India’s top private liberal arts & humanities universities

EducationWorld May 2022 | Cover Story Magazine

Privately promoted liberal arts universities are a relatively new phenomenon in Indian education. For several decades after independence, liberal arts and humanities education was out of fashion in middle-class India

JGU's Dr. C. Raj Kumar

JGU’s Dr. C. Raj Kumar

Rationalisation and restructuring of the EducationWorld India Higher Education Rankings which were hitherto grouped under the heads of private and government simpliciter has not only made it easier for school-leavers and scholars to choose colleges and universities better suited to their aptitudes and aspirations, but also provided higher education institutions (HEIs) their proper place in the sun.

For instance in 2021-22, O.P. Jindal Global University (JGU, estb.2009), which provides excellent, globally benchmarked liberal arts, humanities and law undergrad and postgrad education, was ranked #3 in the composite private un iversities league table. The Manipal Academy of Higher Education (MAHE, estb. 1953, a multidisciplinary university) and Birla Institute of Technology & Science, Pilani (estb.1964, an engineering and technology HEI) were ranked above JGU in that order.

Self-evidently that’s not a level playing field assessment given their vastly different syllabuses and academic objectives. Restructuring and rationalisation of previous year’s league tables has enabled these three institutions to top their discrete league tables.

Privately promoted liberal arts universities are a relatively new phenomenon in Indian education. For the past seven decades Arts, Science and Commerce HEIs were mainly the province of the Central and state governments while private initiatives in higher education were focused on engineering and medical colleges, the most successful among them awarded university status. Moreover for several decades after independence, liberal arts and social sciences education was out of fashion with India’s middle class and therefore attracted little, if any, private investment. Liberal arts education dispensed by government HEIs was widely regarded as the fall back option of school-leavers who failed to qualify for admission into the IITs, NITs and top-ranked private engineering and much-too-few medical colleges.

However, this middle-class mindset changed after the historic but belated liberalisation and deregulation of the Indian economy in 1991. With the economy which was stuck in the 3.5 percent per year GDP growth for over 40 years, recording 7-8 percent growth in the new millennium, the country experienced a surge in demand for economists, well-educated lawyers, social scientists and communication professionals. JGU, conceptualised by its founding vice chancellor, the Oxford and Harvard educated Dr. C. Raj Kumar who persuaded steel tycoon Naveen Jindal to endow a corpus of Rs.500 crore upon JGU, was one of the first new genre private liberal arts, humanities and law universities off the blocks. Within the short span of 12 years under Dr. Raj Kumar’s relentlessly go-getting leadership, the fully residential JGU has established 12 schools including law, liberal arts and humanities, business, international affairs, government and public policy and communications and journalism on an 80-acre campus at Sonipat (Haryana), an hour’s drive from New Delhi.

While growing at breakneck speed, JGU has won numerous respected encomiums. The London-based Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) ranks JGU India’s #1 private university in its latest World Univerity Rankings and JGU’s law school #70 worldwide, while the Union government has designated JGU an Institution of Eminence.

Dr. Raj Kumar welcomes the restructuring and rationalisation of the EWIHER league tables which enable “peer comparisons,” and is elated about JGU’s top rank in the new private liberal arts and humanities universities league table.

I’m especially pleased that your sample respondents have awarded JGU highest scores under the parameters of faculty competence, faculty welfare and development and internationalism. An education institution is only as good as its teachers. Therefore, in JGU we accord highest importance to faculty welfare and development not only in terms of generous financial packages, but also infrastructure resources, research and conference grants. The top score under the internationalism parameter is also well-deserved as our faculty of 950 includes over 100 distinguished professors from 42 countries, and we will be adding 120 additional faculty from premier American and British universities by August this year. I can’t say I’m surprised by our #1 ranking under the parameter of competence of faculty.

-Raj Kumar who modestly ascribes JGU’s top score under leadership to the excellent leadership of the university’s deans who head the 12 schools of this private university which has changed the landscape of liberal arts and law education in India.

The massive investment of financial and human resources made in JGU is matched by its neighbouring Ashoka University, uniquely funded by over 85 HNIs (high net worth individuals) in India and abroad. Promoted in 2014 by anchor investors including pioneer venture capitalist Ashish Dhawan, serial entrepreneur Sanjeev Bhikchandani (Naukri.com, InfoEdge) among others, although it maintains a conspicuously low public and media profile, Ashoka U (estb.2014) has also captured the imagination of school-leavers and scholars opting for world-class liberal arts and sciences higher education. Currently, this less than a decade old university has 2,500 students mentored by 214 excellent, globally recruited faculty. Although this year’s EW sample respondents have ranked Ashoka U #2, they have awarded this eight-year-old private varsity the highest scores under the important parameters of research and innovation, curriculum and pedagogy, industry interface and placements.

Ranked below the Top 2 in the cosy top table of seven private liberal arts and humanities universities — a new millennium phenomenon in Indian higher education which was hitherto focused on professional, i.e, engineering and medical education – is the low-profile Deccan College Post-Graduate and Research Institute, and FLAME University, both sited in Pune. Although EW was the first publication to welcome and celebrate the establishment of Flame U (estb. 2015), since then the top brass of FLAME has developed an irrational prejudice against the media and EW in particular. Repeated contact attempts during the past decade and for this issue have not yielded positive response.

Over the past 22 years since EW was launched, your editor has experienced a fashion among several education institutions to shun “media spotlight” and “let our work speak for itself”.

Education leaders invested with such unwarranted modesty are referred to the biblical injunction not to hide their lamp under a bushel, but to place it on a high table so that it benefits all. Especially in developing countries, including India, where the gap between best institutions and stragglers is very wide, sharing best practices and expert opinions serve to raise the whole floor of education. This is in the public interest and necessary for national development.

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