India is full of universities, colleges, and institutes… do they evolve into places of experiential learning? Do all of them attempt to take the student beyond the text-books and into the world of inter-disciplinary scholarship? Are these places of learning really doing some out-of-the-box thinking and helping in creating a future-ready work-force? Can they all really give India thinkers and strategists? I am really not sure if any of our institutes really match up to such high expectations.
A couple of days back I happened to be listening to Nikhil Sinha, the founding VC of Shiv Nadar university announcing undergraduate admissions for 2014-15 and besides a listing of the various courses and scholarships they have, he mentioned that ‘we ensure that every student understands empirical and quantitative reasoning and analysis, every student understands technology and the role of technology in the world, every student has an understanding of the environmental and ecological issues that are impacting India and the globe, every student has an understanding of how the human mind works…’
Now this was quite exciting and so I asked him if this is what the world today needs. He asked me to ‘look at the sort people working for Google or Facebook and see the sort of workforce they are hiring. They look for people who can help them understand what the next generation is thinking, what they are doing, and how are they going to be using the internet… that’s what the high tech recruiters want. They want to be able to find people who will tell them where the new trends are going and not just people who are proficient in C++ and Java programming.’ He then added, ‘Companies today want people who know how business works, know about problem-solving… so students need to be future-ready. These are the people who are going to be in high demand in an increasingly technologically driven world.’
Shiv Nadar University is a multi-disciplinary, student-centric research-focused university offering a full range of academic programs at the UG, grad, post-grad and doctoral level. The university insists on an ‘integrated multi-disciplinary undergraduate curriculum that gives students a strong foundation in the humanities and social sciences, natural sciences, technology and engineering studies, arts and communication management and enables their students to master a subject of their choosing.’ Nikhil Sinha told me that ‘education has to be exciting and engaging, and needs to include other things done outside the classroom. We allow students to explore and discover their true passion, students can change their stream in the first two years of they stay here, and our focus is on experiential learning.’
When asked to explain the concept of inter-disciplinary and experiential learning, he explained that students in SNU need to opt for at least 18 credits in REAL courses, where REAL stands for research, experiential, and applied learning. They need to have 18 credits for VELS which is values, ethics, leadership, and service… and finally every student also needs to have 18 credits for global and international studies. These are all over and above their core curriculum. Nikhil Sinha then added, ‘Our students also learn to appreciate the value of humanities, social sciences, and the liberal arts.’ Well, who says there is no future in history?
One of the interesting fact that the VC pointed put was that SNU does not have a concept of ‘seats’ and ‘we continue to admit students until such time that we feel that we’ve run out of good students. So it is hard to predict what the size of the incoming class would be as it depends on how many good students we end up with.’ The VC, however, added, ‘We have earmarked approximately 31 crore for scholarships which is a 34% increase from the previous year. The scholarships at SNU are merit-based and need-blind.’
‘Need-blind?’ I asked.
NC: ‘Yes, every student is admitted on the performance in the admission process which makes our scholarships merit-based. They are need blind as we ensure that our students can afford to start and complete their chosen program and so no one leaves because they cannot afford to complete.’
Now, if you’re curious to know where this university is and how to access more details for admissions that will close on June 06, 2014, you can access details here: www.snu.edu.in
But let me come back to the question I asked at the start of this article: ‘Do we have universities to give India its thinkers and strategists?’ Well, let me say that the real question is not if such universities exist. The real question is: Are we ready to accept those that are taking the first steps towards this direction?
27 May 2014
This article was published in ‘The Education Post’ dated 26 May 2014…