Last year, when Varun Kumar from Bihar made his way to Ahmedabad University, he was a young student from a small town in Bihar out to make his way into a metropolitan city that held the promise of a world-class education. Along with that promise, there was also the apprehension of settling into this big city and its University life, both vastly different from the home he knew. This year, the story is very different. The second year student of BA (Hons) majoring in Social and Political Sciences at the School of Arts and Sciences, is celebrating his selection to the Ahmedabad University volleyball team. “I was a very quiet sort but the change in me happened during the Ahmedabad Sports Fest last year. Encouraged by my seniors, I took part in multiple sports – badminton, volleyball, and football. This helped me not just improve my skill in these games but also make plenty of friends. Making it to the University volleyball team is just indescribable! It feels like home now.”
Varun is one among the first cohort of 10 Karta Scholars, under the wings of the NGO, Karta Initiative, Mumbai, that Ahmedabad University invited on Campus on a complete scholarship in 2022-23. This year, 28 Karta Scholars have been selected to Ahmedabad with a 100 per cent scholarship, the highest in the country and globally. Karta Scholars come from underserved and underprivileged backgrounds and from remote areas of the country. Understanding their difficulties and the deep need to provide them with an opportunity for quality higher education and reduce systematic barriers to such access has been one of the drivers of inclusivity at Ahmedabad University. Vice Chancellor Pankaj Chandra says, “Education must build lives, especially of those who are not privileged and Ahmedabad is humbly participating in this duty.”
While the financial support is crucial for ensuring access to inclusive quality education, the University ensures it does not stop there. It is making available multiple resources and engagements that can help make the students’ transition seamless. One important way is through sports. The sports facilities at the University are often icebreakers to communication and great levellers for diverse groups. Student Clubs and Associations also offer a great opportunity for community building. The University has 19 Student Clubs and 4 Associations currently with multiple activities organised on a regular basis that allow active interaction between students.
A systematic approach to managing the transition of new students is the Circle of Care, a very crucial engagement initiative undertaken by the University’s Office of the Dean of Students. The Circle of Care consists of a small group of first year students who are grouped with senior Student Mitrs or friends and a faculty mentor, thus forming their first friends’ circle at the University. This forms the first step towards integrating incoming students from diverse backgrounds into the University system.
Subrahmanya D Gowda from Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya in Karnataka is in his second year of the BBA (Hons) programme. He says that the supportive Circle of Care freed him of the trepidation that any newcomer would have. “We had a great Circle of Care and a wonderful Student Mitr (friend) in Sahil Miskeen. He took care of us not just in the first few months but throughout the year. He made sure we participated in events, club activities, and most importantly, he introduced us to the game of frisbee. A bunch of us got on to the University frisbee team. Since then, there has been no looking back. It gave our confidence a boost and got us familiar with a whole bunch of students with whom we made friends. I think the idea of Circle of Care is unparalleled.”
It would have been a homesick beginning for Bangalore-based Pahi, originally from Assam, but for her Circle of Care which has been her pillar of strength. She is pursuing the Integrated MBA in Family Business and Entrepreneurship. “My mother was very worried about sending me to Ahmedabad. I confided in my Circle of Care about her concerns and my friends and Student Mitrs immediately put my doubts to rest. When I told my mom about the concept of the Circle of Care, she could scarcely believe it. It’s almost like having a second family around me.”
Usha Lamani, a student of Integrated MS in Life Sciences, is from Goa and is happy to be a Student Mitr this year. Usha says, “I had often been told by senior students and faculty that one should open up oneself to the varied experiences of the University. I did just that. I pushed myself hard and stretched my boundaries. Last year, I was a rank newcomer to the system but I am so happy to say that this year I got selected as a Student Mitr and I have had the opportunity to reflect back the support that the University offered me in that first crucial year.”
Circle of Care aside, the nurturing support of faculty members offers a cushion to these students who have several new experiences to integrate with. Vikas Kumar, BBA (Hons) majoring in History, says he spent most of his first year reading with faculty members. “Professors Murari Jha, Sarthak Bagchi, and Aparajith Ramnath were very supportive. Their classes and their projects were very engaging. They even supported me by providing me with a laptop when I opened up about the challenge of not having one,” he says.
Through its flexibility of curriculum and its liberal education approach, Ahmedabad University is empowering the young Karta Scholars in many different ways. Kundan Kumar, a first year Karta Scholar from Bihar who is part of the BA (Hons) programme, is currently a Major in History, but he is contemplating changing his Major to Social and Political Sciences. He says that he can openly speak to his faculty about his questions or deliberations over his Major. “As I understand and explore, I think my potential lies toward Social and Political Sciences. I am in the process of understanding how I could make this switch. I can’t imagine which other University would allow me this flexibility and freedom of choice.”
The Karta Scholars are also engaging in multiple ways with the city facilitated by the various Foundation Programme Studios. Ahmedabad Unviersity’s Foundation Programme is the common core of its Undergraduate education. One of these is an engagement at Conflictorium, a space that enables different sections of the society to understand conflict arising from caste, religion, language divides through artistic and creative ways. The other is through engaging with their immediate neighbourhoods about critical issues like water. They are also taking independent initiatives to engage with the city. Akash Kumar from Ludhiana says, “I love learning languages. So, besides Gujarati, which my classmates are teaching me, I am also learning German from the Goethe Institute.” Kush Kumar from a Bihar village is excited to travel by the Metro line. Others have discovered their way through the old city and the Sabarmati Riverfront on cycles.
Creation of equitable pathways of learning not just by breaking financial barriers but through building more inclusive and engaging communities such as these through educational institutions is driving the change for a more inclusive society, and Ahmedabad University is happy to lead this change from the front.