AGGS Sessions: Campus Development in India – The opportunity and the practicalities

Join Acumen’s Executive Director, UK & Europe, Pete Richards, as he moderates a panel discussion on the subject of “Campus Development in India – The Opportunity and the Practicalities.” The distinguished panel of experts and thought leaders provide invaluable insights, thoughts, and commentary on this multifaceted subject creating informative and lively conversations.

Five Key Takeaways

    1. Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) are Key: The panel acknowledged the financial challenges of campus development in India and suggested that partnerships between government bodies, educational institutions, and private investors could be a viable solution. PPP models can provide the necessary funding and expertise to execute large scale projects effectively.
    2. Diverse Opportunities Await: The panel emphasised that India’s education sector is experiencing unprecedented growth, with a surge in demand for quality higher education. This presents a vast opportunity for campus development, not only in major cities but also in tier-2 and tier-3 cities. Universities and institutions need to be proactive in identifying and leveraging these diverse opportunities.
    3. Collaboration with Industry: Collaboration between educational institutions and industry was a central theme. The panel stressed the significance of fostering partnerships to enhance the practicality of education. This includes industry sponsored research, internships, and guest lectures, all of which contribute to students’ employability and real world readiness.
    4. Regulatory Challenges: The discussion acknowledged the challenges posed by regulatory hurdles in campus development. Streamlining approval processes, ensuring compliance with evolving educational standards, and addressing land acquisition issues were identified as key areas where policymakers and educational institutions need to work together for smoother campus expansion.
    5. Adaptability and Flexibility are Essential: The panel stressed the importance of designing campuses with adaptability and flexibility in mind. Educational needs and trends evolve rapidly, so campuses should be able to accommodate changes in curriculum, teaching methods, and student demographics. Modular construction and flexible spaces can ensure that campuses remain relevant and functional for years to come.

Below is the transcript

Pete Richards

Okay, good afternoon, everybody. And thank you for attending the second session of mine today, but we’re here to talk about campus development in India. I’ll again introduce myself to those of you that were not in the breakout session earlier. I’m Pete Richards, Executive Director for Acumen for the UK and Europe. 

My background prior to joining acumen, some 18 months ago was with Coventry University as some of you know, obviously associate Pro Vice Chancellor international for Coventry University specifically looking at their TNE and partnerships drive. We had about 20,000 Students studying overseas via a network of about 45 partners. But what I also did during that time was launch or lead a project team which launched country universities branch campuses in the new capital of Cairo. So that was an 18 month project, to take an idea into the reality of a campus launching in the new capital of Cairo back in 2018/ 19. 

We have a terrific panel assembled today to talk about the subject of launching new universities and developing new universities and everything really, from the embryonic idea through to actually picking them up and making them reality and becoming great institutions in their own right. So please, I would like to start off and allow my panel colleagues to quickly introduce themselves.

Vineet Gupta, Founder & Trustee, Ashoka and Plaksha University

Hi, good afternoon and my name is Vineet Gupta. I’m one of the founders of Ashoka University and also Plugshare University, which is a new technology university we’ve just opened in Mali. I’m also a Co-Founder and Managing Director of Jamberry education which is a test prep company.

Dipesh Shah, Executive Director (Development), International Financial Services Centre (IFSCA) GIFT City
I’m Dipesh Shah, Executive Director at the International Financial Services Center at GIFT City. And I have a similar experience to some of you here. Having built new campuses, we are building a new city. I have been here in the city since 2008, and have been a part of the development journey of the smart city and the International Financial Services Center.

Amrita Sadarangani, Head, College of Science & Engineering Partnerships, India, University of Edinburgh
Good afternoon.

Thank you to Acumen for inviting me here.

I’m Amrita Sarangani. I’m with the University of Edinburgh. In my previous role as executive director of the Gujarat Biotechnology University project, I was involved in a conversation that started seven years ago with the government of the draft to help establish a new biotechnology university informed and supported by the University of Edinburgh.

This is a 10 year contractual model which starts with the delivery of a bespoke curriculum and continues with mentorship of research, teaching, development of policies, new ways of working with professional services and ensures it is a very accessible model to students in India.

I look forward to this discussion.

Thank you.

Parth Sarwate, Ahmedabad University

Good afternoon. My name is Parth and I currently work with Ahmedabad University as the Director of Undergraduate Admission and Financial Aid.

Prior to this, I’ve had experience in actually leading the idea of Azim Premji University. I led the team that set up Azim Premji University and also subsequently worked a year on trying to vision the School of Education achieved at the university. And now at Ambit University. I’m really looking at how we can set certain administrative, you know new ideas into place so that we can build a really long term qualitative system supporting the research at the university.

Professor Prabhu Agarwal, Vice Chancellor – Times Bennet University

Hi, I’m Prabhu Agarwal while I’m currently the Vice Chancellor of Bennett University at Times of India group initiative. From my perspective of the topic of today’s panel of building and running institutions, I’ve also set up as the founding Vice Chancellor, the OP Jindal University. To this goal, to be specific, the first private university first in technology and management.

Pete Richards

Excellent, thank you.

And I think as mentioned in previous sessions, NEP has got the potential to really change the game in regards to international branch campus delivery. And I think this afternoon session really assembled a panel of subject matter experts here who each have got a great deal to contribute to the session.

We’ll fire a few questions as a panel, but we’re quite keen also if it’s okay with the panel, to just introduce maybe 15 to 20 minutes of question time from the floor. So please, as we’re talking if you formulate a question, please hold that and we’ll get to question time within good time.

So first question I’d like to direct to you Dipesh if that’s okay? And it’s really related to the opportunities presented by GIFT City, which a lot of people around the world are very excited about. And I wonder if you can begin the session by already explaining the concept of GIFT City for those who in the audience don’t know and how universities from outside of India can really leverage the opportunities that GIFT City presents.

Dipesh Shah, Executive Director (Development), International Financial Services Centre (IFSCA) GIFT City
Thank you.

I think the GIFT City concept is quite simple if you really understand from the perspective as to how the international financial services business operates globally. So, the GIFT City concept is on the similar line that you have a zone in India, which for all practical purposes has been declared as a zone outside India.

So, I’m talking of GIFT City  which has a zone which for all practical purposes from a regulatory perspective is considered as offshore within onshore India. And probably this is sometimes a complex understanding for many as to how come in India, you have a zone which is declared as an offshore and we don’t have to comply with domestic regulations.

What the government of India did for GIFT CIty was to bring in a regulatory change which enables it to undertake the international financial services business much more efficiently. Now, as you are aware, India does not have a full capital account convertibility which means that we were not allowed to do international financial transactions freely and GIFT City is just an answer to that. It’s a smart city, which has two components. One is the domestic zone which is similar to any other zone in India. And there is a second zone which is an international financial services zone, which is now the only notified international zone as I said an offshore zone within onshore India.

What it means for an opportunity for institutions and probably foreign universities, is that I think the debate of having an international foreign branch campus in India has been probably more than a decade old in India. And every time I think the foreign universities came to India, they were given the books and the regulations, which were very hard to comply with. And they always found it very difficult to be onshore in India.

But now, what the government has done for the zone which is an offshore, it has already notified it as an offshore zone by giving full freedom from all domestic law, which means when you come and set up an international branch campus in GIFT City, you are outside UGC, you are outside AICT, you are outside all domestic law, you are virtually operating just like a foreign branch campus, where which you are operating in some places like Dubai, another where you run the offshore campuses, this is on the same concept, you delivered the degree which is the same degree which you deliver in your home country and you are allowed to deliver the same degree here. 

You are not required to follow local compliances in terms of recruitment, in terms of the faculty recruitment, so all academic freedom to the university coming in. And with this model, we have already announced the international brands campus regulation, which has allowed the universities to start coming in and the first university as of this morning, might have heard the Australian Ambassador saying that the Deakin University became the first university to get the in principle approval and they are cited to start in July.

And we have a second university which has applied to us for the International branch campuses, the University of Wollongong, again from Australia, and this has become a reality now. So we’ve been talking about this for almost a decade. I think the National Education Policy in India is doing quite remarkable work as far as the whole of domestic India is concerned. But I’m talking of a zone which is for all practical purposes, separate from India, and within GIFT City, which has now given this regulatory freedom for the foreign universities to come in.

Now this is going to be a major game changer for many institutions who want to embark on quality upskilling certification programmes, which can also bring in and come into GIFT City through the model of OAC. And I’ll encourage all of you to look at both the regulations which are very friendly from an international education perspective. And lots of universities not only from Australia, but from UK and US when talking right now to consider how we branch into GIFT City and make it a real big. For you there are three opportunities: one you recruit the domestic Indian students into the GIFT City they pay in dollars, just like they’re paying to study outside India. Two, you can recruit people from the South Asian region because we do believe that this will become a South Asian hub. And there are a lot of job opportunities emerging within GIFT City from the financial centre itself, which needs a lot of skilled manpower to be recruited. So you have a direct opportunity of ensuring that the talent that you educate gets an employment within the financial centre itself.

Pete Richards

Am I right in thinking that the course being delivered in your city needs to have a financial In front, a financial element to the programme. Is that correct?

Dipesh Shah, Executive Director (Development), International Financial Services Centre (IFSCA) GIFT City
Yes, the programmes of the financial centre, which has been right now enabled for this first phase, are the FinTech, financial management and STEM courses, which can come into the gift city. As this is a financial centre, it runs into these specific programs. But you, as I said, You didn’t not open a separate whole campus, you can just be on a two floor international brands campus and run it in the way that you want to get started in India and see how this can succeed into a larger campus story for you.

Pete Richards

Perfect, thank you.

And I think a few UK universities have asked the team in the UK, an MBA with a financial influence or a different course with a financial element to it. It’s relatively ambiguous, but I think that’s a good thing. As long as it has a good solid foundation in finance, it’s acceptable. Is that correct?

Okay, excellent. Thank you.

Next question to Vineet. I really enjoyed reading your profile, and you’ve got first hand experience of founding not one but two universities. Ashoka and Plugshare are both very, very interesting institutions. But can I ask you two things? Firstly, the due diligence prior to those projects, kicking off? What did you do really to establish and confirm that there is a market for that institution in that particular region for those particular courses, etc. And my second question, where do you start? It’s like eating an elephant, right? There’s such a big, big project. So first question, maybe around your due diligence and how you arrived and solidified the idea if that’s okay?

Vineet Gupta, Founder & Trustee, Ashoka and Plaksha University
Let me start with Ashoka perhaps first, and Ashoka is an idea we’d started thinking about in 2007.

I think one way in which Ashoka is unique is that there was no one donor or one business group funding the university. Ashoka is a collective effort. It’s a collective what we call collective philanthropic effort. 

When we started, there were about four or five donors who came together with the idea to fund the university today, Ashoka has more than 200 donors. So it’s expanded. So back to your question. I think the first thing, at least for us as Ashoka was for this group to come together, and be comfortable in being with each other and being comfortable in the idea that this group will together found Ashoka University. A lot of our first few years really went into sitting together, coming together, and really putting a commitment to say that look, we will build this institution. 

The second in terms of due diligence in terms of market, etc  there, I think India does have a huge shortage in higher education, and Sanjeev was talking about it. So, we still have many more institutions to be built here. They were one of the few countries where we build institutions every year. As I understand it, about 30/40 universities are still being built every year. Well, Sanjeev would like us to believe otherwise. And I’m wondering whether we should actually be building physical infrastructure. But I do think that maybe in the next two to three decades, this transition from a purely physical campus to a digital campus will sort of play out. My own belief is that the capacities of whatever you could do in 10 acres earlier, you can probably do 10 times more in the same space. So maybe that will change but physical campuses are here to stay for a while.

So getting this group together was the first one. The second was Delhi too in India, there’s been heavy regulation around creating private universities. And around the time that we were thinking about setting up a showcard. These new legislations were unfolding and higher education in India was on the concurrent list, which means both the federal government and the state governments can legislate and legislate separately, right? So state governments can create universities and central governments can so many state governments had that point, where very forthcoming Haryana was one example that I just found probably was the first one which opened up its gates to private universities. 

Rajasthan was probably the second one. And they all had these enabling legislations which allow private universities to come up. Otherwise, we couldn’t have come up, despite all that I mean, the law of the land just didn’t allow private universities to be set up easily. You had to go the UGC route, and there was this, that you have to be a college first and then after tenure.

So I think the second was that around the time we were thinking there was this enabling legislation in many states, which allowed us to open private universities and our due diligence was really centred around that, which are the states which are allowing private universities to come up and I remember back in that date, we actively considered Rajasthan we considered Haryana we considered Madhya Pradesh. We considered Punjab. I think those were the four states, we all belong to Delhi. So we also wanted to be close to Delhi. So that was second and then as we started speaking to state governments there was a strong response from Haryana. In fact, the Chief Minister really was very keen for Ashoka to come up in Haryana and that sort of zero down on location. So, it was not so much market, but it was more the legislation of a particular state, which was enabling and I think the third is that an India acquisition of land is always tricky, and acquiring land and making sure the land is free from all encumbrances as a clean title is developed, which means it has connectivity and roads, people can actually go there is not often easy. And Haryana was building this Rajiv Gandhi education city in Sony Park, just on the outskirts of Delhi. We found that to be a great location, and I think our premise has been validated, because 15 years later, you see the whole, there’s a sort of a ring road, which has come around Delhi, which pretty much goes very close to Ashoka. There’s a lot of development coming up there. So Haryana was forthcoming in sort of promoting that. The idea that our state government was sort of willing to commit and promote these areas in education city, made us choose Haryana so that was around that. 

I think universities are really about people, about faculty and students. So recruiting the best faculty and recruiting the best students was really at the heart of building Ashoka. And we felt that while we build a campus and the campus is going to take a while to come up, we should start running some academic programmes. And then some people may remember that we started a program called the Young India fellowship in a rented campus in Delhi.

It was a one year postgraduate programme. In fact, there are a couple of alumni here in the audience, who are graduates of that programme and a couple of them work for Sannam. So in fact, when I entered I met Kshiti who is an alumni. And she mentioned that she now works with Sannam S4. So the idea was to get really the word going that Ashoka is going to open, start attracting the best scholars, the best faculty. So that programme ran in Delhi in a rented campus for three years. 

That helped Ashoka to sort of build the intellectual infrastructure. If I may say, lots of that programme used to run on visiting faculty and many of those visiting faculty then later chose to become full time faculty at Ashoka. They were coming from all over from George Washington University, from Yale, from, you know, from universities in the United Kingdom. And then many of them chose to be at Ashoka. So that was sort of the beginning of building the intellectual infrastructure, if I may say, then for students, the university finally opened in 2014. So it took us seven years, from 2007 to 14, to really open the place. To recruit the best once again, we put our team in place in 2011. Ashoka started in India as a liberal arts university, there were not many private liberal arts universities being open. In India, the private investment in higher education has been a lot into engineering, and medicine. And the idea of our private liberal arts university was still very new. In fact, the term liberal arts was not understood. And I don’t think it’s understood fully even today. And so we used to have these teams of 20 people who used to go around the country. And we went to around 300 schools, physically, to really tell people what Ashoka is, what the collective philanthropy model is, what liberal arts says. And that’s how we recruited the first class. So I mean, I think those are some of the ideas in your questions. But yes, looking back at it probably wasn’t as easy as it sounds now.

Pete Richards

Yeah, it doesn’t sound easy. Trust me. I wonder if we can bring it to Professor Agarwal. Just talking about your time at Bennett University, obviously philanthropic initiative both times group founded in 2016. Similar experience, I’m keen to understand how the institution was able to build its credibility and reputation as quickly as it has for a university to begin just six, seven years ago, to build the reputation that’s had today was built on the bedrock of, again, recruiting terrific academics and marketing the courses. Well, what was your experience with time spent there?

Professor Prabhu Agarwal, Vice Chancellor – Times Bennet University

Well, so I was not at all part of the founding team. When this idea of Bennett was conceived in I think 2013 or even earlier, 2012 or 13 by The Times Group, and they opened their doors in 2016. 

I do know that the group was very unfamiliar with higher education. It was not a group that had ever dabbled in education, per se, I think they had a little bit of a presence in the unregulated space in Times Pro. So large consulting firms were involved in the initial planning phases. It was built essentially, with an idea of creating a quality education at a price point, which I won’t necessarily say, is low, but a more of a premium product with a certain demographic analysis of the NCR area and the type of programmes that they wanted to offer.

Our students are aspirants of Global Pathways. So I think that was the starting point. There were strong international partners, Cornell, Georgia Tech, Babson, and remember the fourth name, University of Florida, that were brought on board as five year partners. So that was an important part. It goes without saying that there’s a certain trust the Times of India group brings, it has a 185 year old legacy. And I think that played a very, very important role in the initial years. 

Going back to what we need said, it’s all about faculty to begin with. And there was a very conscious effort to bring the best faculty we could get within the Indian context. But I think over 95% of our faculty are PhDs from institutes of IITs. And it is because we are mostly a STEM school, we have now become a little bit more. So we started off at the STEM school and Management School and later on, we digress into, of course, the media school being part of a large media conglomerate. So it’s been an interesting story. In that way. We’ve seen some remarkable traction going on. And as Adrian was pointing out, we are those people who need to, we can’t open our doors because we don’t have enough physical infrastructure. We can’t build fast enough. So this is that story.

Pete Richards

I think, you know, I’m thrilled to hear you both say the importance is the the the faculty and the quality of the faculty and then the marketing story that breeds and that you can tell, and that assists you, obviously, to attract students, I think, recalling my time with Coventry University working with Elsa, we the electric, big power generation company in, in North Africa, they, again, also had nothing to do with higher education prior to this project. So we were asking them as a project team questions like you are going to recruit a registrar? And they would say, yes, of course we are. What’s the registrar, so to grab them by the hand and have to guide them academically to even talk about the very basic foundations of what an academic institution looks like? And feels like from a regulatory framework perspective it was really fascinating. But I think that the project team really learned very quickly, the key to its success will be the ability to attract and recruit really, really good faculty members, and tell our brand story and the students will come. 

Excuse me, then the second part of that is, again, has sometimes regulation can drive the where the Egypt project was very much around the notion that it had to be built in the new capital of Cairo, had to be there within that zone. So that the policy often drives the way rather than the market research, which again, is really interesting to hear about GIFT City. 

Next question, I’m keen to come to you Amrita, and just you know, I’m really interested to hear how Edinburgh and in your view how other UK universities are viewing this, you know, the NEP has obviously opened up a world of opportunity for international universities in India. There are so many options. There are so many ways that international universities can now play. I’m just really interested to hear whether or not universities such as Edinburgh, maybe even Edinburgh specifically, are comfortable sharing that. How do you intend that to build your footprint and continue to build your footprint in India? Do you think that will be via more branch campus delivery, or continuing to develop partnerships, tripartite agreements, joint venture partnerships? What are your thoughts on that?

Amrita Sadarangani, Head, College of Science & Engineering Partnerships, India, University of Edinburgh
Thank you for that Pete.

I think when we started out with these discussions with Gujarat, what was very clear was, we were entering a zone of the unknown. We were very interested for very specific unclear reasons as the University of Edinburgh because the project was all about being research driven, being translational being in an area where Edinburgh has world leading expertise. And there was a sense of mutuality. And that is a really important principle that I’ll come back to when I answer the second part of your question, so, so, what happened in you know, the seven years since we had the conversations was a co creation of a model of partnership that does not exist elsewhere in the world. So it was about the draft government having a very clear vision of what they wanted and why they wanted it. And what Edinburgh had to do, what we did was assess why we should get involved, and what were the drivers for us. 

For the University of Edinburgh, the drivers were to engage in research and engage in the opportunity for translation, and having a clean slate for a very visionary and ambitious educational model. So Edinburgh is about 440 years old, you have the opportunity to write a curriculum that is translational and future focused. It was very exciting, in an area, which in these discussions started before COVID. And we all know how much more significant biotechnology is. So for I think, when we all started off, whether it was the ecosystem or all of the stakeholders involved, we weren’t even sure that this is something that would survive and work. 

We admitted our first batch of students that GBU in August 22, we’re getting ready for the second intake, we have about 22 faculty that Edinburgh were heavily involved in helping to recruit and that itself, as colleagues, as people on the panel here have said that recruiting the right faculty is just the core of any new institution. So we were very pleased that there was a huge amount of openness to overlaying the rule driven ecosystem approach to recruiting faculty with Edinburgh’s approach and advice. So that was the first sort of sign of how collaborative this institution is going to be, in terms of what that means for the future. Edinburgh has strategically not been focused on the international branch campus model, neither in India nor elsewhere, and I’m not sure that’s going to change in the near future, or in the medium future. What Edinburgh has always done even in other parts of the world are mutually beneficial partnerships with partners with stakeholders, and has also has always been quite creative in designing these partnerships. So there is a very interesting partnership called Una Europa, which is an alliance of eight or nine research-led institutions across Europe, which provides degree and program mobility to a great degree. It’s really an interesting design for us to consider here as well with the new regulations. There is the MasterCard Foundation programme with Africa, in China, we’ve not set up an international branch campus, it’s their joint institute. So you again, see that mutuality. And I think that’s going to be the way forward.

Pete Richards

Excellent, thank you. And a fun question to the final panel member, really, before we start to throw out a few different questions, maybe from the audience’s around Path, if you can talk about admissions and where a new university might look and research where to pitch itself from an Admissions and Enrollment perspective. I think that was again, a really interesting part of the Coventry Egypt project. Okay, what do we want to be when we launch in terms of, do we want this to be a premium product, which is really hard to get into and expensive? Or do we want to go to a different spectrum or somewhere in the middle? So what would be your advice for any international university seeking to launch a campus way where they can research that and pitch themselves?

Parth Sarwate, Ahmedabad University

Sure, thanks. I think before I answer that question, I wanted to also mention the two other institutions that have been working for which is Azim Premji University as well as Ahmedabad University, I think more than admissions, our focus was on what is it that we’re trying to solve? I think the key to institutions of the future are they just teaching institutions? Are they actually trying to solve problems that society faces? And what problem is it that is worth solving? So interestingly, the story at Azim Premji Foundation began, you know, as an institution that was working in public education, and we realised that if we wanted to solve the public education problem, we couldn’t do it unless we also looked at higher education as a core part that solved that problem.

Similarly, at Ahmedabad University, we wanted to look at how a comprehensive research university in India can be really built. And I think, as the other panellists have said, I think it was said, faculty is the weakest link.Unless and I would go on to say that even if you do not build, you know, you can postpone your plans. If you don’t get the right faculty. Don’t be in a hurry. To start, don’t be in a hurry to build an institution. I think another very interesting thing is ranking systems are really hurting what institutions are. Because all new institutions are now wanting to be on that ranking system in the short period of time. And really, the importance isn’t slowing down and pursuing long term goals. So maybe have a goal for 50 years, rather than saying, okay, in 10 years, I want to be in the ranking system. So how do you then look at admissions from that perspective, like at Ahmedabad University, we are even happy to say that, okay, we will not take a certain number of students, because we only want to build a certain kind of quality institution, and we are willing to wait. 

Now, that also often requires some deep resources. And this is something that everybody has to think about as you try to set up an institution in a country which has a complex set of laws, unfortunately, they’ve changed a lot. We started thinking about the university in 2007, just when Ashoka also started thinking about the university. And really, the third piece is what do young people really want? And in India, often that answer is that they want, they think it’s a means to a job, a means to a career. But is that enough for a young person in a world where they’re going to change careers? So can you teach them to learn? Can you teach them to develop perspectives? Can you teach them, interdisciplinary perspectives, that will be of value to them in the long run? Should we really only offer them skills that they want for the first job? I think these are critical questions that universities need to answer before they sort of go on. And I think as an admissions head, also, I think this is a very critical issue. There are lots of students out there who would love to have a degree, which is a two plus two, and then, you know, two years they do in India, two years, they go abroad, because all of them think only from the perspective of the job. But the first job is not a career. It’s not something that they love, something that they will be passionate about, something that they’ll want to change. And I think we need to instil in young people the belief that they can change systems, they can be more than just another cog in the wheel.

Pete Richards

It’s really interesting. And how do universities achieve that? I think I’ve been in the sector for 12 or 13 years now. And that’s been a hot topic ever since I joined the sector, really around the notion of genuine lifelong learning and how we as institutions can follow a student from their undergraduate through to their postgraduate through a career change, or three or four career changes, which is not uncommon. And I’m keen to hear from anybody in the panel really, in terms of how edtech can play into that micro credentialing following a student through their career, to help them relearn and learn new skills as the landscape of employability changes in their careers. Anybody feel like taking that very big question on? Please.

Professor Prabhu Agarwal, Vice Chancellor – Times Bennet University

You know, there’s just an incident that happened about a month ago, I was in conversation with the CEO of the London Business School. And I’m narrating the story, because he said, I’m in a monopoly business. I said, What do you mean? He said, I am the only place you can go and become an LPS alumni. No other institution will make an LPS alumni. And their whole value proposition was, if you come to LPS, we will hold you, not when you take admission and graduate two years down the line, but until you die, the word is die. And that entire journey of once you become an alumni until your death was the concept on which they thrive. I don’t know of institutions in India that have that mindset. And if that mindset, and in an environment where you have funding constraints, very, very few places you can get funding, you can even philanthropy from the people like we need and his team or mega donors, large corporations, there is no endowment giving. Because there is no thought process. You don’t go back to your graduate 10 years, 15 years, 20 years when they are in their 50s. And you go back and say, Hey, give me money. They said what did you do for me 20 years down the line. I’m just narrating a story. Because I think that is where there’s a big flaw in us as an institution, as a country of higher education, not being able to tap our graduates. And if we had done that we would have thought about it. We would have nurtured our graduates through their journey.

Pete Richards

That’s a very good point. And from my own personal experience, I graduated in 1996 a very long time ago. I’ve lived and worked overseas. When I came back to the UK 10 years ago, I reached out to my university to tell them my new contact details, and they acknowledged that they have never contacted me since. So it’s fascinating in terms of joint venture opportunities for an international university to collaborate with an Indian university and to build a joint dual degree wrapped around either technology or physical campus. How do you think they can work better together in terms of building connectivity, when you’ve got an extra cog in the wheel? If that makes sense, you’ve got now two brands in two different countries that are reaching for that mind shelf within the student, perhaps you can take that.

Amrita Sadarangani, Head, College of Science & Engineering Partnerships, India, University of Edinburgh

Thank you. So I think building joint degrees and joint programs is again about the relationship, it’s not going to work if you have the format of, you know, let’s meet during an international delegation or an international conference. And let’s talk about a joint degree. That never happens. It usually happens when you’ve got years of mobility exchanges, faculty and students have passed through the doors of both institutions, there is a high degree of comfort and there are systems that promote that. So you, we’ve seen it happening with European universities, etc. But for that to happen between Edinburgh and Indian university, I had an amazing story with a colleague I met when I first started working for Edinburgh, who had this whole map of how he was going to a joint master’s degree in Computer Sciences with India’s leading one of India’s leading universities. And he said, We had a great conversation. But nothing happened after that. So because there’s no regulation, they were not able to express that because in India, we find it very hard to say no, that’s not possible, or we can do it. With the GPU model, GPU will give GPU degrees right now, but because Edinburgh has been part of its development and establishment, we see the development of a joint Master’s, a joint PhD, accompanied by the supporting regulations that we have now become, you know, quite the next step as we settle into the collaboration. And we hope that will become much more popular as an engagement model with other universities as well.

Pete Richards

Sure thing, Vineet would you like to add to that,

Vineet Gupta, Founder & Trustee, Ashoka and Plaksha University

I do think the room for partnerships is immense. And I think some of those things will unfold. from our own experience. We at Ashoka when we started The Young India fellowship that I was speaking of, we had partnered with UPenn at that point. And I think that partnership really worked well for us. We used to have about 15 visiting faculty, six of them used to come from there. And then similarly, at Plugshare, which is the second year we started a programme called the technology leaders programme. And that was in partnership with the University of Berkeley again, we had tremendous support in terms of visiting faculty people being able to come here. So I feel there is a lot of room in joint partnerships and degrees. And for, especially for international universities looking to sort of establish a base in India, it’s a good model. 

I think there are many, many credible places in India, which universities can partner with and launch these joint program joint degrees, but probably as the saying goes, it needs a little bit more skin in the game. And, you know, it leads to more commitment from both institutions. And I think it really boils down to this question: what’s in it for us? I think both institutions are really asking this question.

Pete Richards

That’s a good point. And I think working in the partnerships field for a period of time, you have to continually ask yourself, why, why this teeny relationship? Why this partnership? Why this branch campus? I think it’s a very, very important point. We’ve mentioned employability very briefly, but it’s such a key topic. I’m keen to touch on that further. I think institutions rightfully are looking inward now at employability and making sure that their curriculum is fit for purpose and will enable students to go out into the wide world and enjoy terrific careers and come back and continue to learn. In terms of branch campus delivery, and international universities trying to come to India to build a branch campus, they again become almost one step removed from the delivery market, or the employability market that their graduates will come from, what advice would you give to a UK university or an American university, Canadian, Australia, New Zealand, anybody at any international university? How do they bridge that gap? How would you recommend that they bridge that gap of employability because it’s difficult for Indian institutions in India? British institutions in the UK? Yeah, if they’re, again, one step removed. What advice would you give around employability and making sure that the curriculum is genuinely fit for purpose?

Amrita Sadarangani, Head, College of Science & Engineering Partnerships, India, University of Edinburgh

So I think one of the reasons that GBU was established with the Edinburgh collaboration was really about employability. So the ask from the Gujarat government was clearly that we want a talent pipeline that will serve the industry in Gujarat and elsewhere in India. The curriculum therefore had to be relevant. And the way we went about doing that was the Gujarat government provided data, there were industry interfacing bodies that provided information, the Edinburgh team involved also talked to industry. So the investment in time in effort to really understand what is required? How could we deliver it, making sure that we, during the process, we informed ourselves and then this will be a continuous iteration that is relevant to industry today, but also to their employees of the future. And not just you know, this is not a static document. This is not a static learning, teaching testing system. It is something that will accept evolution, it’s built, you know, with digital technology, platforms, etc. And one of the biggest philosophies behind how they designed the curriculum, as my academic colleagues tell me, it’s about failing, you know, so, first of all, it’s about challenge like, problems, it’s about failing, it’s about learning from that failure, and, and, you know, lather, rinse, repeat. So, employability is very much at the core of what we’ve done. And the huge amount of effort in this whole project has been towards addressing that.

Pete Richards

So thank you. Talking of failing, that kind of segways into a lessons learned question, you know, we’ve all been involved at some point in our careers in terms of launching a brand new university in some way, shape, or form. What are the lessons learned? What are the things that you potentially may have done incorrectly in that project? Or if you could wind the clock back and do it again, a year to get away? What would have been your experiences where you might have done something a little differently? Maybe you can contribute to that at the end?

Professor Prabhu Agarwal, Vice Chancellor – Times Bennet University

I think it’s an evolution. I mean, we start off as we need. So there’s a lot of groundwork that needs to be done. You think about the marketing mix, the four P’s, the product, price placement people, we start there, you fine tune the model, it’s a long term game, it’s not going to happen in four/ five years, you need long gestation periods. You, your strategy, whatever you have thought of when you start off, you need to remain true to that, to some extent in the sense that if you say I’m going to be focused on quality, I’m going to wait it out, like I’m the words waiting it out. I know that Ashoka’s  first incoming batch was way below their target numbers, because they wanted to wait it out. So along the way you tweak the model, do you evaluate new programmes? I mean, there are so many things that are happening in the technology space, and just the education space that is what’s going to be needed. And I really don’t know if I can say that, what would I have done differently? In my opinion?

Pete Richards

Yeah, I think a good philosophy is to get your concept 70% right and start walking

Professor Prabhu Agarwal, Vice Chancellor – Times Bennet University

Take a first step to get going somewhere, right?

Mr. Dipesh Shah, Executive Director (Development), International Financial Services Centre (IFSCA) GIFT City

So, if I can just add to what was just said in both the equations. So we’ve seen the India skills report, which came out in 2022 out of 150 corporates, I think almost 75% say that there is a skill gap. And then you have an ASCOM report, which says that 1.4 to 1.6 million, a digital skill gap by the time the six will be in India. If you put this both the numbers together, seeing the corporate and seeing the technology skill gap. I think what is important now for the international universities and the foreign universities to look at is what are the areas that India is doing good at and how do I come up with the programmes and skill sets which are required in India for example, we are doing a project called ‘Accountants of the world’ in GIFT City. And to our surprise, today the US has more than 300,000 accounting gaps that are not available in the US market Australia. We’ve been told that nobody registers in an accounting course there. And you have an opportunity here in India that you can actually become an accountant of the global community. If you come up with the right accounting programmes for India, I do believe that that’s a huge opportunity. I’m just talking of one field you’re so multiple programmes which can be focused on and be targeted towards. So for example, the two universities which came to GIFT City, they started working with the institutions operating in GIFT City, they went to Bank of America and they asked them what is that you need in next two years, what is that you need in next five years and this is how we want to deliver. So, all the programmes which have been designed and designed to ensure that the centre in which you are operating, the demand which is getting generated that how do I bridge that gap, which is really becoming a take away for a lot of people to ensure that, you know, after the students get programmed from their universities are able to match the market demand of the jobs also.

Pete Richards

Perfect, thank you. I’d like to thank each of you. That’s been a really, really interesting panel and some great intellectual property shared with a group. So, on behalf of everybody here, I’d like to thank you very much indeed for your contribution. Thank you

About the Acumen Global Gateway Summit: India

The Acumen Global Gateway Summit, held at the renowned JW Marriott hotel in New Delhi, marked a milestone in the Acumen@15 celebrationsThis exclusive invite-only event brought together the Acumen Global Team, distinguished guests, government officials, and experts. Client partners convened to discuss international higher education, exchange innovative ideas, and shape a vision for expanding access to higher education. The summit fostered collaboration, inspiration, and knowledge dissemination among higher education professionals. With its unique setting and thoughtful discussions, the event offered an exceptional platform for networking and setting the course for a future of inclusive and transformative higher education.

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