A new university is in the offing with plans to re-imagine engineering education. Two of the founders, Vineet Gupta and Dr. Manas Fuloria, share their vision with Rajaram Sukumar…
Q. Plaksha University is the latest one to enter the realm of higher education. What is your vision in this regard?
A. Plaksha University has been co-founded by over 40 technology entrepreneurs and business leaders. The companies they have built are household names today, like Tech Mahindra or Genpact or Naukri.com. But the Plaksha vision is even greater -- to build the MIT-equivalent for today’s India, which will create top-class, fearless technologists ready to transform the world.
We are therefore starting from scratch, working to completely re-imagine engineering education for the 21st century, to enable a research, innovation and entrepreneurial ecosystem, and to equip Plaksha students with tackling the grand challenges that humanity faces.
Today, when you go to almost any engineering school, you study in a watertight silo of one kind of engineering, e.g. Mechanical Engineering. In sharp contrast, Plaksha will create an environment for interdisciplinary education that dismantles the walls between engineering disciplines, integrates design education, and references the liberal arts which provide an increasingly important context.
The vision is being guided by an Academic Advisory Board of eminent academic leaders across the world, including Dr. Shankar Sastry, former Dean of Engineering at UC Berkeley, James Holloway, Vice Provost of Global Engagement, University of Michigan, and Ashish Nanda, former Director of IIM Ahmedabad, among others. By 2035, the University will have 8,000 students across undergraduate, Master’s and PhD programmes.
Q. A university cannot be set up as a ‘for profit’ institution. So, what will be your revenue model to sustain it?
A. Plaksha University will be built on a model of collective philanthropy, similar to how leading institutions around the world have been created. Many business leaders, entrepreneurs and technology companies have already committed philanthropic contributions to Plaksha and this group is growing.
These donations will fund the capital expenditure and operational deficit in initial years. Over time, the University will sustain its operations through tuition fees and research grants from industry and government. However, philanthropic contributions will continue to support campus expansion, need-based scholarships and new research centers. An endowment fund will also be built over time. It is estimated that the project will involve an investment of Rs. 2000 crore over 15 years.
Q. We know that you are launching a fellowship programme. Will it be like the other fellowships available or something different?
A. Yes, we are launching a first-of-its-kind program called the Plaksha Tech Leaders Fellowship this year. It gets underway in August 2019. The thrust of this Fellowship program is leadership in the new world of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML). Students exiting the program will have developed not just the technical competence in these areas, but also the skills to apply these in innovative and entrepreneurial contexts.
The program has been designed from scratch by an eminent Program Committee comprising academic and industry leaders in institutions such as UC Berkeley, Purdue University, Google and IBM, among others. It is first-of-its-kind in several ways:
Firstly, it is aggressively multi-faceted -- the design of the curriculum blends a specialization in AI and ML with design and systems thinking, immersion in real-world context and a journey in self-development and leadership to create impact.
Secondly, its real-world application and experiential approach will lend it a unique character. In addition to hands-on projects over the year, the Fellowship builds in Challenge Labs to explore and prototype ideas, and an intensive Industry Capstone or Research project with external organizations or researchers.
Thirdly, the faculty will be world class. It will comprise highly reputed academicians from leading universities and practitioners from top technology companies all over the world.
Fourthly, the students will have the privilege of being mentored by industry leaders and entrepreneurs from among our founder base.
Q. How is the fellowship structured?
A. It is structured as an intensive 1-year program divided into 8 terms, each lasting an average of six weeks. The courses and projects are categorized under four verticals, namely Technical Core, Real World Application, Industry Capstone Project, and Leadership and Self.
The ‘Technical Core’ vertical will build a strong foundation in Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and Data Science. Combined with courses in Design Thinking, Systems Thinking and Ethics, students will learn to design and develop ethical and scalable tech-centric products.
The ‘Real World Application’ vertical comprises a Grand Challenges Lecture Series delivered by field experts to explore application of AI/ML in areas such as air, water, health, agriculture. It also includes the Challenge Lab, which is a hands-on studio setup for the Fellows to explore and prototype ideas.
The Industry Capstone Project is the real-world exposure component of the program, where the fellows will work on AI/ML based industry and research projects, including a 2-month intensive stint at the organization.
Lastly, the Leadership and Self vertical is a series of structured interventions over the year in areas like critical thinking, writing, collaboration, agility and authentic leadership. These verticals consist of lectures, workshops and projects best suited to create the Tech Leaders envisioned by this program.
Q. Could you elaborate on how the fellows will be selected?
A. We are looking for individuals who are themselves seeking to transform themselves into leaders for the new world of AI and ML, and also have the hunger and background for such a transformation! It is open to young professionals, entrepreneurs and fresh graduates with a background in engineering, math, or science.
The inaugural cohort of 60 Fellows will be selected by a two-stage admissions process.
The first stage consists of an application form to assess the applicant’s educational background, personal and professional experiences (if any), creativity, and motivation to apply to the fellowship.
Shortlisted applicants will be invited for an in-person interview. They will also take an online pre-requisite test to assess conceptual understanding in probability and statistics, linear algebra, programming and logical reasoning. Applications open in March 2019. It will take place over August 2019 to June 2020 in Gurgaon.
Q. Finally, when will the new university be launched and how many programmes are envisaged?
A. The University will be launched in 2021 in a 50-acre campus in Mohali, Chandigarh. We will welcome our first batch of UG and Master’s students in 2021. Over time, we will also offer PhD and Research Fellowship programs.
We also launched a high school summer program, Young Technology Scholars (YTS), in 2018 for students in Grades 9 to 11. It is a 2-week intensive program where selected bright students are exposed to real-world engineering and problem solving. It will take place over June 1-14 this year in Gurgaon and applications are open till April.
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