Vedanta University: Vedic Traditions with Ivy League model in Orissa

Nalanda was World’s first University. But today you see just illiteracy in that area of India. People are poor and without education or hope. Here is an attempt to open a University that combines the modern education model with the age-old wisdom of Vedic times – the Vedanta University funded by Mr. Anil Agarwal!

One of the hot subjects discussed at the peripheries of The Evian Group conference in Montreux, Switzerland, was Vedanta University. Vedanta University’s motto is to “Rewrite the history of academia.” The university, which is a “not-for-profit” venture, is being endowed with USD 1 billion from Anil Agarwal’s personal funds.

A few months back, Anil Agarwal, an Indian businessman, who heads the London based Vedanta Resources corporation and Naveen Patnaik, the Chief Minister of Orissa state in eastern India, signed a memorandum of understanding to create India’s first and only world class, multidisciplinary university, Vedanta University.

According to the institution’s consultant A T Kearney, this is the biggest single person contribution ever made towards the endowment for any educational institution worldwide. The entire outlay to set up the dream university is estimated to be around 150 billion rupees (approximately USD 3 billion). M Siddiqi is the present Project Director of Vedanta University. Other senior administrative officials are currently being recruited internationally.

The three goals of Vedanta University are:

1. Education: To provide meritorious Indian students access to world class education within India

2. Research: To conduct cutting edge research on globally relevant topics from an Asian-centric perspective

3. Society: To produce tomorrow’s leaders, and to promote economic growth in the region.

Academics & Research

According to the Anil Agarwal Foundation, Vedanta University will be modeled most closely on Stanford and Harvard universities and aims to be a peer institution to them in terms of world class research and education. Unlike other smaller prominent institutions in India which are focussed entirely on technical education, the planned university would be multidisciplinary in nature, encompassing all domains of human endeavour. It will provide the “finest quality of education” in liberal arts, law, medicine, business, humanities, basic sciences and engineering. The university will house several interdisciplinary centres of excellence in areas such as nanotechnology, biotechnology, and information technology. It will support approximately 100,000 undergraduate, masters and doctoral students enrolled in 95 disciplines, and employ a few thousand internationally renowned faculty members, making it one of the largest universities in the world. Vedanta University will have a roughly equal mix of Indian and foreign students.

The university will be governed by a board of trustees drawn from industry and society. It will be headed by a president and a provost. The various schools and colleges within Vedanta University will be led by a few deans who would be recruited locally within India as well as internationally. In order to stimulate cutting-edge research, each center of excellence will include five to eight professors of international caliber. The government of Orissa will pass legislation specifically to provide complete administrative and fiscal autonomy to the new university.

Vedanta University will be developed in several phases until its planned completion in 2025. However, the university is expected to start admitting its first batch of students as early as 2008, into its engineering, liberal arts, and basic science programs. Most academic schools, including those of law and performing arts, as well as a few centres of excellence would be in place by 2016. Eventually, the Anil Agrawal foundation hopes that Vedanta University would stem the annual exodus of Indian students seeking higher education abroad, out of which about 80,000 head for the USA alone.

As part of Agarwal’s vision, Vedanta University would nurture future Nobel laureates, Olympic champions and heads of states and governments for India and the world.

Campus & Township

Keeping in view a variety of factors based on Agrawal’s desire, such as a scenic location, proximity to a major city, and accessibility, the government of Orissa has identified 10,000 acres (40 km²) of land near the Puri-Konark marine drive between Nuanai and Balighai for the proposed Vedanta University. It has undertaken the task of connecting the site of the university to the swanky new international airport being constructed near Bhubaneswar, 70 km away, by means of an expressway. Furthermore, a railway station will be located in the campus. The Orissa government will also provide all necessary infrastructure to support this massive undertaking. The area would be developed into a university township with a permanent population of 40,000 in addition to the large body of students. The township would include primary and secondary schools, apartment complexes and private residences, theaters, cinema, parks and recreation areas, restaurants and shopping complexes.

The township will also allocate land for a research & development park. This park would serve as an incubator for other research laboratories, centers of excellence, and research oriented private companies as Vedanta University spin-offs. It will serve to channelize venture capital funds into research and education. The entire area is expected to eventually evolve into a large research-cum-education complex, similar to the economic hub around Stanford with a combined market capitalization of USD 300 billion, only an hour away from Orissa’s state capital, Bhubaneswar.

Recent newspaper articles report that the campus layout will be designed by Ayers Saint Gross, a Baltimore based architectural firm. Ayers Saint Gross has 90 years of experience developing some of the best university campuses in the USA such as Duke, Carnegie-Mellon and Johns Hopkins. Additionally, Mumbai architect Hafeez Contractor, would be hired to impart an Indian touch to the various department and office building architectures. The railway station is planned to be built in an area within the campus that will be called the Train Station Plaza. It will be at one end of what will be called the University Greens – the main university promenade. The palm tree laced University Greens will lead to the University Quadrangle area. Classroom buildings will be centered around stylish lawns called Academic Courtyards. The entire campus would be dotted with fountains, both small and large. There will be an Olympic quality sports complex on campus, the Vedanta Stadium.

The sprawling Vedanta University campus will follow a Mandala layout, centered around a large body of water. Its idyllic surroundings will include a picturesque lake in its immediate vicinity and rolling hills at a distance. The gentle, flowing waters of the Nuanai river meeting the crashing waves of the Casuarina tree-lined beach at Balighai would complete the scenic backdrop. The well-known ruins of the Sun Temple at Konark would be a few minutes away.

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