lays emphasis on physical activity. It boasts of the best sports facilities at any university this side of Asia, including a 1,50,000-square feet sports complex. “It is a holistic education that you won’t find in too many places in India,” says Ranjan Pai, board member of the trust that runs MIT, whose grandfather sowed the seeds of Manipal and whose father is now the chancellor of the university. Pai, a Forbes billionaire, trained as a doctor at Manipal but never practiced medicine. He heads the group’s commercial entity, Manipal Education and Medical Group, whose interests including a hospital chain and universities in several countries
By IIT standards, the education at MIT is by no means cheap. It is a private college and students pay a hefty Rs 2 lakh a year in tuition and enjoy a comfortable lifestyle. IIT undergraduates pay less than half that amount.
The university town could be a model for small towns in India. Manipal is clean, the systems work efficiently and there is a real sense of belonging and community, even though the students come from diverse backgrounds from all over the world. The crime rate is almost negligible and the rape of a student last year both jolted and outraged the population.
Pai says the wholesomeness of the mix is the secret sauce that makes MIT’s students successful. “Many more MIT alumni success stories will be highlighted as our former students move into big roles in global corporations as well as into entrepreneurship.” Quality private engineering colleges like MIT have a big role to play in India’s development in the next two decades, he says. “There are only a handful of private institutions like MIT in the country and they are very relevant.”