Its 10 am. Sociologist Andre Bteille is in a classroom at Adhchini, Delhi, with 58 students, talking of the time he met Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru. The class of students listening in rapt attention consists of an engineer,lawyer, film-maker, psychologist, entrepreneur, doctor, dancer, painter, fashion designer and a linguist, all in their twenties. And they have come from all over IndiaKashmir, Tamil Nadu, Bengal, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh and Delhi. In the afternoon, they have a lecture with Robert Swan, an explorer who has walked to both the North and South Poles. They step out of the classroom and get into heated discussions - the class has left them with more questions than answers. Over lunch at the thatched roof canteen where they eat hastily, they are told that Anwar Murtaza,a senior scientist at Abbott Bioresearch Centre, Worcester (USA), also working on drug discovery in the area of auto-immunity, will be coming for a guest lecture in a few days. If you looked around, you would find that there were groups of students huddled in a corner talking about joining a Tango session l a t e r in the evening. You also hear about a heritage walk to Humayuns Tomb. At the end of the day, the students head off to their hostelin buses. And all of this food, stay and transportis all paid for.
By then you begin to wonder whats going on. And, what kind of course this is.
Welcome to the Young India Fellowship Programme (YIFP). The YIFP is a one-year residential and fully-funded postgraduate programme launched by the International Foundation for Research and Education. It is co-located at present in the Sri Aurobindo Centre for Arts and Communication campus at Adhchini, New Delhi.
The Seed of the Idea
What led to this never-before-heard-of innovation in Indian higher education?
Like many other innovations, the seeds of the YIFP germinated in a simple conversation between friends. Reminiscing about their college days and aspirations, they recalled how they had wanted to make a difference. The discussions concluded with them deciding that though there were many issues plaguing society, investing in higher education would probably have the most long-term impact.
Troubled by the fact that India did not boast of a world-class university, they decided to set up one and thus change the way higher education was viewed in the country.
While on the one end Sanjeev Bhikchandani, Founder and Executive Vice Chaiman, InfoEdge and Ashish Dhawan, Co-founder and Senior Managing Director of ChrysCapital Investment Advisors, were thinking about starting a Liberal Arts school, on the other end Vineet Gupta, Managing Director at Jamboree Education and Director at Parabolic Drugs and Rakesh Jaggi, VP at Reservoir Production Group, Schlumberger were talking about setting up a high quality technology institute. They were also talking to Pramath R. Sinha, Founding Dean of ISB, who mooted the idea of bringing the two concepts together in a multidisciplinary university. They concluded that in all this time enough technology and business institutes focused on producing professionals had cropped up, but liberal and general education had been neglected. Over time the circle of friends who believed in the idea grew to include Ashok Belani, CTO Schlumberger; Arjun Bhagat, Chairman and CEO of Calibrated Group; Pranav Gupta, Managing Director at Parabolic Drugs; Vinati Kastia, Partner AZB and Partners; Ashish Gupta, COO and Country Head at Evalueserve; Sunish Sharma, Managing Director, General Atlantic; Saurabh Srivastava, Angel Investor, Venture Capitalist and Entrepreneur and N.V. Tiger Tyagarajan, President and CEO, Genpact. In fact, they found that a collective conscience existed on the issue in their immediate social circle.
Putting together the YIFP
Now that there was force behind the idea, together they set up a foundation the International Foundation for Research and Education (IFRE). Each individual contributed to the shape and vision of what they wanted their world-class university to be like. They also realised that establishing a university of this kind would take time. In the meantime, they decided to start something that would showcase the core principles of the broad-based multi-disciplinary university that they wanted to build.
The result of the many rounds of brainstorming and ideating sessions was a flagship programme that could be the kernel for the university and its core philosophy. They all agreed on one fact: We may be successful today, but we have a deep regret that we could not pursue what we really wanted to study when we were students here. If we can now give our youth the opportunity to follow their passions, instead of being pushed into socially desirable and defined career roles, we would have achieved our goals. If we had pursued the dreams that made us really happy, just imagine how things would have changed. Perhaps we would have been more original in our thinking, more innovative and excelling in our chosen fields. We would all be able to think differently.
It was the idea of helping the youth get in touch with their passions and rethink or even reconfirm their choices by exposing them to myriad subjects and fields, that made the basic structure of the programme multidisciplinary. The course had to be broad-based and world class, and to ensure this they required world class faculty. The tie-up with UPenn thus followed.
It is not that world-class education has been denied to Indian students. But the talented, but less affluent, Indians missed out on it for pecuniary reasons. The founders decided to focus on this group and help them take that leap of passion. To ensure this, the programme was made a fully-funded course which would take in students who were path-breakers with a passion to excel.
A programme of this nature and scale would need funds. The founders were convinced, though, that they did not want corporate donors, as they wanted to avoid any undue influence by a single company or person. Instead, they invited individuals who believed in the idea to fund the programme.
In stepped 45 donors that included big industry names such as Rithankar Pal, MD, Barclays Capital (New York); Jerry Rao, Founder MphasiS; Uday Shankar, CEO of STAR India; Analjit Singh, Founder and Chairman of Max India and Ayesha Thapar, Director of India City Properties.
Next on board were mentors who could share real-life enriching experiences and guide students even after they finished the course. Mentors included some of the top names across industries Sanjeev Aga, Managing Director of Idea Cellular Limited; Narayana Murthy, Chief Mentor at Infosys Technologies; Deepak Parekh, Chairman at the Housing Development Finance Corporation; Rajendra Pawar, Chairman and Co-Founder of the NIIT Group and Anoop Prakash, Managing Director at Harley-Davidson (India).
To know more about the list the reader can log on to the YIFP Website and listen to Narayana Murthy talk about the programme. In fact, he laments the fact that his kids had to study outside India in the absence of a course like YIFP. He says, If such a programme was around at that time they would surely have applied for the fellowship. Video over, get back to finding out how the YIFP was put together.