In the 2022-23 academic session, a total of 3310 girls, which is 20% of all available seats, have successfully enrolled in the 23 IITs during the admission process.

Source: Google Photos

Women are still underrepresented at Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), and despite ongoing efforts to improve gender balance, there is still a long way to go. Preeti Aghalyam, the first woman to become an IIT director, acknowledges this challenge. She is the director-in-charge of the new IIT campus in Zanzibar, which is the first international campus established by an IIT.

IIT-Madras, established in 1959, has taken the initiative to launch this international campus in Tanzania’s Zanzibar, and it will commence its first academic session in October.

Preeti Aghalyam, aged 49, has been dedicating her time to travel between India and Zanzibar, working tirelessly to set things in motion. For her, the significance lies not only in breaking the glass ceiling as the first woman heading an IIT but also in embracing the ethos of being an IITian.

In an interview, Preeti Aghalyam shared her connection and love for IITs. She studied at IIT Madras, worked at IIT Bombay, and has been teaching at IIT Madras for 14 years. She has developed strong relationships with friends and even met her husband at IIT Madras. Her appointment as director comes at a time when IITs are actively striving to improve the gender ratio on campus. Although progress has been made, there is still a disparity between male and female representation among students and faculty members. At IIT Madras, for example, women comprise only about 12 percent of the faculty.

In recent years, the gender ratio in engineering colleges across India has shown some improvement compared to the past. In the 1990s, the ratio of male to female enrollment was 10:1, which decreased to 7:1 in the early 2000s and further to 4:1 in the mid and late 2000s. However, in 2014, most IITs still had a female population ranging from 5 to 12 percent.

Before the introduction of a quota system for females in 2018, IITs admitted 995 girls and 9,883 boys.Around 3,310 girls secured about 20% of the available seats in the 23 IITs during the 2022-23 academic session. The admission process for the 2023-24 academic session is currently underway.

Regarding her appointment and its significance, Preeti Aghalyam believes that it sends a strong message about gender inclusivity. She notes the significant representation of women on the Zanzibar side during IIT Madras visits and emphasizes the importance of striving for gender balance at the new campus.

Preeti Aghalyam finished her Chemical Engineering degree at IIT Madras in 1995. Later, she got a PhD from the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 2000. Throughout her life, she has had a strong interest in pursuing a career in academia. She comes from a family of academicians and has found fulfillment in pursuing an academic career.

Preeti Aghalyam, as the nodal officer for the Gender Advancement for Transforming Institutions (GATI) program at IIT Madras, actively examines and addresses gender disparities. The program has enabled her and her colleagues to analyze gender-segregated data and develop plans to promote gender equality in terms of numbers and opportunities within the institute. She intends to continue these efforts at the new campus in Zanzibar.

IIT-Madras recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to establish its campus in Zanzibar, an archipelago off the coast of East Africa. Furthermore, several IITs have received requests from countries in the Middle East and South Asia to establish campuses. IIT-Delhi, for example, is setting up a campus in the UAE, and there are plans for IIT campuses in Egypt, Thailand, Malaysia, and the UK.

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