Ambedkar University Delhi (AUD) is a young public university that was established by the government of Delhi, India in 2008. AUD is one of the few universities in India with the core objective of promoting the study of humanities and social sciences and it recognises these disciplines as pivotal to the understanding and imagination of a society in transition. AUD’s aim is to reconceptualise social sciences and orient them to face the new challenges posed by the social, political and economic realities of our times. Most of these new challenges require different kinds of treatments and analyses and these are reflected in the new typologies that AUD has adopted for its Schools and programmes in the expectation that these would help develop new modes of critique and knowledge.

As a public university, Ambedkar University Delhi is mandated to focus on research and teaching, and is guided by the vision of Dr B.R. Ambedkar who was a key architect of India’s constitution and devoted his life for social equality and justice for the marginalised. With Dr Ambedkar’s vision of bridging inequality and social justice with excellence, the University considers it to be its mission to create sustainable and effective linkages between access to and success in higher education. It is committed to creating an institutional culture characterised by humanism, a non-hierarchical and collegial environment, as well as teamwork and nurturance of creativity.

AUD has a distinct perspective on teaching-learning. It focuses on processes and on the development of an ethos that integrates the quest for knowledge with the experiential and the practical via the medium of discussions, interactions, dialogue and intensive field engagement. Courses are designed to foster critical thinking and a climate of conceptual self-questioning, so as to inculcate a spirit of rational inquiry among its students. The best of academic resources including the latest technologies are used in the classroom, and students are provided relevant skills, which match globally accepted standards of excellence. The University is cognizant of the challenges that students from diverse backgrounds face and attempts to address their struggles in a sustained way. In order to cater to diverse student needs, there are various policies and proactive strategies in place that are being refined further.

The development of curricula at AUD has been through extensive consultation with academics, leading scholars and practitioners from different disciplines across the country and abroad. The emphasis on interdisciplinarity and engaged scholarship provides interesting opportunities for pushing the boundaries of existing knowledge. This culture of engaged scholarship, where research is closely aligned with practices in the field, has led to the enrichment of the teaching-learning experience at AUD for students as well as teachers. It has promoted collaborations with other educational organisations in India and abroad, government bodies, NGOs, as well as outreach into the community, leading to a high level of recognition of the University in the few years of its existence. Most taught courses in AUD are expected to encourage the student to engage in ‘field immersion’ leading to a dialogue between theory and practice and between ‘hands-on work’ and reflection. In addition to teaching programmes located in Schools, the University also has a number of Centres on themes like early childhood learning, development practice, psychotherapy and clinical research and urban ecology and sustainability. One of the leading active Centres of the University is the Centre for Community Knowledge and I am here in my capacity as the Director of this Centre.

The Centre for Community Knowledge (CCK) in AUD is an interdisciplinary Centre studying different living communities and their cultural knowledge heritage in India.

Academically, the Centre collaborates in implementing a variety of field programmes ranging from oral history to divergent aspects of traditional knowledge. With a focus on communities at the ‘margins’, the Centre links community-led documentation of cultural heritage with scholarly rigour of analysis and research, in a public, transparent and collaborative way.

The Centre adds to the corpus of academic knowledge from cultural, anthropological and historical perspectives that reside in oral and local community knowledge and learning. This is carried out through field based research that contributes to bridging the gap between formal (codified) and oral (uncodified) knowledge.

Working in partnership with local individuals and organisations, the Centre hopes to foster a reciprocal dialogue between knowledge from the margins and the mainstream, in the absence of which local community knowledge and cultural identity will continue to lose out. As the Director of the Centre and as Dean in the University I am here to explore the possibilities of enriching teaching-learning of social sciences and humanities in my university through feasible and meaningful dialogue and collaboration. I represent a public university which is exclusively for humanities and liberal arts, quite a rare species in the context of contemporary higher education today. We need to not only preserve it but look for ideas and ways to nurture it with old commitments and new strategies.

Sanjay Kumar Sharma

 

Bio: Dr. Sanjay Kumar Sharma is Professor of History in Ambedkar University Delhi (AUD), India. He is currently Dean, Student Services and Director, Centre for Community Knowledge at AUD. He is a historian of famines, food security, relief and philanthropy in South Asia. He holds a doctorate from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, and is the author of Famine, Philanthropy and the Colonial State: North India in the Early Nineteenth Century (New Delhi, Oxford University Press, 2001). He has been a Fellow of the Asian Scholarship Foundation to study food security in India and China. He has published widely on histories of agriculture, hunger, welfare and popular responses to dearth and food shortages.

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