December 10, 2008

A Personal Journey From Untouchable to University Vice Chancellor: Narendra Jadhav, University of Pune

There are 180m untouchables in India. Another 90 million aboriginal Indians live at the margins of that society. What happens when a person's personal journey takes them from the bottom of the caste system to the top executive of the largest university of India? One of the most distinguished economists and central bank authorities in India, Narendra Jadhav's parents had no formal education. His presentation at this year's Nobel Week Public Sector Innovation Summit narrates his own story and the challenge of re-energizing a 650,000 student University of Pune with some 800 colleges, schools, and educational institutional affiliates.

The challenges of education in India are of a scale nearly incomprehensible. There are 225 million Indians between the ages of 10-19. Less than 10% of them manage to navigate their way to post-secondary experiences. Jadhav's new mission in life is to turn a massive university into an agent of inclusivity and a social movement for making education relevant to people (what he calls social connectivity), wherever they live and whatever their background.

Here are some examples that Jadhav shared. A two year massive curriculum reform has been enabled through electronic workflow underwritten with incentives. Professional development and technology support for faculty. Everyone in the University can get a computer and pay it out over various periods of time. The University picks up the interest. Stimulus investment in research activity in non-traditional parts of the University system have also led to growing trust between historically oppositional forces and significant returns through additional sponsored and funded research activity. In addition, Jadhav is rolling out a soft skills curriculum for students on an extra curricular basis with a special focus on youth from marginalized communities to bolster their self esteem and provide them with key skills for their personal and professional development. Uptake has been tremendous with some now 600 centers for soft skills acquisition across the University.


If that weren't impressive enough, Jadhav has catalyzed a multi-tiered community engagement strategy by challenging each of the 800 institutions to adopt a rural community near by. The adoption strategy spans a wide range of possible activities including education, sanitation, water engineering, environmental activities, alternative energy, technology training, engagement on woman's health and education, gis mapping, and writing local history. Over a million tree saplings have been planted. Hundreds of oral and community histories have been documented. Thousands of mini-courses are being offered by students in villages as 'barefoot professors' teaching those who have very little opportunity for education the very subjects they are studying. Over half a million youths and their faculty and staff colleagues are now directly engaged. Jadhav has unleashed social dynamics that have the makings of a transformational and authentic social movement.

A product of an American PhD program in Indiana, Jadhav also sees the value of community colleges and vocational schools. This tier of education is largely missing in the Indian post-secondary education system. In a workshop yesterday we spent time talking about each of the University of Pune's colleges having a community college and/or vocational program to provide relevant life skills. The University is also innovating by creating perhaps the world's first PhD program exclusively tailored to senior citizens over 60. The only qualifications to get in are being age eligible and having a first degree. In the first week he had over 5000 applications.

Jadhav and colleagues are embracing information technology to disrupt the market to enable scale and support growth of the market. Enrollment has grown more than 20%. Pune has more than 15,000 international students and has become 'the' destination for international students and study abroad experiences in India.

Did I mention that he's been at the job less than 3 years

Lev Gonick
December 10, 2008
Stockholm, Sweden
#Cisco08

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