Former RBI governor and adviser, Krea University, Raghuram Rajan and Vice-Chairperson of the supervisory board for Krea University, Kapil Viswanathan speak on their vision a university with an agnostic ideology and flexibility in the curriculum
Two years after the germ of an idea — the founding of a liberal arts and sciences university — was tossed around by entrepreneur Kapil Viswanathan and economist and educator Sunder Ramaswamy, who will be the Vice-Chancellor of Krea University, it is now inching closer to reality.
On March 23, a distinguished group, comprising corporate leaders and academicians, gathered in Mumbai to make the announcement for the establishment of Krea, a university that promises interwoven learning and preparedness for the 21st century. The university opens registrations for its inaugural Bachelor’s degrees in Arts and Science in November this year for the academic year starting July-August 2019.
Far from theoretical
Two of the key players in the endeavour, former RBI governor Raghuram Rajan, who is adviser to Krea, and a member of its governing council, and entrepreneur-turned-educator Kapil Viswanathan, spoke to The Hindu about their vision for Krea and why India needs many more learning spaces that engage students in real life immersive experiences and debate. Mr. Rajan said, “The demand [for universities] is huge. Just look at the number of kids we send abroad, [which] are basically imports because we are paying for them with domestic currency. Think of us as an import substituting industry.”
For Mr. Rajan the key word was flexibility, while noting that very few Indian universities offer a wide choice of subjects and interdisciplinary combinations. “Krea hopes to offer that breadth, but also ties it to learning tools, cross-cutting courses across disciplines and immersive work experience, maybe with an NGO in a village during a summer,” he said. Having missed the flexibility of elective courses during his student years, Mr. Rajan now takes advantage of his position as Professor of Finance at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, by sitting in on classes about Hinduism and philosophy. He said, “Time at universities should be about giving you tools and capabilities and also opening doors to what might lie outside, that you haven’t even encountered.”
Rapid action force
For Mr. Vishwanathan, the trigger for establishing Krea was a deep concern for future generations. “It was about having kids and [thinking of] the world that they were going to grow up in. I was worried. That was the starting point,” he said. His imperative in sight, Vishwanathan rapidly began to expand the circle of dialogue to draw in professionals like Mr. R. Seshshayee, chairperson of IndusInd Bank, former banker Mr. N. Vaghul and Mr. Rajan, and roped in industrialists like Ms. Anu Aga, Ms. Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, Mr. Anand Mahindra and Mr. Sajjan Jindal, among others. Mr. Vishwanathan has taken on the mantle of vice-chairperson of Krea’s supervisory board.
Breaking the mould
When asked whether Krea was being modelled after Ashoka University, the private liberal arts college in Haryana that was established in 2014, Mr. Rajan said, “We are trying a new path. Ashoka has been very successful and certainly gives us a standard to beat. But the idea is not to follow any particular mould, but to create one – we have a very varied academic council – with people like T.M. Krishna and Srinath Raghavan who will bring their own perspectives. The idea is to try and break the mould while recognising that there has to be a mould for students to be accepted in – by business and by institutes of higher education. But within that, use the freedom we have to create something different. We need far more institutions of the kind that Ashoka has already turned out to be.”
Krea will be set up in Sri City, Andhra Pradesh, which is approximately 75 km from Chennai and roughly a two-hour drive away. Mr. Vishwanathan acknowledged the importance of the location and said it was a conscious choice. “Chennai has a great history of learning institutions and culture. When we looked at a university of this nature, we talked about porous boundaries between the campus and the real world. We didn’t want a situation where somebody goes to university for four years and then suddenly enters the world. It needed to be woven in with the hustle and bustle of urban life and all the activity that happens in the city whether it’s cultural, economic, business or political. In that sense, the fact that it’s close to Chennai is very significant.”
While discussing the ideological character of universities and what was anticipated for Krea, Mr. Vishwanathan was emphatic. “We spent a lot of time thinking about building an institution from the ground up and thinking about the core values of the organisation, which is to be ideologically agnostic. We are all very committed to this and we are going to hold that principle very seriously,” said Mr. Vishwanathan.
Taking the idea forward, Mr. Rajan reiterated, “We are all prisoners of our own ideology and if we don’t recognise that, we remain prisoners. The best way to liberate yourself from the prison is to be forced to debate your strongest-held assumptions. The moment the institution kills debate, you are sunk as an educational institution, because you are not educating but imparting theology.”
For Krea’s promoters, it’s about the rare opportunity to start with a clean slate and create leaders. The proof of the pudding, of course, will be when the first batch of 100 students graduate in 2023 to enter the real world of jobs and entrepreneurship.