INDIA. Chandigarh. Prior to 2002, Madhu and Ashok Chitkara were mathematicians by trade and were in the teaching profession. In just 18 years, their partnership and vision have given birth to one of the most prestigious universities in India, ranked in the top 25 in the nation.
Among its many accomplishments, Chitkara University boasts receiving the 2020 E-Learning Excellence for Academic Digitisation (E-LEAD) Certification for its readiness and excellence in online education, finishing 3rd for ”Technological Innovation of the Year” for the prestigious Times Higher Education Asia Awards 2020. It was the recipient of the Gandhian Young Technological Innovation (GYTI) Award 2020 in the field of Agricultural Innovation. Chitkara boasts 3rd best green campus in India. For more than 10 years, Chitkara Educational Trust has been an epitome of excellence in the field of education.
Commitment to holistic development
As Chitkara University has gained such esteem, they have done so while maintaining a deep commitment to their core values. The university supports the holistic development of all members of their community, from the students and the faculty to the surrounding communities, incorporating the grandparents of students as well. This commitment is embedded in their logo. Pro-chancellor Dr. Madhu Chitkara shared in an interview with Transcontinental Times its meaning: “There are three arrows. The first arrow represents the growth of our students. The second is the growth of the faculty. The third is the growth of all other stakeholders which includes our local community and the global community of which we are a part.”
Innovation, incubation, and interdisciplinary commitment
Chitkara University is on the cutting edge of innovation in higher education. They stand as the premier incubation center in India, providing a foundation for 88 start-ups and boasting more than 350 patents. Additionally, they spearhead philanthropic initiatives in 5 local villages. Their education model is a remarkable shift from traditional institutions of higher education. They encourage a collaborative and interdisciplinary rather than didactic, siloed pedagogical learning model. Students are encouraged to take risks, and professors are encouraged to pursue their passions, whether on research or teaching.
While institutions of higher education across the world stumbled to adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic, Chitkara University went completely online within just 4 days of the mandatory lockdowns. Students barely felt an interruption to their education. The semester was completed seamlessly. They have been equally nimble with the new semester amid the continuing pandemic crisis in India.
Lessons of COVID-19
“Starting 1 Oct, all postgraduate students will be on campus. We chose this approach to develop our on-campus protocols with our most mature students first, to see what works and what changes need to be made before we welcome our undergraduates,” Dr. Chitkara said. “There is complete flexibility for all faculty as well. If they are not feeling well or don’t feel safe being on campus, they have complete autonomy and may conduct courses from home. We are a community and will apply no pressure to teach in person.”
Rather than see COVID-19 as a crisis, they have chosen to see it as a powerful learning opportunity. “It is our aim to be 50% online in the future, while providing the lab space needed for students to complete research that needs such facilities,” she said.
How does one begin to conceive of a new university? Dr. Chitkara shared that in 2008, she and a team of educators traveled to the United States and visited hundreds of the best universities to see what they do best. It was then that she understood and prioritized building an institution with a collaborative global model.
Global Week builds partnerships with expert faculty from around the world
Chitkara University now boasts of formal partnerships with more than 165 universities across the world. In an initiative not found at any other university, guest faculty from across the world infuse Chitkara’s campus for one week. Global Week is a unique opportunity to create one-on-one mentorships for students thus able to connect in meaningful collaboration with experts in a multitude of disciplines. Many joint patents have resulted from such partnerships, and Erasmus funding for study abroad opportunities has been awarded from Europe as well.
Deeply rooted in providing a quality education that promotes the best possible in their students, faculty and community, Chitkara University has built its foundation on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. They have placed emphasis on #17 for global partnership, for which they have received full recognition.
Proactive mental health support
At the heart of Chitkara’s success is sustaining the whole person. In addition to providing a world-class education, Chitkara University supports the socio-emotional development of its students through focused mentoring with 1 mentor for every 15 students. These mentors act as foster parents to support students’ mental health. This mentorship continued during COVID-19 lockdown as well to help students adjust to the challenges of being off campus, coping emotionally with depression, anxiety, and general concerns about the future.
Campus-wide well-being initiatives are integrated fully to campus life: meditation is available daily; art of living courses are part of the curriculum; mental health professionals are always accessible; and to bring the community together in celebration, Funky Fridays are a weekly staple. For one hour every Friday, the whole campus comes together to share in comedy, theatre, singing and dance performances. During COVID lockdown, more than 6,000 students participated through video on Zoom.
A model for other institutions
It is no wonder that Chitkara has become a leader in private higher education in India. It will continue to serve as an example for other institutions across the world to collaborate with and learn from. Dr. Chitkara’s warmth, sincerity, and commitment to individual growth are the lifeblood of Chitkara University. With her passion for holistic sustainability guiding their mission, Chitkara University will continue to rise, truly advancing the principles of higher education.