Ellie Pritchett

Yale will expand its collaboration with Ashoka University — a liberal arts university in New Delhi, India — furthering University President Peter Salovey’s goal of increased global engagement.

On Oct. 15, Salovey signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Rudrangshu Mukherjee, Vice Chancellor of Ashoka University, that codifies and reaffirms how the universities have previously worked together and establishes a framework for potentially deeper collaboration in the future. Faculty members and professors interviewed said the relationship between Yale and Ashoka to date has been driven by faculty interest and initiative, and the MoU will present ways to further collaboration in research. But the document has a potential impact on students as well — Ashoka may host a Yale summer session course, and the universities are working to give both former and current Yale students new opportunities to study and teach there. Salovey said this expansion in collaboration fits his vision for increased engagement both in India and the world.

“Yale’s faculty have been involved with Ashoka from its start and the cooperation represents the kind of global engagement that I want to foster — faculty-initiated and faculty-directed activities that benefit students and contribute to the research, teaching and service missions of Yale,” Salovey said. “Over the last decade, Yale has been deliberately expanding its engagement with India through the Yale India Initiative and this cooperation with Ashoka fits into the goals of the initiative to expand Yale’s ties with India.”

According to the website for the Yale India Initiative, the program promotes the study and teaching of India and South Asia.

George Joseph, deputy director of the MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies, said the MoU could lead to expanded study-abroad options and establish teaching assistant positions for Yale graduates at Ashoka. Joseph added that just as Yale faculty members have formed partnerships with hundreds of universities on their own initiative, such as teaching Yale Summer Session courses at the University of Tokyo, they have formed links with Ashoka as well.

Steven Wilkinson, professor of India and South Asian Studies, is among the Yale faculty members who has a relationship with Ashoka. He said the MoU will allow for faculty and students to connect with Ashoka when advantageous, but there is no evidence that a significant amount of Yale resources or a larger Yale plan is behind the agreement.

Because of his focus on Indian politics, Wilkinson is most interested in collaborating with Ashoka on political science research, especially public opinion polling, he said.

“Yale has some great survey researchers, and many of our students are interested in projects that might use polls on contemporary Indian society and politics,” Wilkinson said. “But we lack on-the-ground collaborators and capacity. So by cooperating we can potentially create opportunities for our graduate students to go there, get research affiliations and cooperate on creating better social science research that also helps them in their own careers.”

Yale Corporation member Charles Goodyear IV ’80 said increased collaboration between Yale and Ashoka would benefit Yale as well as its students, helping the former globalize and presenting the latter with newfound experiences and opportunities.

Because the standard model for higher education in India tends toward the pre-professional, Joseph said, Ashoka is unique in its focus on the liberal arts. As a result, the founders of Ashoka see Yale as a model for the development of Ashoka, he said. Salovey said while in India, he has frequently encountered a desire for increased opportunities in the liberal arts.

“During my discussions in India, again and again, Indian leaders told me that there is a vital need for liberal arts education in India,” Salovey said. “I was impressed by the seriousness of purpose that Ashoka’s founders and faculty have demonstrated.”

Ashoka anthropology professor Durba Chattaraj said she hopes Yale and Ashoka will be able to enrich one another’s anthropology and sociology departments through faculty and student exchanges, as well as research collaboration.

Kai Qin Cha, a psychology professor at Ashoka, said the MoU has increased morale at Ashoka and hopefully will lead Yale and Ashoka to take advantage of the other’s resources and expertise. Going forward, he said he hopes this expansion in collaboration inspires other Indian universities.

“I hope this collaboration will make Ashoka a model for other Indian universities to follow — to focus on excellence, to build partnerships across the globe, to advance knowledge,” he said.

Three hundred and fifty students, including 130 undergraduates and 200 postgraduates attend Ashoka, which was inaugurated in January 2015.