Oxford has long-established connections with India, dating to 1579 when Father Thomas Stephens, from New College, was the first recorded Englishman to visit India. In 1832 the Boden Chair in Sanskrit was created, and in 1871 Oxford welcomed its first Indian students. Today students can read a postgraduate degree in Modern South Asian Studies or an MSc in Contemporary India.
To celebrate and strengthen its links with India, Oxford is holding its first ever ‘Oxford-India Day’ on 17 June. The event will bring together Oxford scholars with a select group of Indian business, academic, and policy leaders for a day of discussions and celebration.
Historically Exeter College’s strongest links were, understandably, with the west country of England. Today the College is home to a community of students from around the world, and is a very popular choice with Indian students.
The pinnacle of scholarship
‘Most Indians perceive Oxford as the pinnacle of scholarship on the global stage’ says Michelle Fernandes. ‘As an undergraduate studying medicine in India, research was always a passion and I tried my best to get involved in it. However, there were many limitations to pursuing research as a young Indian medic – facilities for training were modest, infrastructure was scarce, funding was almost non-existent and multi-disciplinary, international collaborations almost never involved young researchers. Oxford offered me all these things and more.’
Michelle came from Goa to read Psychiatry at Oxford in 2008, and she hasn’t looked back. ‘Oxford looks for potential more than anything else, and transforms that potential into excellence and leadership. If you glowed before, Oxford will make you shine.’
A contribution to society
She is by no means alone in her praise. ‘Oxford has been a great learning experience, so much so that I would now consider my education to be incomplete without having come to Oxford,’ says Akshat Rathi, an Organic Chemistry student born in Nashik. ‘Studying at Oxford has given me a chance to mingle with the top minds from many fields. As a part of Exeter College, I’ve gained confidence to start my professional life. Being surrounded by highly motivated people has made me more determined to make a contribution to society.’
A number of current students from India are filling important roles within College and the wider University. Michelle is the College’s present Junior Dean, while Deeksha Sharma (2009, Law) from Delhi has served as the Graduate International Students Officer of the Oxford University Students Union, the MCR President at Exeter College, and the Secretary of the Oxford Indian Society and the Oxford Transhumanist Society.
According to Deeksha, her endeavours on these bodies ‘have helped me immensely to develop as a person and a leader.’ She feels that she will take away from Oxford ‘not only a rich set of transferable skills but also some really invaluable experiences and relationships.’
Open your mind
So what advice would Exeter’s current Indian students give to students considering coming here? Michelle spent August 2010 visiting universities across India as the SKP travelling Fellow. ‘I would say to students, if you’re going to make the effort, make a good effort because Oxford is absolutely worth it. I was amazed at the large numbers of excellent candidates who were working on their applications to Oxford.’
‘Grab this opportunity with both hands’ is Akshat’s advice. ‘A lot of India’s great leaders have studied at Oxford and the University is spoken about with a breath of reverence in India and around the world. When at Oxford, always look out for what more you can do with the valuable resources at your disposal.’
Deeksha enthuses, ‘Oxford is a place full of opportunities. You can do whatever you want here. Just come with an open mind and manage your time well and you will extract the maximum out of this place. Exeter is a very warm and always welcoming community. For international students, it feels like and is your home away from home.