The University of Oxford has longstanding connections with India, dating to 1579, when Father Thomas Stephens, from New College, was the first recorded Englishman to visit India. Ties have strengthened through time, with the creation of the Boden Chair in Sanskrit in 1832 and the arrival of Oxford’s first Indian students in 1871. The Indian branch of Oxford University Press, established in 1912, has a proud tradition of publishing its own distinguished scholarly list.
India is now a strategic priority for the University. To further this, the India–Oxford Initiative has been created as a hub for India-related academic activity within Oxford, and as a focal point for those wishing to partner with us.
Today, Oxford University is a thriving location for the study of India. We have a postgraduate degree in Modern South Asian Studies, including language studies, and the MSc in Contemporary India welcomed its first intake of students in 2008. Elsewhere, Oxford scientists are connecting with their Indian counterparts through unique networks in physics, cancer research and other fields.
Oxford University is a thriving and leading centre for the study of India. There are a number of India-focused courses offered by the University, both at undergraduate and graduate level.
India studies at Oxford
The Contemporary South Asian Studies Programme (CSASP), part of the School of Interdisciplinary Area Studies, runs the 12-month MSc in Modern South Asian Studies and 21-month MPhil in Modern South Asian Studies courses (both of which are run in conjunction with the Faculty of Oriental Studies). The courses' Contemporary India stream explores present-day India’s social, economic and political achievements and challenges, and the connections between the country’s democratic and developmental successes and failures. The courses offer a range of topics relating to India, including: Gender in Indian History and Society, c. 1800 to the present; Societies and Economies in India, c. 1600-1800; Culture and Society in Contemporary India: The South Asian Anthropocene; The Indian State: From Developmentalism to Liberalisation; India as a ‘Great Power’: Economics and International Relations; and Environment, Human Development and Public Policy in Contemporary India. MPhil students have the opportunity to undertake intensive language studies in one of the major languages spoken in ancient or contemporary India including Hindi, Urdu, Bengali, Sanskrit, Braj Bhāshā and Tibetan.
Undergraduate students taking Philosophy, Politics and Economics can choose to study an option in the Politics of South Asia with a strong focus on Indian politics.
Research about India at Oxford
Oxford is home to more than eighty academics with a South Asia focus, the vast majority specialising in the study of India. Oxford academics study all aspects of India, including its history, language, literature, religions, economy, politics, society and public health. A new generation of postdoctoral scholars are broadening the range of research interests in India, with projects on microfinance, energy technology, food distribution and Dalit business among others.
Libraries and museums
Oxford University has an unrivalled collection of material on India. The Bodleian Indian Institute Library holds over 100,000 volumes in Indian and European languages and one of the world’s most important collections of Sanskrit manuscripts, the largest outside India itself. The Bodleian Law Library has extensive holdings related to law in India. The Oriental Institute Library, the History Faculty Library, and Queen Elizabeth House Library also hold important collections of South Asian materials.
The Indian collections of the Ashmolean Museum are also of international importance. Displayed in three galleries, visitors can see objects and works of art from the first flowering of the Indus Valley Civilisation (2,500BC) up to the paintings of the late Mughal Empire from the end of the nineteenth century.
The Pitt Rivers Museum holds well over 15,000 items, covering most aspects of daily life, including a variety of bronzes, paintings and carvings relating to Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist and Sikh communities. The Museum also holds the world's most important collection of Naga artefacts from Assam, some 5,000 items covering virtually all aspects of Naga material culture. Its ethnographic collection of musical instruments now features the Indian collection given by Sir Sourinda Mohun Tagore alongside the examples collected by Henry Balfour, the first curator of the Museum.
Collaborations with Indian institutions
Oxford academics work collaboratively with colleagues in India across a broad range of disciplines.
Medical Sciences collaborations
The INTERGROWTH-21st study of foetal and infant growth is an international consortium researching the healthy growth of foetuses and new born babies in eight countries, including India, with its research centre at the INCLEN Trust in New Delhi. In collaboration with the Department of Nutrition of the WHO, the results will be incorporated into national/international, maternal and neonatal programmes for monitoring maternal/infant health and nutrition.
The George Centre for Healthcare Innovation runs projects in India in collaboration with The George Institute, India to find effective affordable ways to provide essential healthcare to those in resource-poor settings. Both centres collaborate on the Oxford-India Health Research Network, an informal network of Oxford researchers collaborating with health research organisations in India. The George Centre for Healthcare Innovation also collaborates with the Centre for Chronic Disease Control, New Delhi and the Public Health Foundation of India, New Delhi.
Oxford is part of the PHFI-UKC Wellcome Trust Capacity Building Programme (WTP), again in a collaboration with the Public Health Foundation of India. WTP is a consortium of UK universities whose public health departments are teaching and training researchers to populate India's public health institutions.
Social Sciences collaborations
The Young Lives project on childhood poverty is a long-term international study following and documenting the lives of 12,000 children over 15 years in 4 study countries (the states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana in India alongside Ethiopia, Peru, and Vietnam). Investigating the drivers and impacts of child poverty, it aims to generate evidence to help policymakers design programmes that can break the poverty cycle. In 2007, Young Lives research helped develop the plan of action for children in Andhra Pradesh, setting out the state government’s vision for children’s well-being and development.
Mathematical, Physical and Life Sciences collaborations
The Global Jet Watch project links professional astronomers with schoolchildren around the world to carry out cutting edge research. Dedicated to investigating the behaviour of black holes, it employs small telescopes, strategically separated in longitude around the globe so there is always one in darkness, to provide around the clock data to the headquarters in Oxford. Observatories located in boarding schools in India, Chile, Australia and South Africa are equipped with research-grade instrumentation and bespoke spectrographs providing continuous monitoring of black hole SS433, the first undertaking of its kind. The project seeks in particular to engage girls from around the world and inspire a new generation of scientists. In January 2017, a solar farm was connected to the observatory in India. It is now powered entirely independently of the local grid from a renewable source.
The Oxford-India Network in Theoretical Physical Sciences has strengthened Oxford's links with premier institutions in India including the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics in Kolkata and the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in Mumbai.
PURAK: Wearable Devices for Distal Arm Functionality Rehabilitation is a project aiming to develop affordable prostheses for the large majority of the Indian population. Oxford's Institute of Biomedical Engineering (IBME), in partnership with The Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore (IISc), has been awarded a 4 year grant for the project (totalling approximately £1 million) from the Wellcome Trust. From 2014-18, the IISc, with its expertise in affordable and appropriate design, is working together with biomechanics and clinical trials experts at Oxford and with experts in commercialisation at both centres.
The Global Nodes, Global Orders: Macro and Micro histories of Globalization project attempts to historicise and re-conceptualise globalisation, bring the key disciplines together, and better understand its intimate mechanics and implications for the present. Led by James Belich in Oxford, it brings together leading scholars from Oxford, Princeton, Osaka, Kolkata, Leiden and Konstanz.
The Cultural Heritage Programme at Oxford, in partnership with Maharana Mewar Charitable Foundation and the American Institute of Indian Studies is working to digitise more than 200,000 images of Indic art and architecture.
The Sealinks Project studies the first maritime connections that linked societies around the Indian Ocean. A large multidisciplinary project, it involves collaboration with individuals and institutions around the Indian Ocean and beyond. The project draws upon the methods of archaeology, genetics, linguistics and palaeoenvironmental studies to try to better understand the first steps towards globalisation in the Indian Ocean world, exploring the interplay between the cultural and biological factors that came to shape societies, species and environments in the region.
The Earthquakes without Frontiers partnership for earthquake resilience brings together earth scientists, social scientists and practitioners in the communication of scientific knowledge to policy makers, including from the Department of Earth Sciences, University of Oxford, the Tata Institute of Social Sciences and Bihar State Disaster Management Authority. Focused on North-East China, Iran and Central Asia, and the Himalayan mountain front, the researchers work closely with local scientists, policy-makers and organisations, both government and non-governmental to achieve its core aims: to provide increases in knowledge of distribution of earthquake hazards in the continental interiors; to identify pathways to increased resilience in the populations exposed to these hazards; and to secure long term gains by establishing a well-networked, interdisciplinary partnership.
The Planned Violence: Post/Colonial Urban Infrastructures and Literature network explores the shifting relationship between urban planning, violence and literary representation from colonial into postcolonial times. A collaboration between University of Oxford, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi and University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, the project examines the complex role of literature in theorising the city: how contemporary patterns of violence are embedded within urban stories of the past, and how narrative complicates official histories of post-imperial, multicultural London, and postcolonial Delhi and Johannesburg. It brings the insights of critical geographers and historians into dialogue with cultural and literary critics, identifying literary texts as key to interrogating current theoretical debates on space and social control.
Indian students at Oxford
India is Oxford's fifth-largest source of international students. A significant majority of Indian students are graduate students, around half of whom are concentrated in the social sciences.
The University is very pleased to be able to offer Indian students a range of scholarship funding to facilitate their study at Oxford. Since 1947, over 180 Rhodes Scholarships for graduate study have been awarded to Indian students. Over 60 Indian graduate students have held the prestigious Clarendon Scholarships since they were launched in 2001. Other prestigious scholarships include the Felix Scholarships, Commonwealth Scholarships and the Chevening Rolls-Royce Science and Innovation Leadership Programme scholarships.
Oxford continually seeks to expand the range of scholarships available for Indian students even further, and in 2012 the University was delighted to welcome five of the British Council Jubilee Scholarships holders. These one-off scholarships celebrating the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee were offered to Indian students to study at UK universities at the postgraduate level.
Oxford has official clubs and societies for people interested in, or who have a connection to, many different countries and regions.
Indian academics at Oxford
There are over 160 academics from India working at Oxford – these include lecturers, professors, and full-time researchers, across all disciplines.
Many distinguished Indians have been academics at Oxford over the years, including Amartya Sen, recipient of the Nobel Prize in Economics (1998); Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, President of India (1962-67); and C.N.R. Rao, Head of the Science Advisory Council to the Prime Minister of India (2009-Present).
Dr Nandini Gooptu
Dr Gooptu is a specialist in Indian urban development, poverty and politics. She currently focuses her research on the social and political consequences of economic liberalisation and globalisation in India. She was the recipient of a University of Oxford Teaching Excellence Award, in 2008, for “Outstanding teaching and commitment to teaching”, nominated by her students. In between 2012 and 2016, she was Head of Oxford’s Department of International Development.
Dr Gooptu took her bachelor’s degree in History at Presidency College, Calcutta, and her PhD in History at the University of Cambridge. Her thesis, which was subsequently published as a monograph by Cambridge University Press, was entitled 'The Politics of the Urban Poor in Early Twentieth Century India.'
Professor Aditi Lahiri
Professor Aditi Lahiri is the first chair of the Faculty of Linguistics, Philology and Phonetics which was newly formed in 2008 and is one of the country’s biggest linguistics faculties. She is the first Indian-born woman to hold a chair at the University. She specialises in the Germanic and Indo-Aryan language families.
Professor Lahiri has been awarded a number of highly prestigious prizes and awards including the Max Planck Research Prize for International Cooperation (1994), the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize (2000) and the Professor Sukumar Sen Memorial Gold Medal (2008.) In 2010 she was elected to the Fellowship of the British Academy.
Professor Lahiri was educated at the Bethune College, Kolkata and later at the University of Calcutta. She earned two doctorate degrees; the first in comparative philology from University of Calcutta and the second in linguistics from Brown University, USA.
Oxford alumni in India
The University of Oxford has over 2,200 alumni in India. There are a number of active local alumni groups across India. The Oxford University Society has a branch in Mumbai, and there are joint Oxford and Cambridge Society groups in New Delhi, Bangalore, Kolkata and Pune to keep former students in touch with each other and the University.
These groups hold meetings and events throughout the year including annual dinners, stimulating talks from academics, professional & personal development events, and lunches for new students preparing to go to Oxford.
Notable Indian alumni
Oxford has an illustrious history of educating some of the most prominent Indian public figures including politicians, businesspeople, actors and novelists:
- Montek Singh Ahluwalia, former Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission of India
- Indira Gandhi, India’s first woman Prime Minister
- Amitav Ghosh, award-winning novelist
- Soha Ali Khan, actress
- Chief Justice Mrs Sujata Vasant Manohar, former Judge of the Supreme Court of India
- Deepak Nayyar, member of the National Knowledge Commission
- Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, former captain of the Indian cricket team
- Mukund Rajan, Vice-President of Tata Sons Ltd.
- Vikram Seth, award-winning author
- Manmohan Singh, 14th Prime Minister of India
- Cornelia Sorabji, India’s first female lawyer