New kid on the private varsity block
By Shilpa Vasudevan | Published: 15th July 2013 12:00 AM |
Two things are sure to push us into exasperation mode – Delhi University’s near impossible cut-offs and the big question as to why our universities don’t find a mention in the world’s top 200 universities. Instead of rolling their eyes, a group of academicians and entrepreneurs have decided to set things right and offer a respite from platitudinous learning. Ashoka University, which is set to take off in August 2014 from the National Capital Region, promises high-quality, top-notch liberal education, banking heavily on private philanthropy.
The co-founders were concerned about the falling standards of teaching and research at top institutes. Sanjeev Bikhchandani’s (co-founder, founder-InfoEdge) observations of a similar challenge that liberal arts subjects like English and economics in Delhi University, also helped put things in perspective. Converging on the idea of building a benchmark for liberal arts edu in India, some of the co-founders wasted no time in meeting Pramath Raj Sinha, founding dean of Indian School of Business, Hyderabad, who was happy to be on board.
Liberal education is viewed with skepticism in India. The co-founders and trustees of Ashoka University hope to change that mindset. “We want to demonstrate that liberal education can work in India. We want to change the perceptions of students, parents, educators and employers about the value of a liberal edu,” begins Sinha. Ashoka’s four-year liberal arts undergraduate programmes will bestow students with choices and the flexibility to specialise in a field. “First things first, this approach ensures critical thinking and problem-solving skills, written and oral communication skills, leadership potential and a strong social commitment,” emphasises Sinha. “Ashoka will have a core curriculum for the first two years of study allowing students to get a breadth of edu across disciplines and then they can decide on their intended area of study,” adds Vineet Gupta, co-founder and MD, Jamboree Education.
With Delhi University also pushing for four-year UG programmes (FYUP), Ashish Dhawan, senior MD, ChrysCapital and founder, Central Square Foundation, is convinced that broad-based education is the way forward. The founders, though, are quick to end comparisons with DU. Gupta says, “Even a 92 per cent or more in higher secondary can’t guarantee you a seat in DU. Expectations should be more rational.” Ashoka University has collaborated with UPenn and Carleton College, both in USA, for student and faculty exchange.
Courses on offer
After strengthening your foundation in the first two years, you can take a pure major in the third year or do interdisciplinary programmes. Interdisciplinary majors include economics and finance; politics, philosophy and economics; history and international relations; politics and society; computer science and entrepreneurial leadership; English and journalism; and history of art and science. Ashoka plans to offer majors and minors in economics, history, English, political science, psychology, computer science, sociology, philosophy and statistics/mathematics. Minors include environmental science, visual and performing arts and entrepreneurial leadership. Ashoka will charge Rs 3-4 lakh per year. Sensing that parents and students may have misgivings about the fee charged, Gupta repeatedly assures that “quality education at 20 per cent of what best universities in the world charge is a good deal at the end of the day”. The founders have also set aside a scholarship trust of Rs 10 crore to be given away to the first batch of students.
Ashoka’s curriculum model will be similar to that of an US Ivy league but grounded in the Indian context, informs the board. “Ashoka is designed to create a thriving residential campus and community in the 25-acre space it has procured at Rajiv Gandhi Education City. Living and learning will be intimately intertwined. Extracurricular outlets, organisations, performances, forums and athletics will be an integral part of the experience for students, faculty and staff, as well as neighbours from the communities around us,” says Sinha.
The fully-residential campus is being designed by renowned architect firm Perkins Eastman. They recently designed the Mohali campus of Indian School of Business. “The Ashoka campus plan is a combination of Indian aesthetics and a contemporary, and global institutional design and reflects the ideology behind Ashoka. It through its insightful design, the campus will not only provide world-class facilities for students and faculty but will also have spaces that encourage out-of-class discussions and meetings. We hope this contributes to the vibrancy on campus and helps build lifelong memories,” says Dhawan.
The campus will have an indoor stadium for basketball, badminton, squash, swimming and an outdoor stadium for soccer, hockey, cricket and track and field besides fitness centres. It will also be aided by a future-ready IT infrastructure and a mall. “Intelligent Building Management Systems will help the campus be energy efficient even as we create a comfortable living and learning environment in the challenging climate of Delhi,” informs Sinha.
The trustees are keen to set safety standards rather than do a post-mortem later. “Best-in-class, integrated security systems will be in place to ensure the highest level of security for our prospective students, faculty and staff members when they are on or off campus,” says Gupta.
Drawn from universities all over the world, the board vouches for their faculty and the cultural diversity they will bring in. “Each faculty is one of the best in their subject with many original works published. The names and their designations are sure to push your eyebrows higher and higher,” says Gupta.
Amita Baviskar, associate professor of sociology, Institute of Economic Growth, (PhD, Cornell University, USA); Andre Beteille, emeritus professor of sociology, Delhi University (PhD, Delhi University); Vivek Bhandari, professor of history and former director of Institute of Rural Management, Anand (PhD, University of Pennsylvania, USA); Jonathan Gil Harris, English professor, George Washington University, USA; Dwight Jaggard, professor of electrical engineering and undergraduate curriculum chair, UPenn (PhD, California Institute of Technology, USA); Kranti Saran, assistant professor of philosophy (PhD, Harvard University, USA); Madhavi Menon, English professor (PhD, Tufts University, USA); Rudrangshu Mukherjee, historian and Opinions Editor of The Telegraph (DPhil, Oxford University), UK; AK Shivakumar, member of National Advisory Council of India, and visiting faculty of economics, Harvard University, USA (PhD, Harvard University, USA); and Kenwyn Smith, professor, organisational behaviour, UPenn (PhD-Yale University, USA) are set to join Ashoka.
With the hope that Indian students will accept and adapt to the new concepts of higher education that Ashoka University is proposing, the directors are waiting with bated breath for a new dawn along with us. Admissions open in October. The university is expecting to admit 500 students initially and later expand to 3,000 students. Details at www.ashoka.edu.in/Home.