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To build a world class university in Noida

By Anjuli Bhargava
April 29, 2015 14:10 IST
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Shiv Nadar University is pulling out all stops to attract teaching talent from the US, but will it be enough?

Shiv Nadar University

To build a world-class university, you need world-class faculty. Keeping this in mind, Shiv Nadar University (SNU) is going to launch an all out recruitment drive to "lure" back Indian teachers from the United States this summer; academicians -- young and old -- who have built their careers teaching in university campuses across the United States but who don't mind an opportunity to return to India and do similar work in an almost equally conducive environment. A series of advertisement campaigns will run across university towns and campuses -- primarily to attract talent in the engineering and computer sciences disciplines as a start.

Nikhil Sinha, founding vice chancellor of the four-year-old institution that currently has 1,522 students enrolled in undergraduate (1,200 students) and post-graduate programmes says that people often ask him about his three greatest challenges in trying to set up a world-class, multi-disciplinary, research institution in India. "My answer is that my top challenge is finding the right faculty, my second biggest challenge is finding the right faculty and my third biggest challenge is finding the right faculty."

What makes Sinha think he can attract professors and assistant professors from buzzing and lively university campuses and towns in the United States to the rather sleepy, remote and relatively rural Gautam Budh Nagar in Greater Noida?

He thinks he can by offering them attractive housing in the 288-acre campus, pay packages that are almost comparable with the US scales in terms of purchasing power parity, peers that will stimulate and build on the intellectual environment, generous grants that allow them to continue with their research work and above all, an opportunity to return to their own country and give back to society in a sense.

Why would they come back to SNU and not say neighbouring Sharda University, Lovely in Jalandhar, Amity in Noida, Jindal in Haryana and countless other universities that are springing up and dotting the Indian landscape. After all, almost everyone is struggling to recruit from the same tiny pie.

"Research" is his single word answer. SNU, unlike all these others, he argues, is a research-based university that will focus on new ideas and knowledge. They may not have copyrighted or patented anything as of now but his present faculty -- 165 full time teachers across 20 academic departments -- has collectively authored 60 books and chapters, produced 203 journal publications, 198 conference papers and delivered 139 guest lectures since 2011. And that, he believes, will be the single differentiating factor in time. "Why are no Indian universities anywhere in the global rankings? Simply because the global rankings give heavy weightage to new research and findings, something Indian universities barely do -- either due to a lack of funds or talent."

Nikhil Sinha Vice-chancellor, Shiv Nadar University says, out of the first batch of undergraduate students, 255 sought campus placements and 198 have got jobs across the IT sector, consultancy firms and Indian corporates. Their salary ranges from Rs 3 lakh to Rs 12 lakh a year. It may not be at the level of an IIT but it's early days yet. What the Nadars (the Shiv Nadar Foundation has invested Rs 1,000 crore so far and another Rs 2,100 crore is likely to be invested over the next five years) have set out to do is well-intentioned. Unlike many other university set-ups in India where promoters claim to be not for profit, siphon out money by handing all contracts to sister companies while keeping the main enterprise not for profit, SNU's credibility is not under a cloud. But the audaciousness of what it has set out to do has ignited skepticism.

A former Planning Commission member says that SNU aspires to offer everything under the sun -- from management and entrepreneurship, natural sciences, law, engineering and even BEd and MEd programmes eventually. "To deliver quality and deliver it across disciplines will be a challenge," he argues.

The assumption that finding the right faculty will solve everything may be naive. The best students always have a choice. And stacked up against the likes of Delhi university, IITs and other long established institutions in India and eventually the Ivy Leagues overseas, this may well be Sinha's fourth biggest challenge.

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Anjuli Bhargava
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