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Creating a new generation of thinking Indians

Krea University, launched at Mumbai on 23 March and to be set up at Sri City, promises to be different. The private university will offer four-year residential undergraduate programmes in liberal arts and sciences.

Brilliant thought leaders – Raghuram Rajan, N Vaghul, R Seshasayee and Sunder Ramaswamy – have been working on this unique project. Their passion and stature have helped bring together several business leaders including Anand Mahindra, Sajjan Jindal, Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, Anu Aga and young Kapil Viswanathan to set up the unique university. The academic council has academicians from the prestigious Princeton, Stanford and Columbia universities. The broad base includes a musician, a journalist and social workers.
For decades, higher education remained in the domain of the state. Though India has had a tradition of private philanthropy that liberally supported education and health, over time, these also suffered from severe restrictions.

When higher education was hijacked…

Tamil Nadu, under M G Ramachandran, opened higher education for private participation. Unfortunately, the massive demand for engineering and medical education provided politicians and influence peddlers to grab the opportunity. High capitation fees, corruption, and black money ruled the roost; the field became fertile ground for politicians and all and sundry businessmen to enter. Many of these became flourishing family businesses with sons, daughters, in-laws, and outlaws becoming chancellors and vice-chancellors.
Eminent educationist Dr M Anandakrishnan frequently pointed to the corruption and commercialisation in the selection of vice-chancellors through auctions. The “the short three-year term for vice-chancellors and the huge bribes involved in the selection process, denied high calibre academicians getting selected,” he used to lament.
There were a few private initiatives from industry captains. Decades back industry leaders like A Sivasailam and A M M Arunachalam got together to set up a management education institute. But it made little progress.
The Chennai Mathematical Institute that imparts education in mathematical science is among the rare exceptions. When CMI was under financial constraints, Shriram Group’s R Thyagarajan stepped in and under the lead of Dr C S Seshadri, built it to international standards.
After liberalisation of the economy in 1991, Rajat Gupta of McKinsey succeeded in getting the participation of top business schools – Wharton, Columbia, and the London Business School – to set up a global B-school in India. Chandrababu Naidu seized the opportunity with alacrity and the Indian School of Business was set up. It proved a runaway success.

Blend of liberal arts and science

Krea promises to be another big success. With a renowned economist, banker and chartered accountant on the lead, understandably, the focus is not on engineering; Seshasayee a connoisseur of music and literature, has been stressing a nice blend of liberal arts, science and technology. The association of the prestigious Ivy League institutions should help offer a full option of subjects to choose and excel. The curriculum will have three distinct features that are different from the existing learning patterns: problem-solving capabilities; acquiring skills for design; and ethics with social concerns. Significantly, Krea has opted for a four-year undergrad course with honors on the US pattern which should facilitate pursuing higher studies elsewhere.
Raghuram Rajan mentioned that Krea would attempt to create a new generation of thinking Indians who will contribute to the development of the globe. Seshasayee added that the inter-woven learning approach would give creativity and action in arts and sciences, theory and practice, eastern and western perspectives and learning of the past with readiness for the future.
To be set up at an initial cost of Rs 750 crore, the university will function from the 300,000 sq ft IFMR campus in Sri City. Admissions will open in November this year. Over the next couple of years, it will move to a 200-acre campus nearby. The annual fee is around Rs 7-8 lakh. –SV


The latest conquest is the Krea University. Even while I admire Chandrababu Naidu and Ravindra Sannareddy for their alacrity in winning such prestigious projects, I should point to the Tamil Nadu government losing several projects. I cite a few of these:

• Chennai Metro attracted Alstom to set up facilities in India to manufacture rail coaches for the metro rail systems. Alert R Venkataraman would have persuaded Alstom to set up the plant around Chennai. After all, several years back SIPCOT
developed Gummidipoondi on the southern side of the border with Andhra Pradesh as an industrial centre. But Sri City proved more attractive.

• A couple of years ago Indira Nooyi, a daughter of this soil, was keen to set up a mango pulp plant for PepsCo. The investment indicated was Rs 1200 crore. PepsiCo’s fruit drinks needed the pulp. Sri City proved more mango-thirsty.

• International Flavors & Fragrances Inc have, for years, been having its plant at St Thomas Mount in the heart of the city. IFF planned its expansion. A couple of months back IFF performed the Bhoomi puja for their new facility at Sri City.

• B Thiagarajan, head of Blue Star, has been talking of setting up a new facility in the south. Thiagarajan was active in the CII in offering invaluable suggestions on cold storages for food preservation. Last month he announced a Rs 500 crore investment for a production facility in Sri City.

• Another recent addition to Sri City is the two-wheeler market leader Hero Motocorp. The company plans to launch its eighth factory with an investment of Rs 1600 crore with a capacity of 1.8 million units. It is expected to become operational before December 2019.
The state needs to look closely at setting up an aggressive marketing team at the helm. Education Minister Sengottaiyan has been attempting to reform the present education system. But the baggage is too heavy for quick changes. A divisive polity, critical of any and every move of the government, is also a severe constraint for meaningful and urgently needed reforms.
The reluctance of the top political leadership to interact closely with business leaders and other investors has been a major handicap. The contrast is provided by Narendra Modi as chief minister of Gujarat, Sheila Dixit in Delhi, Chandrababu Naidu in AP and Chandrashekara Rao in Telangana.
TN’s top bureaucracy, star-studded with brilliant administrators, has also been constrained by powerful politicians curbing its initiatives. Sadly, the popular stature of the charismatic leaders and their limited interests failed to nurture and develop second and third line political leadership. Just look at the contrast of Kamaraj who groomed R Venkataraman, C Subramaniam, M Bhaktavatsalam and others as leaders of great capabilities!
Over the last 50 years, such second and third line leadership has not emerged in Tamil Nadu. And the bureaucracy did not receive the needed encouragement and backing for taking new initiatives. Under the current dispensation welcome changes are noticed with ministers and civil servants taking new initiatives. This effort should be expanded.

Rich reservoir of talent…

Look at the ease with which a few leaders like Seshasayee have galvanised the concept of the liberal university! We have such talent in abundance in Tamil Nadu like Dr V Krishnamurthy who built BHEL, Maruti and SAIL, Dr C Rangarajan, N Vaghul, S V S Raghavan, S Venkitaramanan,T N Seshan, Dr M Anandakrishnan, K P Geethakrishnan, K Venkatesan and a galaxy of other civil servants, Dr V Sumantran, Lakshmi Narayanan, R Thyagarajan, B Santhanam, R Dinesh… It should be possible to draw on their rich expertise to take the state forward.
Of course this will call for the willingness of the political leadership to free themselves from the routine political meetings and vizhas and set apart liberal time on development issues.
For five decades TN’s charismatic leaders had won massive following through populist measures. Today the need is to win votes on performance. – SV

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