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Transforming India’s Higher Education Landscape: Ashoka University’s Unconventional Journey

05 May, 2021

About Ashoka University: Founded in 2014, Ashoka is a Liberal Arts and Sciences University located at Sonipat in Haryana, India. It offers a range of undergraduate and postgraduate programmes in disciplines including the Arts and Humanities, Economics, and Mathematical and Natural Sciences. Interdisciplinarity is at the heart of Ashoka’s pedagogy and its signature Foundation Courses, mandatory for its undergraduate students, are unique within the Indian Higher Education sector.

As the world faced an unprecedented challenge with COVID-19, Ashoka was able to turn the crisis into opportunity in many ways. It was a year made special by the collective effort of the Ashoka family of founders, faculty, staff, and students who ensured that Ashoka’s mission of a world-class interdisciplinary education continued to find new dimensions. The achievements of Ashoka’s students and alumni were extraordinary from a student getting selected for the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship, eleven students creating Ashoka campus on the gaming platform Minecraft to Ashoka alumna winning the 2020 Commonwealth Short Story Prize and New York Academy of Sciences’ Tracking Coronavirus Challenge. Ashoka’s contribution to the fight against COVID-19 included the establishment of a Centre dedicated to biological sciences research (Trivedi School Biosciences) and a laboratory for machine learning and computational thinking along with Mphasis, a new partnership with ThoughtWorks for charting the spread of COVID-19.

Ashoka University’s stride towards a global best education has been recognised by QS I-GAUGE with the E-Learning Excellence for Academic Digitization (E-LEAD) certification and an overall Diamond Category in the QS I-GAUGE audit. The various parameters of the audit processes have helped Ashoka to collate, analyse and reflect on its strength and improvements, and plan a balanced growth strategy as Ashoka expands its horizons. The QS I-GAUGE audit process enabled Ashoka to evaluate and compare its strategies and accomplishments with local and global institutions, encouraging them to continually improve to match the best higher education standards in India and abroad. The QS I-GAUGE team supported and guided in successfully conducting the audit and assisted to organise information into concise and insightful datasheets for a holistic evaluation. QS I-GAUGE has helped to build Ashoka’s academic reputation by validating the ever-increasing innovative academic initiatives at Ashoka. Following aspects of Ashoka were highlighted in the QS I-GAUGE audit process that reinstates its unique features as a pioneer of liberal arts and sciences education in India:

Student Diversity: The 2250-plus students currently studying at Ashoka, drawn from 30 states and 243+ cities in India and 27 other countries.

Faculty Diversity: Ashoka faculty members are highly qualified with international experience at some of the world’s best educational institutions.

Centres of Excellence: Individual projects and collaborative research are undertaken by 12 specialised Centres that enable a vibrant research-intensive atmosphere in the university. Ashoka’s Centres focus on Well Being; Economic Policy; Chinese Studies; Climate Change and Sustainability; Economic Data and Analysis; Entrepreneurship; Social & Behaviour Change; Social Impact & Philanthropy; Studies in Gender & Sexuality; Writing & Communication; Science Policy Initiative; and Trivedi Centre for Political Data.

International Collaborations: Ashoka University has several prestigious international institutional collaborations including UPenn, UMIchigan, Yale, Duke, King’s College London, HEC Paris, SciencesPo Paris, and many others.

Academic Freedom: Ashoka University’s liberal education philosophy gives students the freedom to design their own undergraduate programme to explore and discover their life's passion. Students can choose their Major from a total of 21 pure or interdisciplinary options and Minors from among 18 disciplines on offer. Students also undertake 9 Foundation Courses and 2 Co-curricular courses.

Fellowship Programmes: The Young India Fellowship (YIF), offered as a Postgraduate Diploma in Liberal Studies has a carefully selected cohort of 200 Fellows from diverse academic, professional, socio-economic, and geographical backgrounds. Within a year, they engage with diverse areas of study, research, and practice, enabled by leading thinkers and scholars of our time. This often helps them reimagine themselves and discover their passions. Since 2011, the YIF has groomed over 1700 socially conscious leaders and change-makers for the 21st century. Ashoka offers graduate programmes in the form of master’s degree and PhD programmes. Other short-term programmes offered are the Young Scholars Programme, Summer Programmes and Ashoka X (Ashoka’s virtual education initiative).

Inclusion: Ashoka works relentlessly towards making education a seamless experience for students with disabilities. The university campus is 100% accessible to meet the needs of specially-abled students. Ashoka instituted the Office of Learning Support (OLS) that provides learning support to students with impairments and learning difficulties - a first in the Indian higher education system.

Wellbeing: The Ashoka Centre for Well-Being (ACWB) is India’s first dedicated centre in a university that addresses mental health issues. It focuses on the preventive, clinical, and promotional aspects of mental health and well-being.

Financial Aid: Ashoka also funds India’s largest financial aid programme in higher education in independent India. In the last decade, Ashoka’s financial aid programme has enabled 3,250 deserving students to achieve their dreams. The financial aid programme is completely need-based, and there are no merit scholarships.

Being the trailblazer for liberal arts and sciences in India, Ashoka’s efforts for changing the higher education landscape in India has been recognised by many national and international organisations. In 2017, the University was awarded 'University of the Year' (in existence for less than 10 years) and recognised for 'Excellence in Internationalization,' at the 4th Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) Higher Education Excellence Awards 2017.  In 2019, EducationWorld ranked Ashoka University 2nd in the top 100 private universities in India. In 2020, the World Digital Awards 2020 was awarded to Ashoka for Organisational Excellence in Education. In the same year, the Economics Department of the University ranked at number 1 (#1 of 239 institutions) in India, and in the top 12.5% in Asia (at #31 of 1539 institutions), according to the international database RePEc, which covers 8198 institutions and 60355 registered authors worldwide.

Ashoka has redefined the norms of higher education in the country where until recently it was dominated by institutions delivering professional education - engineering, medicine, law, accounting, and business management, among others. Ashoka University, conceptualized with the thought of creating an institution that would focus on a multidisciplinary approach, providing instruction in the core sciences, social sciences, and the humanities, has helped students become well-rounded individuals who can think critically about issues from multiple perspectives, communicate effectively and become leaders with a commitment to public service. At Ashoka, education carries a strong emphasis on foundational knowledge, thorough academic research, and hands-on experience with real-world challenges.


The views & opinions expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent those of QS-ERA India Private Limited and/or its employees, partners, shareholders, or other stakeholders.

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