We hope the government will take a favourable view on the FYUP in the years to come: Vineet Gupta, Ashoka University

Written by Vikram Chaudhary | Updated: Oct 20 2014, 07:57am hrs
India has had an obsession with professional education including engineering. Ashoka and other similar initiatives demonstrate the relevance of a broad-based liberal education, believes Vineet Gupta, Pro Vice-Chancellor, Ashoka University. In an interview with FEs Vikram Chaudhary, he claims that every Ashoka graduate, no matter what stream she specialises in, will be a critical thinker, a great communicator, ethical leader and a problem solver. Excerpts:

As Sonipat-based Ashoka University kicks off its undergraduate programme, does its appeal go beyond the borders of the National Capital Region (NCR)

The students who have joined us represent 86 schools, 45 cities, 28 states of India and five countries. In fact, only 30% of our students come from the NCR. Further, our post graduate programme, the Young India Fellowship, which is currently in its fourth year, has alumni in all parts of the world working is diverse fields and studying in some of the top institutions of the world. Ashoka students, I must say, already have a global footprint.

What was the idea behind launching the Young India Fellowship (YIF) programme

The YIF was launched with the purpose of nurturing leaders and change-agents who will transform India. This can be done through a multidisciplinary education rooted in self-awareness, leadership and experiential learning. Students are required to study a breadth of subjects including Indian history, development economics, sociobiology, group dynamics and leadership, while being mentored by experts. In most Indian colleges, students are made to choose a stream and specialisation too early without being exposed to a variety of subjects. The idea behind the YIF was to get the best students from different backgrounds together and give them a multidisciplinary educational experience.

How many students can the YIF take What has been the response so far

The YIF was established in 2011 with 57 fellows. Based on the response of the last three years, we increased the intake. The class of 2014-15 has 197 fellows. In three years, the YIF has become one of Indias premier graduate programmea section of media also called it the Rhodes Scholarship of India. In fact, a number of fellows have chosen the YIF over prestigious institutions including IIM Ahmedabad, IIM Bangalore, IIM Kolkata, XLRI, Imperial College London, NUS, LBS and others.

The YIF, you claim, equips students to become socially-committed change-agents. What has the YIF achieved so far

The YIF prepares students to be socially-committed change-agents by giving them a multidisciplinary education that provides broad and holistic learning. Courses are taught by some of the best faculty from across the world. YIF fellows have had great impact in the organisations they have joined. I must add that 25% of our fellows have joined not-for-profits in healthcare, education and rural development. And 10% went on to start their own ventures.

Any example of a YIF student who made positive contribution towards the society

A team of three fellowsJatin, Rolly and Tusharfrom the founding batch developed a haptic belt called the Visparsh for the visually impaired. Then, Simranpreet Oberoi, from the second batch, is the chief project officer of Shoshit Samadhan Kendra, an English medium residential school for students of the Musahar (literally meaning rat-eaters, on account of circumstancesnot choice) community. The school now accommodates 315 male students. Abhishek Choudhary and Saransh Vaswani, two YIF fellows (2012-13), recently won the Echoing Green Global Fellowship for their initiative Sajhaa, which builds leadership capacity of parents and teachers to ensure accountability for childrens learning.

Liberal arts programmes, it appears, are sinking roots in Indian universities. What is your opinion about the same

India has had an obsession with professional education including engineering. Ashoka and other similar initiatives demonstrate the relevance of a broad-based liberal education. We believe this equation is here to stay and it will bust the myth that one can get great careers only with a professional education.

The liberal arts programme at Ashoka University costs about R16 lakh. Is that much fee justified Why pay so much for a programme that, currently, doesnt provide many jobs

The liberal arts programme at Ashoka, I must say, delivers an education comparable to the best in the world and at one-eighth the cost of a similar education in top American universities. We give our students 21st century skillswriting, communication, problem solving, critical thinking, leadership. Every Ashoka graduate, no matter what stream she specialises in, will be a critical thinker, a great communicator, ethical leader and a problem solver. These are the skills required to excel in any job in todays day and age.

You say you provide Ivy League education at a fraction of cost to students looking abroad for study options. But Ivy League education goes beyond the classroom. It encompasses the whole experience of studying with students from across the globe. Isnt your claim of providing Ivy League standard education premature You just got your first student batch

Ashoka University has established partnerships with the University of Pennsylvania, University of Michigan, Carleton College, Sciences Po and Kings College London to facilitate student exchange, training and development of faculty, curriculum development and structure of the programme. We are one of the few universities in India which runs a unique student life and sports programme. We have already invited eminent speakers from around the world to engage with our student body, including former US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, and His Holiness, the Dalai Lama.

Yes, we are in our first year, but are already demonstrating all the deliverables of a what a top university should offer.

What are the positives of increased flexibility to choose subjects by offering combinations such as mathematics and music

Students who are 18-year-olds often do not know what their interests are before they get exposure to subjects. Indian education system forces students to make these choices very early without adequate exposure. Increased flexibility allows students to discover their passion and pursue subjects they would like to study. It also allows students to pursue multiple interests.

What are your views on the whole four-year undergraduate programme (FYUP) fiasco Do you term it as unfortunate Even Ashoka University has reworked its four-year undergraduate liberal arts programme into a three-year one

We firmly believe that the FYUP provides an opportunity to deliver a programme that is flexible and has breadth. We have to follow the law of the land and hence had to shift to a three-year programme. We hope that the government will take a favourable view on FYUP in the years to come.