More than 40 top CEOs and entrepreneurs, mostly IIT and IIM alumni, have come together to set up a Rs 2,000-crore project that involves setting up a university with a sharp focus on engineering directly aimed towards bolstering entrepreneurship and a home-grown startup ecosystem.
These Indian honchos include Vineet Nayyar, vice chairman of IL&FS and Executive vice-chairman of Tech Mahindra, CP Gurnani, managing director of Tech Mahindra, Ambarish Raghuvanshi, founder of Infoedge, V Vaidyanathan, chairman of IDFC First, Mukul Agarwal, chairman of Param Capital, Dalip Pathak, former head of Warburg Pincus Europe, Neeraj Aggarwal, Asia head BCG, Ashish Gupta, managing director at Helion Ventures and Niten Malhan, founder of New Mark Advisors among others.
The vision originated in the minds of few IIT alumni, including Vineet Gupta (founder of Jamboree Education), Ashish Gupta, (founder of Benori Knowledge Solutions and a Mckinsey Alumnus ), Neeraj Aggarwal (BCG Asia Chairman) and Manas Fuloria (CEO of Nagarro). They believe in the power of education and its ability to unleash the huge potential that India has. Plaksha University, named after the mythical tree of knowledge from which river Saraswati originated, will come up in Mohali in 2021. With a campus spread over a vast area of 50 acres, the institute will focus on core engineering, deep technology such as artificial intelligence, machine learning and mathematics. It has already entered into a MoU with Stanford Research Institute for joint research and has made collaborations with other Ivy League names such as Berkeley and Purdue Universities. Well-known academics such as Ashish Nanda of Harvard University, Anant Agarwal of MIT, S. Shankar Sastry of University of California-Berkeley, and Arvind Raman of Purdue University are among those who have joined the academic advisory board of the new university. Plaksha has also tied up with Stanford Research Institute and Purdue University. “This institution will focus on innovation, will be real world oriented and emphasize real world learning. I think these are very important for a high-quality technology institution for tomorrow,” said Prof Nanda, senior Lecturer at Harvard Business School.
“Only one in four Indians goes for higher education. In South Korea, which got independence pretty much at the same time, nine out of 10 students go to college. This gap has to be filled by private education which is only 69 per cent of the sector,” said Vineet Gupta. The idea was so contagious and inspiring that it did not take long to get more than 40 honchos on board.
Ashish Gupta says that it took less than a minute to convince Mukul Agarwal, another co-founder who he met at Harvard University. “It is the need of the hour. India has been one of the biggest victims of brain drain to the West. We can at least do this much for the motherland,” said Agarwal, a well-known figure in the capital market space. The trigger came from “seeing many children in the family going to study in the US and eventually moving there,” V Vaidyanathan of IDFC First shares similar thoughts. “So many children of our generation are going abroad, particularly the US for graduation. It’s time we developed world class institutions to keep our children here and get the world to come here,” he said.
The numbers of Indian students going abroad speak for themselves. The statistics indicate the extent of the brain drain – ourward remittances on studies abroad amount that Indians spend on education overseas has increased near 20-fold in the past 10 years to $3 billion in 2018.
The entire team of more than 40 co-founders brainstormed for three years, putting in place a vision that advocates the best model in pedagogy, curriculum, culture, faculty, and processes. Of the Rs 2,000 crore project, the group has already raised Rs 400 crore through personal contributions and CSR funds.
Sometimes, to get a perspective of the future, it’s important to look at the past. The Finance Minister of Punjab, Manpreet Badal, brought up a thought-provoking analogy at the foundation stone laying ceremony. “1631 was the year when the Taj Mahal was completed. This was the same year that Harvard University was founded. It took 17 times more the investment to build the Taj Mahal. Imagine, if India had invested in 17 Harvards in 1631, we would’ve been spared 200 years of colonialism.” And as this idea takes shape in the form of Plaksha University, the possibilities for the future seem endless.