Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Kultur-, Sozial- und Bildungswissenschaftliche Fakultät - Institut für Asien- und Afrikawissenschaften

The University as a Critical Juncture: The IITs and India’s Quest for the Ideal University

Dissertationsprojekt von Sabil Francis



This dissertation, based on policy documents of the Indian government and the UNESCO archives in Paris, tries to sketch the underlying dynamics of the decision to invest in a technologically intensive mode of modernisation in India, in the 1950s, by briefly focusing on the politics behind the setting up of the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) at Kharagpur and Bombay. The central argument of this dissertation is that the IITs in the 1950s were symbols of an emerging and confident nation state, and that they in a microsome reflected broader questions that a newly independent socialist post-colonial state was struggling with. These included debates over what kind of technological development path to adopt, debates over the autonomy of the IITs that reflected broader tussles over control between federal and provincial governments, debates over how to balance merit with equity of access across caste\ and class. It is argued that the IITs should be seen both as symbols of nationalism and a development tool.

This work is the first to see them as symbols of Indian nationalism as well as the adaptation of how certain modes of technology were accepted and others rejected in tune with the broader aims and transformations in the post-colonial state. I adapt the idea of critical junctures of globalisation focusing on international technology transfer as a space of negotiation, translation and transfer, with IIT Bombay and IIT Kharagpur as case studies. I use the concept as a lens to examine technology transfer as a techno-political space of negotiation, translation and transmutation as well as a portal of globalisation that enables flows of ideas, investment and people across time and space. I argue that a clear line can be drawn between colonial decisions taken to adapt certain forms of technology and definitions of development, the institutionalization of this in the post-colonial state and that this laid the foundations of India’s success in a technologically mediated service industry.


Sabil Francis studied at the University of Uppsala in Sweden, and the École Normale Supérieure (ENS) Paris. He did a joint Masters in Global Studies from the Universities of Leipzig and Vienna. He has published in the areas of science and technology, peace and conflict studies, and intellectual property rights. Sabil Francis has taught at the University of Leipzig and the Freie Universität Berlin and has done research at the Universitat Jaume I, Castelló de la Plana, Valencia, Spain, and the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.