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Focus On The Art Of Learning

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To recreate their own experience of learning at US universities, a group of professionals have come together to set up a new university of liberal arts in India. Well known names in Delhi and Mumbai circles — Ashish Dhawan (ChrysCapital), Sanjeev Bikhchandani (, Pramath Sinha (9.9 Mediaworx), NV "Tiger" Tyagarajan and Vineet Gupta (Jamboree), among others, are part of the International Foundation for Research and Education.

To be located in the Rajiv Gandhi Education City in Kundli, Sonepat, across 25 acres, Ashoka University has sought "private university" status from the Haryana government and will be not-for-profit. A total of Rs 50 crore has been paid for the land, and the first phase is expected to cost about Rs 200 crore. The  seed capital has been put up by the trustees, apart from donations from individuals.

Dhawan, senior managing director, ChrysCapital — who recently announced he was stepping down — plans to get into school education in a big way. However, with Ashoka University, the "idea is to offer a greater focus on languages, humanities and social sciences and to offer breadth rather than just depth as in the British system. Instead of studying one subject in depth for 3-4 years, the idea is to study many subjects across disciplines," says Dhawan. He says it will offer courses and areas of study on the lines of universities such as Yale, Princeton and Amherst.


  • FOUNDERS: International Foundation for Research & Education (IFRE), a not-for-profit trust

  • LOCATION: Rajiv Gandhi Education City at Sonepat

  • AREA: 25 acres

  • COURSES: Liberal arts and engineering

Already, the trust has launched the Young India Fellowship, under which 58 students have been selected for a one-year  programme (similar to a Rhodes scholarship) in coordination with the University of Pennsylvania. There were 1,500 applicants. The university, however, will take at least two years to start functioning.

Pramath Sinha, founder of 9.9 Mediaworx, brings his experience of the Indian School of Business (ISB), Hyderabad, to the new venture. Some of the IFRE founders were keen to set up a quality engineering institute, while others wanted "more holistic" liberal arts courses. "We decided to marry the two and brought everyone together to set up a more ambitious project," Sinha says.

 Says an advisor in the Planning Commission: "Given the paucity of public funds, we need many such initiatives to bridge the demand between quantity and quality in higher education." The founders, he says, can raise funds through various means.  Given the founders' past experience, raising capital should be the least of their problems.

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 12-09-2011)