2021 has been the landmark year in developments that support and enhance the academic excellence of the University.
As 2021 comes to an end and we turn, Janus-faced, towards the year gone by and the New Year about to begin, I am reminded of the words of Charles Lamb in his classic essay New Year’s Eve - “No one ever regarded the First of January with indifference …. I never hear it (the peal that rings out the Old Year) without a gathering-up of my mind to a concentration of all the images that have been diffused over the past twelvemonth”. The year gone by has been a critical year for Ashoka University, a test of its resilience, a year in which Covid was no longer unexpected as earlier, and each and every group within the Ashoka community was engaged in making sure that the University not only retained its vibrancy, but indeed continued to excel.
This is the moment surely to recall two inspirational happenings at Ashoka. In June 2021 we had the privilege of presenting our first Ashoka Inspire Lecture on the theme of Interdisciplinarity. Dame Gillian Beer, distinguished scholar and author, King Edward VIIth Professor Emeritus at Cambridge University, enthralled us with her talk on ‘Darwin and the Descent of Woman’. On 31st July 2021 we had our joint virtual Convocation for graduating students of 2020 and 2021. Professor Eric Maskin, 2007 Nobel Laureate in Economics, gave an outstanding Convocation Address.
This year, Ashoka received its first named professorship, the Sunanda and Santimay Basu Chair in Astrophysics. The University has been fortunate in finding a renowned astrophysicist who will be joining Ashoka early in 2022. Biology, Computer Science and Psychology now have stellar Advisory Groups. Across these departments as well as elsewhere in the Sciences, Economics, Social Sciences and Humanities Ashoka has been fortunate in being able to attract excellent faculty. A new Department of Sanskrit has been established.
The Centres at Ashoka continue to grow from strength to strength with three new Centres taking shape – the Interdisciplinary Centre for Archaeological Research where historians and biologists have come together, a Translation Centre and a Centre for the Creative and the Critical.
Research at Ashoka continues to be given priority. Undergraduate students have been co-authors with faculty for research publications in peer-reviewed journals. The PhD programme offered by many departments attracts promising researchers and Ashoka is today poised to graduate its first group of PhD students. A postdoctoral programme has also been launched.
This year Ashoka entered the field of University rankings for the first time and its performance on debut was extremely creditable both for the NIRF and QS Asia Rankings. With a place in the top hundred in NIRF and in the top five among private universities in QS Asia– and the number one university for international faculty in India in QS – Ashoka expects to do much better in the next round of rankings. While Ashoka’s reputation is firmly established, the structured parameters of the ranking process are an opportunity for introspection and analyses and the way forward for setting higher targets.
2021 has been the landmark year in developments that support and enhance the academic excellence of the University. The New Library Building is now complete. It houses books and journals, including special collections and rare books, as well as Ashoka’s Archives. This year the University has acquired land it the neighbourhood of the current campus and the present 25 acre plot will be Ashoka’s South Campus with the university area now reaching nearly 100 acres.
Expansion needs to be balanced with an eye on well-being. From that perspective, it is important to note that not only has the second Faculty Housing Building been completed, a crèche for the children of Ashoka’s faculty and staff is almost ready. With student housing, faculty housing, crèche, classrooms, laboratories, offices, infirmary, many facilities for meals, a sports complex, and a great Library, Ashoka’s South Campus is now truly home to a vibrant community.
The year has ended on a high note for Ashoka. In mid-December Cambridge University signed a comprehensive MOU with Ashoka for student, faculty and staff exchange and for collaborative research. The recognition that this MOU brings is a sign of Ashoka’s position today in the eyes of the world.
This brief note has encapsulated only a few of the myriad happenings at Ashoka. This year I have been haunted by the line from an iconic song - “Like the circles that you find in the windmills of your mind”. The intellectual energy around us has been nourished by compassion and understanding. The fullness of this experience has made a truly difficult year enriching and inspiring.