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Ashoka Bulletin
What makes Ashoka unique
Pro Vice-Chancellor Venkat Eshwara pens a striking piece on Ashoka’s nonconventional journey over the years and its position in the changing discourse of the Indian higher education landscape.
One is often asked, what makes Ashoka University unique? 
 
Is it the pedagogy? The faculty? The students? Or is it the donors? 
 
There is no one answer.
 
Ashoka’s journey of being ‘nonconventional’ perhaps lies in its origins. It was not born out of a family foundation or endowment. Instead, it was the shared dream of a few individuals from diverse fields, who echoed the sentiment that India needs to build a world-class liberal arts university. And not yet another engineering, medical or business institute. 
 
Ashoka is the country’s first liberal arts and sciences university built on collective public philanthropy. Today there are over 155 individuals and organisations who are supporting the University. This diversity has strengthened Ashoka’s mission. 
 
Since 2014, we have strived to build a vibrant, diverse, and inclusive campus community. We have students and faculty members from around the world, who enrich our intellectual landscape. Our 2,600 students come from 26 countries and 190 Indian cities. Six per cent of the UG cohort of 2024 comprises first-generation college goers. Upholding our mission of a world-class education to all, we provide need-based financial aid. This academic year alone, Rs 75 crore is being awarded as financial aid, to about fifty per cent of our student body. Till date, we have given Rs 325 crore to 4,500 students in aid. 
 
Ashoka has built systems to educate and house students with physical and learning disabilities. The first visually impaired student joined Ashoka in 2015. He believed that the University could provide him with the required academic and infrastructure support. Today his startup uses AI to enhance accessibility of products and content to the differently-abled. He belongs to our growing alumni community, who are pursuing higher education in leading universities or making a difference in their chosen careers. We have two National Award winners, and two Rhodes Scholars. 
 
The continuing commitment to the Ashokan ethos – of building an environment that is creative, collaborative, and dynamic – has allowed the University to chart this unique journey through the years. This is perhaps best reflected in the multidisciplinary curriculum that offers a range of interdisciplinary majors. Majors don’t need to be declared until the second year, allowing students to explore various possibilities. And perhaps change the trajectory of their lives. 
 
We also foster a rich research community, across disciplines, and support the research pursuits of faculty members, visiting scholars, and students alike. Cross-disciplinary research is particularly encouraged. Ashokans are working on diverse areas ranging from archaeology, data science, Indian political economy, to sustainable energy, and disease biology. In the past year, faculty members have worked tirelessly to find better ways to detect, prevent, and treat COVID-19 through rigorous research and cutting-edge initiatives.
 
In order to continue on this journey of teaching and research excellence, the University laid the foundation of its second campus in September 2021. Spread across 27 acres, it will house six academic buildings, including a school for biosciences, 10 residential buildings, and sports facilities. On completion, the new campus will accommodate an additional 3,500 students. We also recently built a state-of-the-art library building on the existing campus. It houses a 28,500 sq. ft library, and a black box theatre. 
 
Thus, the campus too is envisioned in a way that embodies the ethos and aspirations of the University.

The author is the Pro Vice-Chancellor, Development, Placements and Alumni Relations at Ashoka University. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect that of Ashoka University.