Ashoka University and what sets it apart from other higher education institutions
Ashoka University, in Sonipat, Haryana, was founded in 2014, and has since then become one of the top private Indian universities for Liberal Arts, Science and Mathematics. One of its founders, Vineet Gupta reveals how this university achieved its current status, and shares his on education in India.
HOW ASHOKA IS DIFFERENT
The quality of our faculty is so high most of them could be working at the very top universities in the world. Another factor is our curriculum. When students come in, they can do 'breadth' which means along with their main course, they will study across disciplines. Then they do 'depth', in their main course, which will be the bulk of the coursework. While they may specialise in one degree, they also study other disciplines, and other courses. It is
a good approach for students in college, as well as school, to have a more rounded education. Most professions demand that you have a wider view of the world. Also, Ashoka has a strong emphasis on the development of key skills. These are writing and communication, critical thinking, problem-solving, and leadership skills.
STATUS OF HIGHER EDUCATION IN INDIA
WE have a big challenge in front of us. We have a large higher education infrastructure. We still have one in four students going to college. What we call GER, (Gross Enrollment Ratio), is around 25 per cent here. The West has over 60-70 per cent, China has 51 per cent, and Korea has 92 per cent. If India is to become a knowledge economy, then we need at least 50 or over per cent of our students to be in college. In order to increase our GER, we need to literally double our higher education capacity. We have a huge numbers challenge. On top of the numbers challenge, we also have a quality challenge. Sixty per cent of our higher education is in the private sector. A lot of that particular higher education is suspect. The way to overcome the challenges and quality education is to increase the number of higher education institutions, and their quality. Ideally, India needs many more higher quality institutions.
PUBLIC SECTOR VS PRIVATE SECTOR
Our public sector has good intentions but huge challenges in governance. The universities are run bureaucratically. The private sector in India has had an issue of intent. A lot of the private universities are there to make money, so they take shortcuts in education, though they can take decisions themselves. The public sector has the intent of doing public good, but it is hindered by their bureaucratic administration. Ashoka is in the middle. We have 120 donors, it doesn't belong to anybody in particular it's a not-for-profit trust, so while it has the agility of a private institution, it is public in nature. More autonomy means greater responsibility.
LIBERAL ARTS IS AS IMPORTANT AS STEM
WE emphasise on the need for liberal sciences as well as STEM courses. Students should do whatever they are passionate about. I feel they are good career prospects for both these areas.
That is precisely why we stress on a holistic education. If you can think critically, if you have focus and a wider world-view, there is no reason why you shouldn't do well in whichever field you are truly passionate about. A good liberal arts education is always going to be as valuable as a good STEM education and India should recognise that. In fact, parents are already encouraging their children to follow their passion.
ON STUDENTS FROM TIER 1 & 2 CITIES
Ashoka has a very liberal scholarship policy, and we encourage students from all backgrounds to apply, and we have a very diverse group of student. About 20 per cent of our students are scholarship students, and 50 per cent of our entire student body is on some form of scholarship. A lot of these students come from Tier 1 and Tier 2 backgrounds. Ashoka's endeavour is always to enroll more and more students from these backgrounds.We admit purely students on merit, and we give scholarships purely on a need basis. This year we have gone further and have announced 100 full scholarships. Some may say that Ashoka is very expensive, but that is so because of the high quality of education that it offers, because of the wide range of scholarships it has. Our scholarship policy really allows many students, who are the first in their families to go to any college at all, and who are not only looking for degrees, to be able to study further, and truly prepare them for the outside world.
STUDENTS LEAVING TO STUDY ABROAD
This particular state of affairs, of students leaving to study, maybe settle abroad, has always been there, and will be present for quite a while. A lot of these students leave because they simply feel that there are just not enough options for them in India, both to study further, and to pursue their careers. That is not in itself a bad thing. Parents want the best for their children, and students also deserve the best. We must bridge the gap, make quality education more accessible to all those who need it, and increase the number of good institutions, so students will want to continue their studies and professions here.