In India, a group of successful professionals and entrepreneurs have opened a new university intended to be that country’s first private Ivy League-caliber liberal arts institution.
Ashoka University, a project which will cost INR 1.3 billion, or $20.8 million, is seeking final approval from the Indian government. The university is being built in Kundli, Haryana with ots residential campus is located 10 kilometers from the Delhi border, writes Max Bearak of The New York Times.
Ashoka University is expected to begin classes in August 2014 with curriculum in the humanities and social sciences. The university has partnered with a number of Western institutions, including Oxford, Sciences Po in Paris, Yale, the Universities of Michigan and Pennsylvania and Carleton College, a leading American liberal arts college.
The partnerships are aimed at forming credit-sharing and exchange programs, and also at lending global credibility to this brand new university. The admissions requirements include essays and individual interviews, as well as test scores that include the SATs, which are not usually considered at Indian universities.
The university hopes to draw both domestic and international applicants. For its initial cohorts, the college will form a batch of 400 students each year before expanding to 1,000 as it adds residential facilities and faculty.
Because the concept of a liberal arts college in the Indian education landscape is new and parents are concerned about a university’s responsibility to produce employable students, Ashoka’s founders have focused most of their efforts in this pre-launch stage on selling the benefits of multidisciplinary education in the humanities and social sciences to prospective applicants and their parents.
The founders, all of whom currently run or used to run major Indian companies, promised that their companies and those in their personal business networks will be looking to hire Ashoka’s first set of graduates.
One of the founders, Vineet Gupta, an Indian Institute of Management (I.I.T) graduate and managing director at Jamboree, an educational services company, said in an interview that his experiences at I.I.T convinced him of the need for a new liberal arts option in India.
“In high school, I scored well in maths, and so it was almost preordained that I would study engineering,” he said. “At I.I.T., my test scores placed me in mechanical engineering, as I didn’t score high enough to enter, say, computer engineering. By way of these tests making the decisions for us, I’d say at least 70 percent of us didn’t even know why we were studying what we were studying. Decades later, I’ve never used what mechanical engineering I learned.”
According to Pramath Raj Sinha, the founding dean of the Indian School of Business and Ashoka’s main spokesman, “there is a huge disconnect between what our brightest minds are studying and what they might study if they had been given the space to broaden their academic interests, instead of narrow them.”
India has the world’s second-highest number of students enrolled in higher education, at 25.9 million, but none of its universities appears in the top-200 lists of global rankings for universities.