A new university, Krea, has a vision of ‘interwoven learning’
What is common to Oxford University and the Sringeri monastery? One, of course, their antiquity. To survive for several centuries is not an easy task in an age when companies and institutions are born and die within a short span. Kapil Viswanathan, a serial entrepreneur with degrees from Stanford and Harvard, was intrigued to find that 80 per cent of the top 100 institutions that have survived for more than five centuries, are academic ones, The Hindustan Times reports.
It was 2016. Having just sold his company to a multinational, Viswanathan decided to dedicate himself to the philanthropic cause of building an academic institution. The idea resonated with R Seshasayee, chairman of IndusInd Bank, and N Vaghul, former chairman of ICICI Bank. Both spontaneously supported the plan. The result was Krea University, currently admitting its first batch of students.
Viswanathan felt that the sciences, humanities and ethics weren’t coming together as they should. In a changing world, the need to prepare young people who had the ability to think, learn, unlearn and relearn in creative ways with a multi-disciplinary approach, was more important than certificates and rote learning.
In some ways, this is reflected in the university’s admission process itself, part of which requires a group of candidates to solve a real-world problem in a real-world environment. “Our intention is to create a positive, catalytic impact ethically in a dynamic and diverse world,” says Sunder Ramaswamy, vice-chancellor of the university, who was previously the president of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in California.
Krea’s vision for a new paradigm of interwoven learning has attracted people willing to give their money, time, or both. The list includes Anand Mahindra, chairman of the Mahindra Group; Kiran Mazmudar Shaw, CMD of Biocon; Aditya Mittal, president of Arcelor Mittal; Dheeraj Hinduja, chairman of Ashok Leyland; Sajjan Jindal, CMD of Jindal Steel; and Anu Aga, the director of Thermax. The governing council also includes renowned academics like former RBI governor Raghuram Rajan; mathematics professor at Princeton Manjul Bhargava; John Etchemendy, till recently provost at Stanford; and Vishakha Desai, an Asia scholar at Columbia.
Krea University is located close to Chennai, but in Sri City in Andhra Pradesh, a new-age manufacturing hub. While the university is currently functioning out of a 40-acre campus, work has already begun on building a world-class campus on its 200-acre site, also in Sri City, where Krea intends to move in a few years.
The university offers three-year residential undergraduate programmes in the liberal arts and sciences leading to BA (Honours) and BSc (Honours) degrees. Krea’s Institute for Financial Management & Research (IFMR) Graduate School of Business, under the leadership of Dean Anantha Nageswaran, is on a journey to reinvent business education for a changing world, and offers a two-year MBA programme and PhD programmes.
According to a report by news agency PTI, in March 2018, when the announcement of the setting up of the university was being made, Raghuram Rajan had said that the aim was to create “thinking Indians”. At that time, R Seshasayee, who chairs Krea University’s executive committee, had said that the institution would attract an initial contribution of ₹750 crore. He had added that fees would be on an average of ₹7-8 lakh a year, inclusive of hostel facilities. Viswanathan, the vice-chariman of Krea, emphasises that no deserving and talented candidate will be turned away because of monetary constraints. The university has scholarship programmes to help such students.
Krea was in the news last year for being overlooked by the government committee assigning the institutes of eminence tag to green-field universities (those in the process of being set up).
The university marks a still nascent trend in India – the revival of a liberal arts education. A number of private universities like Shiv Nadar, Azim Premji, Ashoka and OP Jindal Global now provide a liberal arts education. The increasing presence of private varsities makes sense, considering that a majority of undergraduate students in India opt for the arts and humanities.
According to an all-India survey on higher education conducted by the Ministry of Human Resource Development in 2017-18, around 36 per cent of students had enrolled for arts and humanities courses at the undergraduate level. This was the highest, with the science stream – accounting for 17 per cent of enrolments – coming a distant second.
This thrust into the liberal arts space follows the Indian government’s efforts at increasing the number of universities from the country that make it to the world rankings. While formally inaugurating the university in November, the Vice-President of India Venkaiah Naidu had said “I am pleased to learn that at Krea, all students would undergo an inter-disciplinary core curriculum in the first year so that students of science would learn some literature, and those of arts would develop comfort with data and the scientific method.”
Praising the “professional governing body” the university had constituted, consisting of “prominent leaders of the corporate world”, the Vice-President had said that it was “truly noteworthy that Krea University, in partnership with the Dalai Lama Center for Ethics, aims to instil in its graduates a sense of purpose and a moral compass that keeps them steadfast as they navigate the complexities of the 21st century”.