India’s long and historic educational links with Oxford University will be substantially strengthened with the establishment of the Indira Gandhi Centre for Sustainable Development in Somerville College.

Set up in December 2012 with a grant of £3 million from the Government of India and a matching grant from Oxford University, the IGCSD has in the 10 months of its establishment taken significant steps forward. It has chosen three Indira Gandhi Scholars from India for this academic year, appointed two early career Fellows who are working on sustainable development themes, and finalised plans for the construction of a new Oxford India Centre located on land adjacent to the Somerville campus granted to it by the University.

“I hope to see the Oxford India Centre, within which the Indira Gandhi Centre will be located, as becoming a sort of ‘Gateway to India’ in Oxford,” said Alice Prochaska, Principal of Somerville, whose vision and dynamism have driven the idea of a world-class centre of study and research on India’s sustainable development.

Somerville (set up in 1879 and till 1994 a women’s college) was Indira Gandhi’s alma mater. However, the India connection of this pioneering Oxford women’s college starts much before and extends much beyond her time.

Notably, the first woman to enter higher education in Britain, Cornelia Sorabji, was an Indian who joined Somerville in 1889.

The selection process for the Indira Gandhi Scholarship will be rigorous, with prior admission to a postgraduate department in Oxford a condition. To qualify, a student must submit a proposal on how her or his research fits in with the idea of sustainable development and its application in India. “An important principle of the scholarship is that the scholars eventually go back to India and make a significant contribution there,” said Dr. Prochaska.

Advantage to the needy

Once the academic requirements are met, Oxford’s Equal Opportunities Statement guidelines — “a strong commitment to give advantage to those from disadvantaged backgrounds” — will guide the selection process.

Scholarship holders will acquire a postgraduate degree in their primary specialisation, but be advised and guided on the interdisciplinary context of their research project. “In the first instance, it is physical sustainability that is the focus rather than cultural or developmental,” said Barbara Harriss-White, economist and well-known India scholar who is on the Advisory Committee. “What is very attractive about this Centre is that it begins with a focus on nature and of society within its natural environments.”

From three a year, the IGCSD wishes to increase its scholarships to five.

Professor V. Ramakrishnan, Nobel Prize winner and Honorary Fellow of Somerville, has been invited to address the first of the Indira Gandhi Centre seminar series.

The ambitious plans and programmes of the Indira Gandhi Centre in Somerville hinge on raising private money. It has set a target of raising an additional £20 million by 2017, when the new Oxford India Centre building will be opened.

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