Founder of Ashoka University Vineet Gupta: Reimagining higher education in India

Ashoka University and Plaksha University are not owned or funded by a single entity. Many philanthropists and founders of renowned organizations are associated with both universities. 

Vineet Gupta has been working in the education ecosystem of India for nearly 25 years. He is the Co-Founder of Jamboree Education and Founder of Ashoka & Plaksha Universities. During this time, he has not only trained thousands of students, scaled up Jamboree into India’s premier test prep institute, fought for change in the education policy of the country, but also helped set up two world-class institutions – Ashoka University and Plaksha University.

Founded in 2014 at Sonipat, Haryana, Ashoka University has been ranked among the top 5 universities in the country by QS Asia University Rankings 2022. In the survey, the university ranked first for ‘International Faculty’.

In 2021, Plaksha University commenced operations in Mohali, Punjab with the vision of redefining technology education and research in the country.

What makes these universities unique?

Collective philanthropy

Plaksha University and Ashoka University are not owned or funded by a single entity or individual. Ashoka University has over 150 donors and co-founders, including Ashish Dhawan (Co-Founder, Chrysalis Capital), Vineet Gupta

(Co-Founder, Jamboree Education), Sanjeev Bikhchandani (Co-Founder & Executive Vice Chairman, Info Edge), Pramath Raj Sinha (Ex-Partner Mckinsey and Founding Dean, ISB), Ashok Trivedi (Founder and Co-Chairman Mastech Inc. and IGATE), among many others. Each of them has one common vision – to create an institution, par excellence, that can transform Indian Higher Education.

The story at Plaksha is similar, when about six entrepreneurs and CEOs from some of India’s best companies decided to come together in 2015 to establish a technology university where technology education and research are reimagined by being experiential, interdisciplinary, and relevant to the challenges of the 21st century.

Today, its list of 100 plus Founders and Donors include Neeraj Aggarwal (Chairman, Asia Pacific, BCG), Manas Fuloria (CEO and Co-Founder of Nagarro), Vineet Gupta Ashoka University Founder (Co-Founder and MD, Jamboree Education), Ashish Gupta (Co-Founder of Benori Knowledge), Mohit Thukral (Co-Founder of Vivtera), Hitesh Oberoi (Co-Founder and CEO of Infoedge), Pankaj Chaddah (Co-Founder, Zomato), GaganHasteer (VP, Content Engineering, Netflix), CP Gurnami (CEO and MD, Tech Mahindra) amongst others and has raised over 800 crores as funding corpus. The university opened its doors in 2021 and is one of the most exciting projects in India’s higher education sector.

The concept of collective philanthropy not only helps the institution raise funds from a large pool of exceptional individuals, but also fosters excellence as the only glue that binds the whole organization together. As long as the institution keeps excellence as its sole focus, it will be able to attract more donors. In turn, more donors provide more resources to fund excellence. It is a vicious cycle.

Getting students ready for 21st century challenges

21st century problems are complex. Universities are based on a template that was developed after World War II. For universities to better serve society, they must reimagine ‘what they teach’ and ‘how they teach’. It is imperative that the disciplines of learning reflect the problems of the real world and the society.

These institutions not only offer degrees reflecting the multi-disciplinary nature of problems around us, but they have also re-imagined courses and curriculum that may differ greatly from what is available in traditional courses. Both universities were conceptualized with the idea of ‘breadth and depth’, contributing to students’ all-round development and providing them with the skills to tackle the toughest challenges of the future. As part of the curriculum, students are also encouraged to communicate and collaborate with their peers on projects that mimic real-world situations.

Quality of faculty

“To become truly world class institutions, the most important aspect is the kind of faculty we onboard,” expressed Vineet Gupta Ashoka University Founder. As of today, Ashoka has the best faculty in the social sciences and humanities in the country. Whilst in just over a year since commencing operations, Plaksha boasts of faculty who are alumni of and have taught at prestigious institutions such as MIT, Stanford, University of Cambridge, IISC and IIT’s amongst others.

Decide after exploring

“We believe that students after 12th grade haven’t really figured out what they really want to study. However, in India, most institutions force students to pick a discipline when they enter college and also want them to stick with it. Both Ashoka and Plaksha allow students to explore different disciplines (that these individual institutions offer) before deciding what students want to major in. This decision could be as late as fourth semester,” says Vineet. This freedom not only exposes students to various disciplines but also helps them make informed choices. This choice also helps develop the love for learning.

Research centers with unique features

Ashoka University has established several centers of learning for students to learn from and collaborate with their peers both on campus and around the world. It is home to a writing and communications center, an entrepreneurship center, and a center for political data analysis, among others. “Since there is a great need for data driven research in every discipline, we are in the process of setting up a Data Sciences Institute at Plaksha University,” added Vineet Gupta.

Democratising access by providing liberal scholarships

Both universities are designed to improve education in India and help meritorious students achieve their potential. Both universities offer very generous scholarships to students from disadvantaged backgrounds. In fact, every student who is admitted will not be denied admission for lack of resources. As a result, close to 50 per cent of the students studying at Ashoka and Plaksha University received scholarships.

“As India embarks on a journey to be a US Dollar 10 trillion economy over the next decade, there is an urgent need to build a knowledge economy for which we need a vibrant higher education ecosystem. Unfortunately, Indian higher education institutions lag in research and innovation compared to their global peers. At both Ashoka and Plaksha, our endeavour is to pursue excellence in all that we do and contribute to India’s growth story,” concludes Vineet Gupta Ashoka University Founder.

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