Sunday, July 03, 2011

A university to manage a rapidly urbanising India

With over 625,000 villages, rural India still dominates the country's landscape even as rapid urbanising is throwing up challenges for planners. To train people manage this massive social transformation and fill the critical human resource and knowledge gap, a group of eminent Indians is setting up a university. One of them, Nandan Nilekani, a co-founder of India's IT bellwether Infosys who now spearheads the massive exercise of providing billion Indians a unique identification number, and his wife Rohini, have just gifted Rs. 50 crore (Rs. 500 million) to the proposed varsity.

Called the Indian Institute of Human Settlements (IIHS), the institute is coming up near Bangalore and the people behind it are in talks with the government for recognition of its courses.

Besides Nilekani, other leading figures forming the board of directors of the venture are renowned industrialists and academicians like Xerxes Desai, Jamshyd Godrej, Cyrus Guzder, Renana Jhabvala, Vijay Kelkar, Keshub Mahindra, Kishore Mariwala, Rahul Mehrotra, Rakesh Mohan, Nasser Munjee, Deepak Parekh, Shirish Patel, Aromar Revi and Deepak Satwalekar.

The IIHS will offer "globally benchmarked bachelors, masters and doctoral degrees in urban practice based on a wide set of disciplines and practice areas central to India's urban transformation," Aromar Revi, its director, told IANS in an interview. The Bachelors in Urban Practice (BUP) programme "will be a four-year course, after the plus-2 level of schooling. The MUP programme will be a two year course," said Revi, an alumnus of IIT-Delhi and the law and management schools of Delhi University.

The IIHS will begin by offering the masters programme first from July next year, provided the government gives regulatory clearances by that time, he said. "Discussions are active with the government on getting the appropriate regulatory clearances," Revi said.

The "tentative fee structure for the MUP is in the range of Rs. 300,000 and Rs. 400,000 per annum," he said. The IIHS "is planning to offer up to 50 per cent of its students' scholarships and financial assistance of varying degrees depending on need," he added.

Revi was confident that students passing out of this institute will have job opportunities since the "most serious constraint facing Indian cities today is not capital but the availability of suitably educated professionals, entrepreneurs and change makers who can act in the common good".

"We anticipate career opportunities across the public and private sectors as well as civil society and universities and knowledge enterprises. There is a large gap in the supply of urban practitioners and inter-disciplinary professionals as India and its urban areas grow," he said.

On the gift by the Nilekanis, he said "this is in keeping with their vision of building quality transformative institutions for India and a reinforcement of their past philanthropic commitments. Nandan Nilekani has been deeply involved with the IIHS from its conceptualisation". Announcing the gift Tuesday, the Nilekanis said: "IIHS is at the convergence of both our interests in education, urbanisation and sustainability."

The IIHS is coming up on a 54-acre site in Kengeri, on the Bangalore outskirts. "Work on planning the first phase of the 42,000-square metre campus has started. It will be executed in a phased manner over the next five to seven years," Revi told IANS.

On what prompted the setting up of this institute, he said there was a need to fill "a critical human resource and knowledge gap in addressing multiple challenges of urbanisation. The IIHS is conceived as an inter-disciplinary university born out of the realisation that a single academic programme within a university would not be able to offer the breadth and depth of inter-disciplinary academics and practice that are urgently required to solve the multiple dimensions of urbanisation challenges that the country is confronted with," he said.

The IIHS has tie-ups with several well-known institutions, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), University College London (UCL), and The African Centre for Cities (ACC) of the University of Cape Town (UCT), Revi said.

Source: The Economic Times (Online Edition), July 3, 2011
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