What started as a lunchroom conversation between IIT Delhi pass-outs Vineet Gupta, MD, Jamboree Education, and Rakesh Jaggi, Vice-President, Sustaining at Schlumberger, has found more than 12 backers from India Inc to launch Ashoka University, India’s first liberal arts university.

Among others, Sanjeev Bikhchandani, Founder and Vice-Chairman, InfoEdge; Puneet Dalmia MD, Dalmia Cements; Jerry Rao, Chairman and Founder, Mphasis; Deep Kalra, Founder and CEO of Makemytrip.com have invested around ₹140 crore in the university, which seeks to bring international education in the Indian context. Ashoka will kick off its first undergraduate programme in August. The university has received more than 1,500 applicants for its undergraduate batch of 350 students.

Programme Ashoka offers a four-year undergraduate programme where students can chose an area of specialisation from a list of pure majors (such as economics, history, mathematics) and a set of inter-disciplinary majors (like politics and society, economics and finance). The course also offers a broad set of disciplines through twelve foundation courses which include data analysis, great books, critical thinking, and principles of sciences, among others.

“If you see our higher education landscape today, a student with 95 per cent may not get admission in a good college, often because they messed up one exam. So overall it’s quite painful,” Vineet Gupta said.

“I found that the same student would get admitted to a top university in the US, whereas the choice here was an evening college,” he added.

Gupta noted that a lot of the education that is currently taking place, is not preparing students with the skills required for the job market.

Ashoka University has a fully residential campus in Haryana. The university is being set up by the International Foundation for Research and Education, in collaboration with the Pennsylvania University.

Gupta said over the next five years, Ashoka University plans to add more corporate donors and raise over ₹500 crore. While the course fee is around ₹4 lakh per year, Gupta added that of 350 students, 190 students would have some form of scholarships ranging from 25 to 100 per cent.