HT Interview: Plaksha University aims to reimagine tech education in India, says founding VC Prof Rudra Pratap

HT Interview: Plaksha University aims to reimagine tech education in India, says founding VC Prof Rudra Pratap

In a world where technology plays a pivotal role in the growth and development of nations, there is an increasing demand for a new-age university dedicated to reimagining technology education and research. Plaksha University, situated in Mohali, Punjab, strives to address this need in India.

Prof. Rudra Pratap, the Founding Vice Chancellor of Plaksha University.

In an exclusive interview with Hindustan Times Digital, Prof. Rudra Pratap, the founding Vice Chancellor of Plaksha University, provides insights into the institution’s founding principles and distinctive approaches. He discusses Plaksha’s innovative curriculum, holistic development initiatives, and its commitment to nurturing tech leaders who make a significant societal impact. 

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Here are excerpts from that interview with Professor Rudra Pratap:

Could you share the inspiration behind the creation of Plaksha University?

In the fast-paced 21st century, technology has transformed the world exponentially. The existing educational framework, especially in technology, has struggled to keep up with this rapid change. Traditional universities, bound by their legacy, find it challenging to undergo radical shifts. Plaksha University was conceived to address this need by reimagining tech education. We sought to replace the outdated model of encapsulated information with a clean slate approach, fostering creativity and innovation in the face of today’s information-rich environment.

Furthermore, we recognised the need for integrating entrepreneurship into the curriculum, particularly in India. While the country has seen a surge in service startups, there’s a gap in fostering deep-tech startups. Plaksha aims to bridge this gap by instilling an entrepreneurial spirit in students, encouraging them to tackle complex issues such as energy, pollution, water, and health crises through interdisciplinary collaboration.

The third crucial aspect involves redefining research approaches. Plaksha envisions a departure from individual lab-based research to collaborative, interdisciplinary efforts. By addressing significant global challenges, our goal is to create a platform where faculty members network, share resources, and collectively contribute to solving major problems.

In essence, Plaksha University was established to revolutionise technology education, integrate entrepreneurship, and redefine research approaches to meet the demands of the 21st century.

Plaksha University
Plaksha University

How has the journey been for Plaksha University in the last three years?

The journey has been exhilarating and transformative. Commencing in 2021 amid the challenges of the pandemic and the subsequent wave of Omicron, we learned early on to be resilient. Students, emerging from an era of prolonged online learning, faced disruptions in on-campus education. However, this period of uncertainty taught us valuable lessons about adaptability and innovation.

Over the past three years, we have laid the foundations for reimagined tech education, incorporating innovation, entrepreneurship, and a fresh approach to tech research. Every step we’ve taken has been aimed at creating enduring structures that will shape the future of education for decades to come. The uniqueness of our journey lies in its freshness and novelty – nothing about Plaksha is ordinary.

How does Plaksha’s curriculum differ from traditional universities?

Plaksha University adopts a unique approach to admission and curriculum. Students are admitted without predefined majors, and they undergo a three-semester Freshmore curriculum. This curriculum is designed to provide a broad foundation in computational thinking, applied mathematics, foundational physical and life sciences, new-age humanities, societal connections, and exposure to global challenges.

During this foundational training, students explore various fields, gaining a solid understanding of linear algebra, probability, and statistics – crucial for core training in machine learning and artificial intelligence. Plaksha’s curriculum encourages students to choose their preferred majors only after completing the Freshmore curriculum, giving them a broader perspective and fostering adaptability.

How does Plaksha support students financially?

Plaksha follows a need-blind admission process, ensuring that students are evaluated solely on merit. After admission, the scholarship committee assesses financial needs and offers scholarships ranging from 20% to 100% and beyond. Plaksha is committed to ensuring that no deserving student is turned away due to financial constraints. The financial statements of parents are only considered after the selection process, keeping the admission process unbiased.

Can you share more about Plaksha’s growth and plans for the future?

Currently, Plaksha plans to admit around 200 students in UG, maintaining a deliberate focus on a small student population to provide individual attention. The goal is to avoid conveyor belt education and ensure a high-quality, personalised learning experience. With a student-to-faculty ratio between 10 and 12, Plaksha emphasises creating tech leaders with a solid educational foundation.

As we expand, we aim to uphold the principles of individualized attention, fostering a nurturing environment that produces leaders equipped to tackle complex problems and contribute meaningfully to society.

How does Plaksha promote entrepreneurship and innovation?

Plaksha is actively promoting entrepreneurship through programs and partnerships. The university is in the process of launching a minor in entrepreneurship in collaboration with UC Berkeley. Additionally, Plaksha has established a Center for Entrepreneurship, complete with an incubator and accelerator, providing comprehensive support for students keen on entrepreneurial pursuits. The founders, who are industry leaders themselves, actively engage with students, providing inspiration and guidance.

Beyond technical education, how does Plaksha ensure holistic development for its students?

Holistic development is a core aspect of Plaksha’s educational philosophy. Approximately 30% of the curriculum focuses on areas beyond traditional technical subjects. Plaksha emphasizes community connect, compassion, and empathy, offering courses that encourage students to engage in community projects, fostering a sense of social responsibility.

Recognizing the importance of mental and physical well-being, Plaksha has incorporated well-being classes, yoga, and meditation into its offerings. These initiatives aim to provide students with a balanced and holistic educational experience.

How does Plaksha address the mental well-being of its students?

Plaksha prioritizes mental well-being, recognizing the challenges students face in today’s fast-paced and digitally noisy world. The university has a dedicated team for student life that includes a psychological counsellor. Workshops and classes are conducted to proactively train students in identifying mental health issues. Plaksha aims to create a supportive environment where students can openly discuss their concerns and receive the necessary assistance.

The university is in the process of designing courses specifically focused on mental and physical well-being, with plans to present a comprehensive 3D transcript capturing not only academic achievements but also the various aspects of personal and social development.

As students graduate from Plaksha, what attributes do you expect them to possess?

Plaksha envisions graduates who are technically adept at tackling complex problems with a design thinking approach, breaking down challenges into manageable components, and executing effective solutions. Rigorous training ensures their professionalism and technical prowess.

Beyond their professional skills, Plaksha expects its graduates to embody compassion, empathy, and curiosity. The university aims to foster a sense of social responsibility and nurture individuals who, inspired by curiosity, continue to learn and contribute positively to society throughout their lives.

What is the overarching vision for Plaksha University?

Plaksha University aspires to be the 21st-century version of Takshashila, producing modern-day pioneers like Panini, Chanakya, and Charak. The goal is to create an environment where original scholarship flourishes, leading to groundbreaking contributions that the world has yet to witness. Plaksha distinguishes itself by being a tech university with a soul, emphasizing a holistic approach to education that goes beyond mere technological advancements. The vision is to instill a sense of social responsibility and balance, ensuring that graduates are not only tech-savvy professionals but also compassionate, empathetic individuals contributing positively to society.

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