Almost about to enter its teens, Ahmedabad University is a private player that is emerging as an outlier for serious academics. The university was set up in 2009 by the Ahmedabad Education Society—a foundation established way back in 1935 by Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, textile doyen Kasturbhai Lalbhai and the first Speaker of the Lok Sabha Ganesh Mavalankar, with the objective of advancing higher education in Gujarat. The Society has to its credit a track record of having been either directly or indirectly involved in setting up some jewels in the academic firmament, including IIM Ahmedabad, the National Institute of Design, the Physical Research Laboratory, and the Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology.
Ahmedabad University, too, is following the same illustrious footsteps.
It is headed by Prof Pankaj Chandra, the vice-chancellor, who was earlier the director of one of the country’s top business schools, IIM Bangalore, and has been a faculty at IIM Ahmedabad.
What differentiates Ahmedabad University is its Foundation Programme. All students entering the undergraduate programme go through a common core, i.e. the Foundation Programme, in the first year. “This programme,” Prof Chandra says, “builds the foundations of interdisciplinary learning at the university and enables students to engage with societal issues through project-based learning.”
The Foundation Programme is built around six domains: Data Science, Materials, Biology and Life, Behaviour, Constitution and Civilisation, and Communication.
The delivery of these areas, Prof Chandra adds, is done through thematic courses in a studio format to develop amongst students a holistic approach to thinking and enquiry. “They would learn to understand multiple issues that define a problem, and learn the art and science of synthesis.”
The thematic studios are: Democracy and Justice, Environment and Climate Change, Neighbourhoods, and Water. The goal is to engage students’ imagination with contemporary problems that the society in which they live encounters. “Each theme is explored through a set of domains, thereby creating interdisciplinary learning. At the same time, domain knowledge is delivered through an application area. For instance, certain topics studied in the Studio on Water will include inputs from Biology and Life, Behaviour, Data Science, and Communication,” Prof Chandra adds. Students, therefore, learn that many systems of knowledge are required to solve challenging problems.
The Foundation Programme contributes 12 credits to the total number of credits earned by students at the university.
But probably the biggest focus of the Foundation Programme, Prof Chandra says, is to make students thinking citizens, with the abilities and the inclination to make the world a better place, and then an engineer or a manager and so on. “This philosophy dictates how we design our programme. It is different from that of traditional undergraduate programmes and, therefore, it cannot be compared with other programmes that focus only on one discipline of study,” he adds.
The aim of the Foundation Programme—and that of education delivery at Ahmedabad University in general—is to create a future engineer or a manager with an awareness of societal issues and the critical thinking skills needed to address them, along with domain knowledge. “That is why all our students experience the Foundation Programme, and all will take many courses outside their discipline under the General Education Requirements. We believe India needs well-informed and socially-conscious citizens, and so does our planet,” Prof Chandra says.
One of the purposes of a university education is to expose students to new experiences. The Foundation Programme requires students to visit parts of Ahmedabad that they may not be familiar with and engage with people who live there. “Some may be rich, some may be poor, some may be professionals, some may eke out their livelihoods on the footpath … they all belong to the rich matrix of communities that live in Ahmedabad, and interacting with them enriches students both academically and socially.”
The Foundation Programme involves both lectures and activities. Students are also introduced to academic articles about issues related to each theme and domain.