The Trailblazer

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The Trailblazer

Sandeep Bakshi, Chancellor of Jaipur National University started young with his educatuional leadership aspirations. It was his entrepreneurial educationist mother Mohini Bakshi, founded Seedling Nursing in Jaipur in 1986 well before the concept of pre primary education took root. Challenges the young Sandeep saw his mother face became his first lesson in education administration. 

In fact, this exposure propelled him on his own journey to promote education rather early. In high school, Bakshi pleaded with the principal to start a commerce section. As a result, his was the first higher secondary batch of St. Xavier’s School to study commerce. He then made repeated pleas to the then Vice Chancellor of Rajasthan University to start a graduate degree programme in commerce in English so that his studies could continue uninterrupted in Jaipur. Bakshi went on to do post-graduation studies in management and he also obtained a graduate degree in education.

Bakshi gives credit to his father Malook Singh Bakshi, an aeronautical engineer, for his mathematical and accounting acumen.

The visionary

Bakshi found his calling early in life—to carve his own path instead of getting employed in a corporate. A keen sportsman during his formative years, he inculcated in himself a spirit of competition and the willingness to take risks.

No surprise then that he started his career, at the age of 21, initiating Cable Man, a small wire manufacturing unit with a capital of Rs.10,000.

Business prospered, however, the venture left Bakshi unfulfilled. Watching his mother closely as she planned the expansion of the nursery into a primary school, the budding educationist became acutely aware of the need for quality educational institutions in the state. Gradually, he was drawn to the school project and to education as a career.

Once Bakshi joined hands with his mother, the pre primary education platform she had created became his stepping stone into the field of education. Under his tutelage, the Seedling Group grew to encompass Seedling Public School and Seedling Modern High School, Senior Secondary Schools affiliated to C.B.S.E.

He often dreamed of providing students with quality education spanning across pre primary to university level, in varied streams, and making use of latest learning technologies with focus on academics and on complete personality development.

One step forward

In the early 2000s, he turned his attention to higher education. Rajasthan, then a BIMARU state in every way, sorely lagged behind in the sphere of professional and technical education. Aspiring youth had to look beyond the borders for places to study.

In those days then President of India Shri APJ Abdul Kalam was stressing the need to focus on education. Inspired, Bakshi founded Seedling Academy of Design Technology and Management, to offer programmes in areas of the economy—such as biotechnology, food technology, computer science and engineering, hotel management and catering, biochemistry and microbiology and film technology.

In 2005, he also founded Seedling Institute for Integrated Learning & Advanced Studies, offering five-year integrated courses in life sciences, biotechnology, bioinformatics, information technology and commerce.

Deviating from the path of conventional higher education needed strong conviction. Bakshi introduced dual degree programmes before they became popular, sure that they would receive industry appreciation and find more takers in times to come. Brainstorming meetings with his team helped to build faculty support for his dream.

Bringing these individual colleges under the umbrella of Jaipur National University (JNU), stepping from being CEO of an education group to the Chancellor’s chair in a university took some convincing of the State Government about the potential of the private sector in higher education. He and others strongly advocated the Rajasthan Self-Financed Private Universities Ordinance, which was finally passed in 2004, paving the way for JNU’s recognition.

Bakshi gives credit to the Government of Rajasthan for placing faith in private sector educationists. It’s why he calls JNU a Public Private Partnership. “Rajasthan was one of the first states to allow the private sector to enter into the field of higher education. States like Bihar still have not recognised this role of the private sector.”

Money matters

Finance in higher education is a contentious issue. Some educationists are quick to slam private universities for being profit-generating institutions. Bakshi emphasises the huge role the private sector is playing in providing quality education—“Rajasthan perfectly showcases the contribution of the private sector to education. A BIMARU state with inadequate facilities for higher education till a decade ago, Rajasthan today is an educational hub for higher and technical education brimming with a dynamism which is solely the result of private investment.”

From a promoter’s perspective, he says—“Private universities get no grants or financial aid from the government. Surpluses allow them to sustain the quality of education. Finance is essential to create state-of-art infrastructure, introduce the best technologies and attract and recruit talented faculty.” 

That said, he emphasises—“It’s important that the social mission always remains in focus so that the welfare of the larger masses is never compromised.”

University and Industry Collaborations

At the heart of JNU is Bakshi’s vision to provide meaningful job-oriented education to students. Hence—the focus on technical learning in futuristic sectors and on developing close ties with recruiters. Campus recruitment attracts stalwarts to the university, such as Microsoft, Tata Consultancy Services, Vodafone, Taj Hotels, BMW, Mercedes Benz, Ranbaxy, Reliance, Coca Cola, L&T, ICICI Securities, Bank of America and Deutsche Bank.

According to Chancellor Bakshi, “JNU’s strong university-industry interface is an outcome of its striving to fine tune its programmes with market demand.”

As critical are its tie-ups with international centres of learning. “In a connected world, it is extremely important for students and academia to be familiar with current knowledge paradigms and latest technologies. Competition is cutting edge and a global education and perspective is essential for ones survival,” he says. “Creating these tie-ups is challenging, especially convincing premier universities in developed nations to tie-up with a young university in a developing nation and assuring them of one’s worth.”

What the future holds

India Today has ranked JNU amongst the top 50 universities in the country, which is no small achievement for a six year old institution. Silicon India has ranked JNU as the best private university in Rajasthan and 16th in India.

Bakshi’s vision is to see JNU ranked amongst the top 3 universities in India and to make a mark globally. To this end, new innovative courses are being added every year, accredited by national and international regulatory bodies. Quality in education and research and development is an ongoing effort. Since this depends a lot on getting the right faculty, he sets great store on leading by example and on developing a personal rapport with each member of faculty. “It’s important to lend an ear to employees facing problems and suggest plausible solutions,” he shares. “And staff must be motivated to chase new frontiers. I say ‘no matter how good you are there is some one out there who knows how to do things a little better’.”

Plans are on the anvil to open off-shore campuses in south-east Asia, Dubai and Europe.

A state-of-art centre for medical sciences and research is already coming up in Jagatpura Jaipur. It’s a tricky project. No government grants are available for such institutes, nor do medical research centres generate funds from patients. Raising finance is putting all of Bakshi’s skills to the test but the Chancellor is pressing on with his dream to create a hub of original medical research of global standards.

He has been conferred the Edupreneur Award by Engineers Watch, the Indian Solidarity Council has presented him with Bharat Vidhya Shiromani Award and he has collected the Rajeev Gandhi Education Excellence Award from the International Institute of Education and Management. As close to his heart is the Veer Award the Confederation of Indian Universities bequeathed on him in 2009. His greatest reward, however, is the happy faces of students enjoying studies and life in JNU.

Sandeep Bakshi, Chancellor of Jaipur National University started young with his educational leadership aspirations