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Better Together with IITB-Monash Research Academy

The education and research relationship between India and Australia is currently thriving. Australian universities are actively investing in India's education sector, establishing physical campuses, and implementing dual degree programs.

However, fifteen years ago, the educational landscape between the two nations looked a lot different. A significant turning point came with the establishment of the IITB-Monash Research Academy, a pioneering partnership between the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (IITB) and Australia's Monash University. For the first time, PhD students could now obtain a joint degree from an Indian and Australian university.

Fast forward to today, and the academy is celebrating 200 PhD graduates, with its sights set on reaching 500 graduates by 2030. To learn more about the academy's journey and future plans, we spoke with CEO M S Unnikrishnan. Here, he highlights the importance of the Academy’s industry partners in the pursuit of real-world solutions.

IITB-Monash Research Academy

The IITB-Monash Research Academy was established in 2008. How did the landmark collaboration come about?

In 2006, Richard Larkins, the then vice-chancellor of Monash University, led a delegation to India, including senior Monash staff and an executive from BHP Billiton. During that visit, there was a meeting of the minds between Monash and IITB. IITB was drawn to Monash University for its international exposure, while Monash University expressed interest in IITB's modern facilities, pertinent research, and strong industry connections.

Following extensive negotiations, Monash University and IITB signed an agreement in March 2006 to collaborate on joint research initiatives and establish a graduate research school. The signing ceremony took place in the presence of then-Australian Prime Minister John Howard.

How has the Academy evolved since then?

In the early stages, it was experimental in nature. It was the first time students in India would benefit from having supervisors in two countries, exposure to industry, and a jointly badged PhD. Governance was an important consideration as well, especially with two different countries involved.

Fairly quickly, we realised that the collaborative venture possessed considerable scalability. The Academy quickly gained industry backing, with companies such as BHP Billiton and Infosys committing to support joint research and commercialisation efforts early on. We produced our first graduates in 2013 and from there the Academy continued to expand at an impressive rate. By 2015, we had our own dedicated Academy building, complete with purpose-built infrastructure. In 2023, we celebrated reaching 200 graduates and we hope to see that number grow to 500 by 2030.

IITB-Monash Research Academy 2023 graduates

Can you tell me more about your research themes?

Our research themes have been carefully chosen to align with current challenges faced by both India and Australia. We have seven main research themes: artificial intelligence and advanced computational modelling, clean energy, health science, smart materials, sustainable societies and management, circular economy, and infrastructure engineering.

Our research must have real-world relevance. We’re committed to generating practical outcomes that resonate across borders. 

Consider, for instance, the domain of clean energy. As global populations continue to burgeon, the pursuit of accessible, clean energy sources is high on the agenda of both governments. The collaborative energy research program at the Academy focuses on the development of advanced technologies for the generation and storage of energy in an ecologically sustainable manner.

How important is the role of industry in your collaborative research pursuits?

Academic research will remain on the bookshelf if you do not have industry coming forward to commercialise it. That is why involvement with active, forward-looking industries is so important.

Our industry mentors actively guide students, ensuring that their innovations aren't just academic exercises but have the potential to thrive in the real marketplace. These mentors bring in market insights, advice on pricing strategies, and a wealth of practical knowledge.

Looking ahead, our vision is to further strengthen ties with Australian industries. This benefits them greatly too. Situated in Mumbai – India's commercial capital – our Academy provides a gateway for these industries to tap into the burgeoning Indian market. This, combined with the expertise of our top-tier academics, offers a rich foundation for them to establish and cultivate their own research initiatives. 

Banner image: (left to right) Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research Training) Professor Nellie Georgiou-Karistianis; CEO of the IITB-Monash Research Academy Mr M S Unnikrishnan; Interim President and Vice-Chancellor Professor Susan Elliott AM; Pro Vice-Chancellor (International) Professor Craig Jeffrey.

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About the IITB-Monash Research Academy

The IITB-Monash Research Academy is a unique and exciting collaboration between two world-leading universities: the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (IITB) and Monash University. The academy was established in 2008 to become a global leader in research and education, particularly in science, engineering, and technology.

The academy was established to address the growing need for high-quality research and education in India and Australia. The Academy's unique collaboration between two world-leading universities offers students and researchers the best of both worlds. The Academy also plays an essential role in fostering collaboration and innovation. Its research projects involve researchers from both countries, enabling graduates to be well-positioned to build bridges between the two countries.

The Academy offers a joint PhD program that allows students to spend time at IITB and Monash University to experience two different research cultures and learn from leading experts in their field. More than 220 students have graduated from the academy since its establishment, making the program the most significant Australian-Indian collaboration in higher education.

The Academy is committed to conducting cutting-edge research to address the global challenges of the age, bringing together more than 400 highly skilled researchers and 500 research projects that cut across renewable energy, smart materials and infrastructure. The collaboration ensures the Academy's research is relevant and impactful by focusing intensely on industry engagement and working closely with industry partners to identify and address real-world problems.

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