New Delhi: Armed with degrees from IITs, IIMs, UPenn, Stanford and other top universities in the world, a new generation of wealthy Indians is attempting to reshape the Indian education system with the help of collective philanthropy.
This essentially entails resourceful individuals coming together to set up institutions with the aim of reinventing how education is imparted in Indian universities. Many of these high net-worth Indians are counted among the co-founders or management of companies like Zomato, Innov8, MakeMyTrip, Thermax, Biocon and Info Edge.
Mohali’s Plaksha University, established last year, is the latest in the list of institutions supported by collective philanthropy in India. Before that came Krea in Andhra Pradesh’s Sricity in 2018, and Ashoka University in Haryana’s Sonepat, set up in 2014. But these universities were set up almost a decade and a half after the first such institution — the Indian School of Business (ISB), Hyderabad — opened its gates to students in 2001.
On the post-2014 boom of collective philanthropy-funded universities, educationist Pramath Raj Sinha, a pioneer in this space, told ThePrint: “After ISB, there were no significant models for people to follow. In the past, Birlas, Tatas and Thapars had done it but they were all business houses. ISB was a unique model in the sense that it was collective philanthropy. Then came Ashoka, which set an example and after it did well, we saw more people coming forward.”
Sinha, an IIT Kanpur and University of Pennsylvania graduate, was the founding dean of ISB and a co-founder of Ashoka University. Similarly, fellow co-founder and IIT Delhi graduate Vineet Gupta is also one of the founders of Plaksha University.
Besides Gupta, Plaksha and Ashoka have other common founders including Info Edge India Ltd CEO and MD Hitesh Oberoi, an alumnus of IIM Bangalore and IIT Delhi. Other common founders include Clix Capital Chairman Pramod Bhasin — an alumnus of Shri Ram College of Commerce (SRCC) and the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI) — and former CFO of Info Edge India Ambarish Raghuvanshi, a Xavier School of Management (XLRI) Jamshedpur and ICAI graduate.
While Krea does not specifically list its founders, former Reserve Bank of India (RBI) governor Raghuram Rajan, Managing Partner of law firm Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas, Cyril Shroff, and Executive Chairperson of Biocon, Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, have been associated with the university.
“Krea is a collective philanthropy and is being built with the objective of providing high quality, research-oriented and industry-relevant higher education in India, through its unique pedagogy of interwoven learning,” read the website.
It goes further to state: “Interwoven learning brings together thought with action, arts with sciences and ultimately, connects our learnings from the past with our preparedness for the future.”
Among Krea’s list of donors is billionaire and former Thermax chairperson Anu Aga, who is also one of the founders and sponsors of Ashoka University.
Young entrepreneurs like Ritesh Malik, the founder of co-working space Innov8 and an alumnus of Dr MGR Research and Educational Institute, and Zomato co-founder Pankaj Chaddah, an alumnus of IIT Delhi, are among the founders of Plaksha, while Flipkart co-founder Binny Bansal, an IIT Delhi alumnus, and MakeMyTrip co-founder Deep Kalra, an IIM Ahmedabad alumnus, are among the founders of Ashoka University.
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‘Want philanthropy to be contagious’
As one of the first Liberal Arts universities in the country, Ashoka gave a different direction to the study of humanities in India by offering courses like English & Creative Writing, Economics & History, Politics, Philosophy and Economics, among others.
“Because of the governance structure in these institutions, the fact that they are not owned by one person, this gives people a lot of freedom to experiment and do something different. They also want to ensure that they are sending the right idea from day one,” said Pramath Sinha.
At KREA, students can “design their own degrees”, wherein they can choose to graduate in subjects that are a combination of Humanities and Social Sciences, Sciences and Literature and Arts.
Courses at Plaksha, meanwhile, are a combination of technical subjects and humanities. Some of the programs that the university offers are B.Tech courses at the undergraduate level, including in Data Science and Robotics & Cyber-Physical Systems.
The university celebrated its first Founders’ Day on 17 December.
On collective philanthropy powering new universities, Neeraj Aggarwal, chairman (Asia Pacific) at the Boston Consulting Group, said it is very important for individuals to come together and get involved with such initiatives because the “responsibility of nation-building cannot be left only to governments”. Aggarwal is a founder and trustee at Plaksha.
“While all of us have these individual ideas, it’s a collective that makes it special,” he said.
Aggarwal further said: “While we want to be pioneers in higher education, we also want to be pioneers in research. We want to be a pioneer on a model of philanthropy itself, which others will hopefully emulate as well. No individual or corporate knows the world completely and when we bring them all together, that’s when we become a force.”
Plaksha’s founding chancellor S. Shankar Sastry, an alumnus of IIT Bombay, now associated with the University of California, Berkeley, told ThePrint: “The reason individual philanthropy is so important is because it is so attractive. It also creates incentives for people and needs to be celebrated.”
Founding vice-chancellor of Plaksha, Rudra Pratap Singh, said that the university and its founders want “philanthropy to be contagious”.
What drives them to invest in education? Some of the founders ThePrint spoke to said it is the fact that they can bring change for future generations and see the multiplier effect.
“People want to contribute to something that can make them proud and by doing so they can also contribute to the nation and society. I think there will be more such initiatives in the future. A lot of them have benefited from the education system in India and want to give back,” said Sinha.
Speaking along similar lines, Aggarwal said education is the “biggest multiplier” in any country. “People who come out of it (education) can solve one of the biggest problems. This is the reason that personally motivates me to invest in education.”
Disclosure: Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw is among the distinguished founder-investors of ThePrint. Please click here for details on investors.
(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)
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