conversation about setting up a liberal arts post-graduate course, between Sanjeev Bhikchandani (founder, Naukri.com) and Ashish Dhawan, (co-founder of ChrysCapital Investment Advisors) in 2011, led to the development of the multidisciplinary programme that is the Young India Fellowship (YIF). The YIF is the flagship programme of the Ashoka University, a proposed multidisciplinary university at Sonepat, which will accept its first batch of students for the 2013-2014 academic session. Modelled on the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship, the programme was designed in collaboration with the School of Engineering and Allied Sciences, University of Pennsylvania (UPenn).
It is a one-year residential programme, located at the Sri Aurobindo Center for Arts & Communication (SACAC) campus, Sri Aurobindo Society in New Delhi. As the YIF brochure states, the vision is "To develop unique and high-potential change agents of India through a multi-disciplinary programme guided by eminent leaders and scholars of our time."
With regard to the latter part of that statement, the YIF boasts of faculty members like Prof Andre Beteille, the eminent sociologist and writer and Prof Dwight Jaggard, undergraduate curriculum chair at the UPenn.
The YIF, which began its second year of operations recently, has 98 fellows this time around, as opposed to just 50 in its inaugural year. The programme also saw a steep increase in the number of applications this time round. As explained by Jesleen Lalmuanawmi, (programme and marketing manager, YIF) the rationale behind this move was to increase the variety of backgrounds that the students came from. This was also made possible by the increased number of philanthropists willing to sponsor the programme. However, the amount spent on each Fellow was reduced from Rs 8 lakh to Rs 5 lakh, which is still a very substantial amount.
What changes have been made, then, for the second batch of Young India Fellows? "Because of the increased number of students this time, we've divided the students into groups for some of the classes, like the Creative Writing Class, which has four groups. We also realised that a course like Philosophy of Science was too basic, in its existing form. Similarly, the Statistics course had us testing students with examinations twice, which we now think is a bit too tough on students with a background in the Arts," explained Jesleen.
Whether the Fellows make a meaningful impact on Indian society remains to be seen, but for now, the Young India Fellowship does seem to be a positive step forward in the muddy waters of higher education in the country.