30 Jun 2021 19:20 IST

Sai University, from Chennai with global ambitions

Proposed campus of Sai University

The new university hopes to put itself on the world map with international faculty and state-of-art infrastructure

At 70, an age when most would be steeped in retired life, software pioneer, co-founder Nasscom, philanthropist KV Ramani is donning yet another avatar of an educationist. “Our vision is to be a global university from India; we do not want to be yet another Indian university,” he declares of the fledgling Sai University, established in Chennai and all set to start its academic programmes in August 2021. While Sai will add to the list of the many private universities sprouting up around the country, this, its founder says, wants to put itself on the global map.


K V Ramani   -  RAVINDRAN R




Ramani is among the first successful technology entrepreneurs and had founded communications technology firm Future Software in 1985. He also co-founded Hughes Software Systems, a telecom software company as a joint venture with US firm Hughes Software in 1990. In 2004, both the companies were acquired by Flextronics for a huge sum. A great believer in Shirdi Sai Baba, Ramani invested ₹370 crore  in a Shirdi Sai Trust and embarked on several philanthropic activities. “I have been inspired and guided by Shirdi Sai Baba. 2018 was the Baba’s maha Samadhi centenary year and I wanted to do something that year in his memory. I was inspired to start a university which will be global in outlook,” says Ramani in an interview.

Myriad of programmes

With no experience in education, Ramani roped in consultant KPMG to scope and size the university, propose programmes, student ratios, and to also give a 15-year road map and prepare a detailed project report which needed to be submitted to the TN government. In 2018, the government passed the Sai University Act with several conditions which needed Sai to build a greenfield university; have an endowment fund of ₹50 crore.

The plans are very ambitious. Sai Univ has roped in Jamshed Bharucha, a cognitive neuroscientist and a former Research Professor at Dartmouth College, US, as the founding Vice-Chancellor. Interdisciplinary and flexible learning will be at the core of its academic philosophy, says Bharucha. Its UG programme will offer a ‘design your own major’ option, within liberal arts, sciences, law, commerce and management and engineering disciplines. “Interdisciplinary education has proven to catalyse innovation whilst opening up a plethora of avenues for the students to explore,” adds Bharucha.

Jamshed Bharucha   -  RAVINDRAN R





Other programmes will include a two-year MBA at the intersection of entrepreneurship, technology, and design. Sai will also be starting a law degree and specialised engineering degrees in a phased manner. Its School of Computing and Data Science offers in-depth courses in the theoretical and practical aspects of the field including subjects like AI, ML and robotics.

Sai, says Bharucha, already has a team of eminent academicians and is attracting faculty members from around the world to teach in Chennai. It expects to have 50 per cent of its faculty from abroad, either teaching in Chennai or online. As Ramani points out, the new University will offer an international quality education to students without them having to pay through their nose to study abroad. “Today, organisations are looking for business ready-talent, which does not only mean students equipped with abundant theoretical knowledge, but also students with critical thinking abilities,” he says.

Focus on faculty

Sai’s Board is packed with luminaries from industry, academics law and other fields and features the likes of N R Narayana Murthy, Justice M N Venkatachaliah, Former Chief Justice of India, K Kasturirangan, former ISRO Chairman and architect of the NEP, among others. The physical infrastructure plans too are equally ambitious. In Phase 1, Sai University will be investing ₹900 crore in the first seven years in a 104 acre campus on the outskirts of Chennai. During this period, the university will have a student strength of 6,000, accommodated in 12 lakh sq. ft of campus built to international standards providing academic, research, residential and leisure facilities in a modern campus. In this phase, Sai will have a faculty team of 300 members, supported by another 300 member administrative staff.

The promoting trust will be funding ₹350 crore and the rest it will raise. In phase 2, to be implemented in the next five years, Sai expects to reach its full capacity and accommodate about 20,000 students in a 30 lakh sq. ft. campus with all advanced facilities for faculty and students. By then, Sai expects to have a team of 1,000 faculty members and 1,000 administrative staff. So far, ₹227 crore has been invested in the project and Sai has appointed 15 members of management team and 10 faculty members. “We will raise the remaining funds from financial institutions and also from large donors who donate to education in their names or founders names. The university will be cash positive in year six and will look at returning all debt and be debt free,” explains Ramani. The university’s surpluses will be re-invested in its growth.

The University will be charging ₹6 lakh a year for its courses. As Ramani says top quality education is expensive. However, he’s quick to add, it will be cheaper than sending a child abroad to study. Also, generous merit and means scholarships are available to deserving students, he says.