Yale President reiterates the importance of private sector in making world-class universities in India; Indian government should listen to him

Following are excerpts from the interview at http://www.livemint.com/richardlevin.htm.

Leading Indian institutes are good at teaching but they are not research-oriented. What should be the focus now?

The IITs and IIMs are basically good teaching institutions… The biggest contribution made by research universities is that they have advanced knowledge as well as educate quality students. The requisite for making that happen is, one, opening up the structure of faculty compensation so that you can actually attract world-class individuals.

The strong Indian nationals go to graduate schools in the US and they will not come back if they don’t get compensation close to what they get aboard. And right now, they would not unless there is some change in legislation.

The second is the state support—the need for quality laboratory, infrastructure and competitive research grant to advance their work. While there have been some advances in research grants in India, there is still by and large not the quality of the facility that you can have access to in the US, parts of Europe or indeed recently in China.

You had an interaction with Ratan Tata (chairman of Tata group). Is he sponsoring a chair?

There is nothing particular to announce now. We are talking to lots of leading Indian families who are interested in Yale getting more involved in India. I hope there will be some support for our relationship. There is a lot of philanthropic interest in higher education of India. I hope Parliament will open the market up to those philanthropists to build universities. They can give some money to Yale, but that will not have the impact.

India is very brand conscious and it seems it wants foreign universities to set up shop here. That will help, but that is not the answer. The answer is great Indian universities and Indian brands. You have done it with companies—you got Tata, Reliance (Reliance Industries Ltd and Reliance-Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group), Infosys (Technologies Ltd), you got Wipro (Ltd). These are great global brands now. You can do the same with Indian universities rather than co-branding like Yale-India Campus or Harvard-India Campus.

The impression here is Yale is interested in partnering one or more of the proposed innovation universities. Is that true?

We can have partnership in more than one area (but) not as co-brands. There will be some exchanges.

We may have some advisory role, having some of our faculty helping establish these universities. No joint investment. I think the real hope (for innovation university) is private sector support.

How do you see the growth of education in India vis-à-vis China?

To compete successfully 20 years from now, India and China will need much stronger research universities. China is very aware of this and politically committed to it.

China is making big investments in research laboratories. They are putting lots of money in top universities to make them competitive with Harvard, Yale and Stanford. They are focusing more on a small number of top universities. Politically, that is very hard for India to do because of India’s democracy. It is very hard for America to do so. Solution is to allow the private sector to have a big role in higher education.

I believe you will succeed because India has built great companies in (the) last 20 years. I think a lot of people responsible for that want to give back to the Indian society. They are eager to do what Leland Stanford (founder of Stanford University) and John D. Rockefeller (founder of Chicago University and Rockefeller University) did in America over 100 years ago. If I am not mistaken, all Parliament needs to do is not to give the money away but pass legislation so that will happen.

The term Ivy League seems to have caught on. After China branded some of its university as C-9 or the Chinese Ivy League, India is set to designate at least nine top universities the Indian Ivy League. Does this help?

It reflected something really in China. Those are the universities that China is making disproportionate investment (in). In fact the government made those investments before naming them as Ivy League of China. I don’t know much about the Indian Ivy League. Unless there are much resources, I don’t think it will have that much of impact.

… prashant.n@livemint.com

I have underlined the part that I thought are important. President (of Yale) Levin is right in his answers. Under the current system Indian government can not pay large enough compensations that will attract a large number of top-quality Ph.Ds and faculty from abroad to populate proposed world class research and innovations universities in India. Only private universities backed by Billion dollar level endowment as well as a viable plan to have global level annual funding year after year (note: My university, Arizona State U, has an annual budget of $1.7 Billion plus; Harvard and Stanford annual budgets are about $3 Billion) have a chance to become world class. Fortunately Vedanta University is exactly such a plan. But unfortunately, the Indian government, instead of helping it and showcasing it such that other billionaires from India follow it, is creating hurdles.

November 13th, 2010

Oxford University Chancellor refers to a 75 million pound grant as a once in a century opportunity; how should one refer to a $1 Billion donation

Following is an excerpt from a report in NDTV.com.

The school, launched in Oxford last evening, has been supported by several world leaders and a 75 million pounds grant by American industrialist and philanthropist Leonard Blavatnik.

… The University is contributing an additional 26 million pounds as well as land in the Radcliffe Observatory Quarter, where the School will be located.

The school will provide a highly practical series of courses, leading to a Master’s degree, with a unique balance of the humanities, social sciences, law, science, technology, health, finance, energy and security policy.

The first students will start in 2012 and student numbers will increase to approximately 120 within the next few years.

Lord Patten, Chancellor of the University of Oxford, said, “This is a once-in-a-century opportunity for Oxford.

75 million pounds is $117.15 million in today’s rate. Contrast this to Vedanta University for which the pledged amount is $1 Billion. While Oxford is calling this grant a once in a century opportunity and is chipping in 25 million (one third the grant) as a matching amount many in Orissa and India do not see the value of a $1 Billion donation and instead of helping its establishment people ascribe all kinds of motives. This attitude of many people of Orissa is exactly why Orissa is at the bottom of everything.

9 comments September 20th, 2010

Vedanta University links categorized to various topics

To make it easier to find various information regarding Vedanta University I have categorized various articles/reports on them. Hope this will be useful in seeing the real value of Vedanta University and convincing people of Odisha that we must thwart the BJP and Congress efforts to take Vedanta University to Karnataka and Andhra respectively.

  1. Must see youtube video on the story of Vedanta University.

  1. Vedanta University Home Page
  2. Initial blog to watch the progress of Vedanta University
  3. Petitions to thwart attempts to take Vedanta University away from Odisha
    1. Petition to the Honorable Governor of Orissa to give assent to the Vedanta University bill passed by Orissa assembly in July 2009 (more than a year back)
    2. Petition to the CM to seek the PM’s help regarding Vedanta University
    3. Petition to Delhi to stop putting hurdles on the Vedanta University project and to facilitate its establishment
  4. Categorizing the articles on Vedanta University in this blog
    1. Accolades for its campus master plan
    2. Ads
    3. Anil Agarwal
    4. Appeal to Anil Agarwal
    5. Architects and Construction Contracts
    6. Beyond the Puri main campus
    7. BJP attempt to steal it to Karnataka
      1. Orissa BJP opposes Karnataka BJP lures
    8. Congress attempt to steal it to Andhra
      1. Andhra Science City plan: They have had plans like the Vedanta University township for a long time. So they are doing their best to take Vedanta University from Odisha.
      2. Congress ruled Andhra’s overture
      3. Environment minister Jairam Ramesh, Congress MP from Andhra, creates hurdles
      4. Orissa Congress opposes Andhra Congress lures
    9. CSR in Puri
    10. Honorable Odisha governor (a former member of Congress) has not signed the Vedanta University bill which was passed in July 2009
    11. International media coverage
    12. Land Acquisition and Land Use (Why so much land?)
    13. Medical College progress
    14. Pictures, master plan layouts, Videos
    15. Provisions for Orissa students
    16. Rally, petitions and articles in its support
    17. Rebuttals to opposition arguments and unsubstantiated rumours
    18. Slowing brain drain
    19. Vedanta University Bill
    20. What does $1 Billion buy? What is once in a century opportunity?

3 comments September 13th, 2010

My perspective on Vedanta University

I have been watching and collecting various reports on Vedanta University since an MOU was signed about it with the Orissa government. (See my collection here and here and also Vedanta University’s web page.)

After reading about the forced stoppage of the initiation of the building of Vedanta University, I thought I would write about my perspective on Vedanta University.

May I request you to bear with me on my thoughts on Vedanta University and read till the end of this document, even if you partly or fully disagree with me.

I think Vedanta University is a unique opportunity for Orissa and if we mess it up we will regret for ever and our future generation will not forgive us for this.

Why do I say that?

First I would urge you to watch the following two short videos and an audio interview available in the web:

 I know many of you have a lot of concerns and red flags about this endeavor and some of these concerns have been expressed in various Orissa newspapers. Let me try to address some of them based on my knowledge.

 Q 1: If many top universities are built on much less land, such as Harvard University, which is built only on 380 acres, why does Vedanta University need so much land. (It has now come down from 8000 acres to 6270 acres, but that is still quite large. 6270 acres is 25.374 sq km)

 Answer 1: Let us look at the layout below.

 The whole thing is 8000 acres. With the airport part gone it is 6270 acres. The ellipse like main university  (see picture below) part looks to be about 2000 acres and comparable to the size of IIT Kharagpur which is of 2100 acres but has only 6625 students . Note that IIT Bhubaneswar is being given 890 acres. So Vedanta University’s 2000 acres for 100,000 students is a very good use of land. Please watch the youtube video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u3B7L1S_MAY&fmt8 to get an idea how the buildings are proposed to be quite close to each other with very creative landscaping.

 Note that Harvard University with 380 acres supports 19,955 students. So Vedanta University proposing 5 times Harvard’s land for 5 times Harvard’s acreage is not unreasonable.

 Q 2: So if the main part of the Vedanta university is only about 2000 acres, what happens to the remaining 6270-2000= 4270 acres.

Answer 2: As is evident from the picture in the previous page there are 8 townships planned for those.

Q 3: If only 2000 acres goes to the university and 4270 acres goes to the townships, why not just focus on the university and ignore the township?

Answer 3: The townships are very important for making Vedanta University a top university at the level of Stanford and Harvard. Following is the reasoning behind it.

From Harvard University book at http://www.provost.harvard.edu/institutional_research/factbook.php ,

its income and expenses are as follows:

Income (2006-07): 3.21 Billion USD

Expenses (2006-07): 3.17 Billion USD

Total Endowment (June 30, 2007): 34.912 Billion USD

From Stanford University annual report at


its income and expenses for 2006-07 are as follows.

Income (2006-07): 3.2 Billion

Expenses (2006-07): 2.9 Billion USD

Total endowment (Aug 31, 2007): 17.2 Billion USD

In India the operating expenses for IISc Bangalore, the maximum among the IITs and IISc, in the last budget (item 41 of the Higher education budget) is 130 (plan) + 91 (non-plan) = Rs 221 crores. Rs 70 crore of that is for enhancing the number of students to account for the OBC quota.

For operating Vedanta University at the world class level a lot of money will be required. My guess would be that it will be somewhere in between the expenses at Harvard-Stanford ($2.9-$3.17 Billion = about Rs 15,000 crores) and at IISc Bangalore (221 crores). A good guess is that it will be around Rs 1000-1500 crores.

Mr. Agarwal has only pledged 1 Billion USD and most of it will go into just construction. The student tuition fees will not be enough to cover the Rs 1000-1500 crores needed to run the university.

In case of Harvard only 20% comes from student tuition and the student tuition mostly ranges from 30,000 USD/year to 40,000 USD/year. (This is Rs. 15 lakh/year – Rs. 20 lakh/year)

Vedanta University will not be able to charge that outside of medical students.

So there has to be other sources of money beyond the student tuition.

Since Vedanta University does not have an endowment, where will the additional money come from?

My guess is that it will come from the townships in the remaining 4270 acres.

Thus, I consider the townships to be crucial in achieving the dream of making Vedanta University a top world class university. (However we need to make sure that the money earned from the townships is put into an endowment for Vedanta University.) 

If there was no township, I would be very suspicious of Vedanta University’s claim that it will be a top world class university, as then it is not clear where the money would come from. (In this regard one must note that the best private institute in India, BITS Pilani, is nowhere in the world rankings. For that matter the IITs are quite low in the world rankings. What Vedanta University is aspiring is way above any existing institute in India and the existing financial model in private institutes such as BITS Pilani will not achieve what Vedanta University is aiming for.)

Q 4: So you are saying township is a crucial aspect of Vedanta University and 4270 acres goes towards that and only 2000 acres goes towards Vedanta University. Why do not then the Vedanta University officials make the township part clear?
Answer 4: They have.

If one goes to their web page they clearly say: "The campus will be developed in a phased manner to nurture a vibrant university township with a population of more than 500,000."

Q 5: Is there a top university which is similar to Vedanta University + associated townships in terms of land requirements.

Answer 5: Yes. Stanford University is made of 8180 acres (33.1 sq km) and does host a research park and other developments (including a mall), but not all of the land is currently built up though.

Other universities with large acreage include University of Michigan (20,965 acres), Texas A & M University (5,200 acres), and Ohio State University (15,893 acres).

Q 6: Is Vedanta University’s goal of 100,000 students reasonable.

Answer 6: Following are some large universities in the USA and their student size in Autumn 2007 as obtained from http://www.osu.edu/osutoday/stuinfo.php#enroll_large .

Student size
Times rank
SJT Rank
The Ohio State University


Arizona State University, Main Campus
University of Minnesota, Twin Cities
University of Florida
University of Texas, Austin
Texas A&M University, College Station
Michigan State University
Penn State University
University of Wisconsin, Madison
University of Illinois, Urbana

They are all pretty good universities, all of them ranked in the top 100 in the SJT ranking.

Q 7: How do we know that the University is not a ruse and Mr. Agarwal just wants the land?

Answer 7: Mr. Agarwal’s net worth in early 2008 was $6 Billion.(see http://www.forbes.com/lists/2008/10/billionaires08_Anil-Agarwal_WDNS.html )


His net worth in 2006 was $2.8 Billion. (see http://www.forbes.com/lists/2006/10/WDNS.html )

Now what is the most important asset of a rich man? His reputation in the eye of the world.

Mr. Agarwal has told the whole world about his university.

Articles praising his pledge to donate $1 Billion towards Vedanta University have appeared in major national and international venues such as:

Time, USA –  http://www.time.com/time/specials/2007/time100powergivers/article/0,28804,1616375_1615711_1615671,00.html

Economist – http://www.economist.com/people/displaystory.cfm?story_id=9539815

Independent, UK – http://news.independent.co.uk/education/higher/article3045374.ece

Forbes, USA – http://www.forbes.com/lists/2008/10/billionaires08_Anil-Agarwal_WDNS.html

Forbes Asia – http://www.forbes.com/lists/2008/56/biz_philanthropy08_Anil- Agarwal_WDNS.html

PBS TV USA – http://www.charlierose.com/guests/anil-agarwal

He has met the Prime Minister of India and told him about his pledge to donate $1 Billion for the university.

I do not believe that after so much publicity Mr. Agarwal will back out, as he will lose face and that is the most important thing for a person of his net worth. (It should be noted that many billionaires, especially in the US, do make huge donations. Bill Gates donation of tens of billions USD and Warren Buffet’s donation of about $30 Billion are exemplars. In higher education, Leland Stanford established Stanford University and Andrew Carnegie established Carnegie Mellon University; both top universities now. )

However, if the current opposition continues, it is very much possible that at some point Mr. Agarwal may get fed up with the hurdles created by some people of Orissa and will move Vedanta University to a state (such as Gujarat, Andhra or Karnataka) where he will be welcomed.

Q 8: How come Gujarat, Andhra and Karnataka did not woo him earlier.

Answer 8: I do not know why. May be at that time they did not take him seriously and Orissa did. But now after the design of the university and lot of other groundwork has been done, they will woo him like anything.

In my opinion, Orissa lucked out that it signed the MOU in 2006. It also helped that Mr. Agarwal has other business in Orissa. But then many other companies, private and public have business in Orissa. How much have they given to Orissa in comparison? A good example is 12 crores by Tata Steel for the Inst. of Math and application, and few other smaller donations. Compare that to $1 Billion which is now Rs 5000 crores.

Going back to Gujarat, Andhra and Karnataka, we know what Gujarat did with respect to Nano. If given a small opening they will do the same with respect to Vedanta University.

Andhra Pradesh is in the process of developing Odyssey Science city with an area of 65,000 acres. The first phase is of 10,000 acres. Few months back Andhra CM signed a deal whereby APIC will acquire the land.(See http://www.hindu.com/2008/01/09/stories/2008010958760800.htm )  Given a chance Andhra Pradesh will pick up Vedanta University in a heartbeat. I am told that they already contacted Vedanta officials regarding that.

In Karnataka, the SAC-PM Chairperson Prof. C N R Rao is jealous of Vedanta University and is exhorting the Bangalore based IT companies to make similar contributions. In an Outlook article (see http://www.outlookindia.com/full.asp?fodname=20071217&fname=Cover+Story+%28F%29&sid=2 ) he was quoted saying:


IT people have a responsibility that they are yet to fulfil. If they’re making so much money, why shouldn’t they create an outstanding private university equivalent to Stanford or Harvard? Had they done something like that they would have compensated for the other problems they have created. If IT people are making money, what do I get out of it, unless I am employed in Infosys with Narayana Murthy? The trouble is, we have given them a lot, but have got nothing in return.


Q 9: How does Vedanta University help Orissa and India?

Answer 9: Let consider the world ranking of universities. 

In the Times ranking at http://www.topuniversities.com/ the top ranked universities in the world and the top ranked universities in India and China are as follows:

1. Harvard, USA
2. Yale, USA
3. Cambridge, UK
4. Oxford, UK

154. IIT Delhi

174. IIT Bombay

242. IIT Kanpur

274. Delhi University

303. IIT Madras

50. Peking University, China
56. Tsinghua University, China
113. Fudan University, China
141. Univ of Sc. & Tech, China
143. Nanjing University, China
144. Shanghai Jiao Tong Univ, China

In the SJT ranking at http://www.arwu.org/rank2008/Top500_EN(by%20rank).pdf  the top ranked universities and the top ranked universities in India and China are as follows:

1. Harvard
2. Stanford
3. Berkeley
4. Cambridge
5. MIT

303-401 IISc Bangalore, IIT Kharagpur

201-302 Nanjing University, Peking University, Shanghai Jiao Tong Univ, Tsinghua University, Univ of Sc. & Tech, Zhejiang University

As the above shows, Indian Universities including IITs and IISc are way behind the top universities of the world. They are even much behind the top universities in China.

So what Vedanta is aspiring is to be a university ranked in the top 50 of these lists, if not in the top 25. If that is achieved it will have a huge impact on India, and not just Orissa.

There will be also a lot of impact on Orissa.


a. It will pull up the institutions near Vedanta University such as IIT Bhubaneswar, NISER

Bhubaneswar, the proposed world class central university (WCCU) in Bhubaneswar, IIIT Bhubaneswar, and even Utkal, Ravenshaw, OUAT, etc. The reason it will pull up the other universities is that many otherwise great professors, who will miss out getting a job at Vedanta, would like to be nearby Vedanta and thus would take a position in one of the above universities in the area. The reason they would like to be near Vedanta is that being nearby will allow them to collaborate with the faculty at Vedanta. For the same reason, many of the Ph.Ds coming out of Vedanta Universities would prefer to stay in the area universities.

Note that without Vedanta, IIT Bhubaneswar may end up among the bottom IITs, NISER Bhubaneswar may end up among the bottom IISER/NISERs and the WCCU Bhubaneswar may end up among the bottom WCCUs. This is evident from the admission numbers of IIT Bhubaneswar this year. In terms of student preferences it was only better than IIT Patna. See http://www.orissalinks.com/archives/1303 . This will not improve easily.

Moreover the existing IITs and central universities have been there for years and are established in terms of their infrastructure and they also get a lot of support (including cash donations) from their alumni. The new institutions in Bhubaneswar (IIT, NISER, WCCU) will normally take multiple decades to get to that level.

But with Vedanta University nearby, the situation would change; IIT Bhubaneswar could become among the top IITs; Same about NISER Bhubaneswar and WCCU Bhubaneswar. In other words, the establishment of Vedanta University has the possibility of turning the Puri-Bhuaneswar-Cuttack area a bigger knowledge hub than Pune and Bangalore.

b. With a top IIT, NISER and WCCU near Vedanta, the whole area from Cuttack-Puri will become a huge knowledge hub. Orissa will be able to go much beyond attracting WIPRO, TCS, Infosys, Satyam to attracting companies like Google, IBM, Microsoft etc. Currently such companies come mostly to Bangalore.

c. Recently Mr. Agarwal said that (see http://www.orissalinks.com/archives/1105 ) they will work towards giving 25% seats to the students from Orissa who will be taken on merit basis. This means besides Vedanta University, they will invest in schools so that the above happens. They already have started in that direction by enrolling children of the area in DAV schools and funding their educational cost.

d. Vedanta University is starting off with a hospital and medical college. This will definitely benefit the locals.

e. Another way to look at Vedanta University’s impact is as follows.

It has been said that 3 Billion USD will be spent in making Vedanta University out of which one Billion USD will given by Mr. Agarwal. One Billion USD is Rs. 5000 crores. Recently the central government has announced IITs, IISERs, world class central universities, etc. and    the budget for making each of them has been announced. See   http://pib.nic.in/release/release.asp?relid=37684 . The budget of a new IIT is 760 crores, new IISER is 500 crores, AIIMS is 332 crores, IIM is 210 crores, and world class central university is 720 crores. They add up to 2522 crores. In other words, with 5000 crores one can almost make 2 new IITs, 2 new IISERs, 2 new AIIMS, 2 new IIMs and 2 new world class central universities. And that is  what Orissa will lose out if it throws out Vedanta University.


Q 10. I am opposed to Vedanta’s mining activities. How can I support Vedanta University?

Answer 10: Even if one is opposed to Vedanta’s mining activities, he/she should not oppose having Vedanta University in Orissa as opposing Vedanta University for not liking its mining operation is like "cutting of the nose to spite the face."


Q 11. The MOU was signed in 2006. What has happened since then to indicate that Vedanta University is serious?

Answer 11: I do not know all that has happened, but let me elaborate on the design and architectural front. (In addition they have made progress in land acquisition, hired people in implementing R & R, hired architects and engineers etc.)

They have hired a top architecture company in the USA who has a track record of participating and shaping almost all major universities in the USA. The company is Ayers Saint Gross. Its web site is http://www.asg-architects.com/ . Following are some links to their web pages which refers to Vedanta University.

The design of the master plan of Vedanta University has been featured in many US architecture venues and it has also won some awards. Following are some links on that.

Some pictures of the designs are at http://chronicle.com/media/flash/v53/i45/vedanta/ and videos are at :


Besides the above architecture company, the other companies that Vedanta has hired include:

Most recently, they were ready to start construction but were turned away by about 500 people.

So that is part of their current status.

In summary, Vedanta University has the potential to turn the area from Cuttack-Puri into a bigger knowledge center than Bangalore and Pune and perhaps into the biggest knowledge center (with associate knowledge companies such as Google research, Microsoft Research, IBM research etc.) in India. As a result, it can completely change Orissa. (Imagine the impact if Bangalore was in Orissa.)

We should not play politics with it; otherwise like Tata Motors moving from Singur to Gujarat, Vedanta University will move to another state and for centuries our descendants will blame us for missing an opportunity that may come once in many centuries.



14 comments November 8th, 2008

What does $1 billion buy? Is Vedanta University’s proposed budget enough?

Following up on our earlier rejoinder of an article that said $1-$3 billion is not enough for making a research university in India, following are some excerpts from an Indian Express article which talks about how much $1 billion buys in terms of Indian HRD.

How much is this Rs 4443.60 crore in the context of current spending on education? Consider these:

44 times the annual allocation for an IIT at the rate of Rs 100 crore average.

68% of the total allocation in 2007-08 for higher and technical education, which is Rs 6,483 crore, inclusive of allocation for expansion to accommodate OBC quotas

Almost twice this year’s allocation for the entire UGC (Rs 2124.77 crore) which includes all Central universities and its quota expansion

137% of the current year allocation for technical education: Rs.3240 crore of which Rs.2122 crore is IITs, NITs, IIMs expansion.

50% of the entire Tenth Plan allocation for higher and technical education, Rs 8876 crore

Cost of 2 new IITs

Upgrading 15 premium IITs

Setting of 15 Central universities

September 6th, 2007


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