Internationalization also means travelling to meet with international partners, sign agreements and decide what to do with agreements. This week we are in the heart of the BRICS countries: India.
DELAYS, A RESTART AND DEER ON THE UNIVERSITY’S CAMPUS IN INDIA
Internationalization also means travelling to meet with international partners, sign agreements and decide what to do with agreements. This week we are in the heart of the BRICS countries: India. In order to renew an agreement with one university, sign a new agreement with another, and meet with the directorate of two mayor business partners, we are on our way to Chennai, Kharagpur and Bangalore. ‘We’ in this case refers to the dean of Engineering Technology, Geert Dewulf, International Affairs officer, Jelle Ferwerda and myself, Victor van der Chijs. Throughout the trip we are accompanied by Jelle Nijdam, Counsellor for Science and Technology at the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
Before departure we first had to make sure we received our passports; Getting a visa for India is at times a long procedure, and ours were issued just in time for our flight. After an uneventful flight we arrived in the middle of the night in Delhi. Uneventful until ten seconds before the intended landing that is. As we were about the touch down, the double-deck Boeing 747 geared up again. After some 20 seconds the pilot on the intercom: “Unfortunately, traffic control informed us that a vehicle was on the landing strip. We will do a fly-around, and land in 10 minutes. Welcome to India!”
In Delhi we had a six hour layover, enjoying an near-empty departure hall and our first taste of magnificent Indian food. When finally it was time to board, we were kindly informed that our flight was and hour delayed due to fog. After boarding, the fog had not reduced and we were on the tarmarc for such a long time, that the stewards started serving our ‘in flight’ meal. Slightly tired we arrived in Chennai, 5 hours later than expected.
In the evening we had dinner with a delegation from the Netherlands Business Support Office. They assist companies in the Netherland in finding the best partners in India to develop their business network.
On Monday morning we were picked up by drivers organized by the Apollo Tyre company. The UT and Apollo have a long-standing relation with APOLLO in Enschede, formally known as Vredesteijn. In order to intensify our ties with APOLLO we met with the Indian board of directors and discussed sharing some of the research and staff development responsibilities. Our visit was concluded with a tour around one of the production facilities. Did you know that a common tyre may consist of 20-30 components? We now do know. The tour started with the mixing of natural rubbers with additives under high pressure and heat. Walking through the corridors we were explained how the rubber is shaped into sidewalls, tracks etc. With a production capacity large enough to provide all cars at the UT with new tyres, every single day, we were well impressed by the logistics involved in producing hundreds different types of tyres.
In the evening we were kindly invited by APOLLO for dinner, which gave us the opportunity to informally discuss our future plans and ideas for joint research projects.
Tuesday morning brought a late start. Only at 9:30 did we have to meet with the International Institute of Technology Madras (ITTM). IITM is one of the oldest IIT’s, founded in 1959. We work closely together with them on areas such as Civil Engineering and Mechanical Engineering. We have had a formal agreement with them which was about to expire. Se we used this opportunity to reconfirm our relation, and decide upon expansion of our collaboration.
The campus of IIT-M is large and forested. As you enter the campus, wide lanes full of bikes give a similar feeling as the UT campus. In the wide aerial-roots covered fig trees line the road, with monkeys in the canopies, and deer underneath them. During our initial meeting we signed the Memorandum of Understanding, and discussed in general terms the collaboration we envision. Interestingly, where in the Netherlands we see that students focus on obtaining a MSc degree, and only a few of them stopping after the BSc, in India a BSc degree is much more popular. Next to this, IIT-M has a strong focus on PhD education, which is also clearly expressed in joint degree programmes with several universities in Europe, Asia and Australia. Visits with the Civil Engineering department and the Mechanical Engineering department followed. After a quick lunch, shared with some 30 visiting academics, we had to run to the airport, to catch our afternoon flight to Kolkatta, to visit IIT Kharagpur.
DELAYS, CANCELLED HOTELS AND IMPRESSIVE RESEARCH
After running to the airport, things slowed down considerably. Of course after leaving early, to ensure arrival on time at the airport, traffic delays were non-existent and we made it to the airport in record time. We zipped through customs and within an hour of leaving IIT, we were in the departure area... to find our flight was not expected to be on time. A 50 minute delay turned into an hour and ended up in 2 hours waiting before boarding commenced. Luckily the airport lounge provided some food so we had eaten when we landed in Kolkatta, not at 7 but at 9PM.
The car organized by IIT Kharagpur was still there, and we decided to skip the scheduled stop at a restaurant for dinner. In the dark we drove off; 3 hours to Kharagpur. After spending half a night in the car, we were ready for a nightcap at midnight. Here the entrepreneurial nature of Indians proved crucial: everything on-campus was closed for the night. Soon after arrival a scooter could be observed driving into town, only to return 20 minutes later with a package to be delivered at room 103.
After a short rest we met up again at 8:15 for breakfast, Indian style. Curry, breads, eggs and Chai fortified us for the rest of the day, starting at 9 with a meeting with the rector of the university. We visited IIT-K because of our long standing relations in polymere research, as well as biomedical sciences. To confirm this relation, we signed an Memorandum of Understanding, which paves the way for broader attention and intensified collaboration with this excellent research institute. During our discussions on the best areas of cooperation we often were amused: IIT Kharagpur and the UT could have been developed by the same team of academics, considering the overlap. So far, we have identified some 5 main areas of cooperation for the next years.
IIT-K campus is a large, green campus and, like IIT-Madras, we felt much at home. Bicycles are the means of transport for students and a large number of them can be seen parked in front of the buildings we visited. Somehow, the bikes here were also not in the allocated bike spaces…
At IIT-K we met several staff that had spent time at UT, or even received a degree from the UT. In one of the buildings we met the most recent UT Graduate. He received his PhD last month for excellent research done with Professor Lohse. Of course we had the opportunity to also visit his new working place.
With time again running out, we had to leave after a short but tasty lunch, back in the car to Kolkata. On the road we realized that at least 3 members of our delegation have an inclination to biological sciences, and some dozen different bird species were identified, varying from kingfishers to Kites. That made the trip to the airport a lot quicker than anticipated and before we knew it, we were back at the place we left not even 24 hours before: the airport of Kolkata.
Naturally, we expected to be leaving on time. Unfortunately, no such luck. So we waited, and waited, and... After a delay of just one hour, we finally boarded and had an uneventful flight to Bangalore, the self-proclaimed IT capital of India. In the arrival hall we were approached by the driver of the hotel we booked. Glad that the shuttle-booking had worked out, we asked the driver to wait a few minutes, for the delegation to be complete. Unfortunately the driver was not there to pick us up. He was only there to tell us that our hotel room was cancelled for some reasons which we still do not fully understand. That we should take another shuttle, to another hotel. After 45 minutes of arguing it was clear: there was no alternative. So the representative from the Embassy went with the driver, and we got into a different car.
Meanwhile we contacted our colleagues from Strukton, who flew in earlier that day to join us in our meeting, and was also booked in our original hotel. We were not amused. With minutes to spare before the kitchen in the hotel closed we arrived and managed a midnight dinner.
Way too early the alarm clock woke us up. Because of the location of the hotel, we had to be checked out, and on the road by 8AM. Even so, we took over 2 hours to get to our appointment with an Indian partner of Strukton, the Dutch construction firm. Strukton is a long standing UT research partner, financing a lot of shared research, and, after hearing about our Indian ambitions, advised us to come to Bangalore, and meet one of their local partners, a large electronics company.
We had a very successful meeting. Better even than the Strukton delegation had anticipated. The visit was concluded with a tour of their facilities. Absolute highlight being the automated production line for control boards. After lunch in the hotel gardens, just a few hours separate us from our flight home. In two hours we will host a dinner with some of our Alumni in Bangalore, after which we will hurry to the airport. Another day where we will spend a good few dark hours in transport, off to an airport, only to fly off into the night.