Mahendra Singh Dhoni, captain of the Indian cricket team, has spent much of his summer leading a campaign against the allegedly aggressive behaviour of England’s Jimmy Anderson.
But Mr Dhoni, one of India’s biggest celebrities, as his nearly 3 million Twitter followers will attest, bats for another cause beyond fair play. India’s Amity University has signed him up as a “brand ambassador” and he plays with its name emblazoned on his bat.
There is more evidence of the scale of Amity’s ambition: it is searching for a site in London for a 5,000-student campus and is interested in seeking partnerships with English universities “in need of funds to sustain themselves”, said Atul Chauhan, Amity’s chancellor.
Amity – providing higher education in India since 1995 and with university status there since 2005 – has seven campuses in India with a total of about 100,000 students, along with international campuses in London, Singapore, New York, California, Mauritius, Romania and, the latest, in Dubai. It also runs schools in India.
Amity is owned by the non-profit foundation of the AKC Group of Companies, which operates petrochemical, technology and pharmaceutical firms, among others. Mr Chauhan is CEO of the AKC Group, in addition to his Amity role. His father, Ashok, founded the AKC Group in Germany after studying for his PhD there, as well as founding Amity.
Amity’s vision is one of “how we can benefit humanity and how we can benefit the youth of the world”, said Mr Chauhan, who graduated with a joint degree in engineering and finance from University College London and the London School of Economics. “That is why our foundation is able to invest so much up front to build world-class infrastructure and get the best faculty together; because we don’t have short-term financial interests,” he told Times Higher Education.
He described Amity as “very research-focused…Normally private universities are very teaching oriented”.
The Times of India recently reported that of all India’s universities, Amity registered the second-highest number of patents in 2012-13 (140). That was exceeded only by the combined total of the state-funded Indian Institutes of Technology.
There has been controversy along the way. Ashok Chauhan was charged in Germany with fraud in 2000 and the Frankfurt prosecutor’s office unsuccessfully sought his extradition from India, according to reports in the Indian press.
According to his son, however, “the courts dropped all the charges and the German government even paid all the court costs”.
Amity promotes itself heavily through advertising, including via its sponsorship of two Indian Premier League cricket teams.
Atul Chauhan said of the Dhoni sponsorship: “We like his image. He stands for…a lot of the values we are trying to inculcate in our students: of honesty, of leadership, of success.” But the deal “came from his people also; he wanted to be associated with a university, with an education organisation”, he added.
Amity set up in London in 2009, and is based in Bedford Square. Its overseas campuses mean Amity students from India “can do a semester in London, a semester in New York, a semester in Singapore”, said Mr Chauhan.
Until recently, its London campus had been offering management and business courses under a franchise agreement with Anglia Ruskin University.
Lesley Dobree, deputy vice-chancellor of Anglia Ruskin, said in a statement that “we have amicably terminated our relationship with Amity University as the courses were not attracting enough students”. However, Mr Chauhan said that Amity was interested in seeking validation agreements, rather than franchises.
The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has allowed Amity to name itself Amity University [IN] London, despite the fact that Amity does not have taught degree-awarding powers, the key prerequisite for the standard process of gaining university title in the UK.
Mr Chauhan said: “The UK government saw our research capabilities that we have across the world. It is a bit of a flip thing where we have got the word university first and then later on we will apply for degree-awarding powers. I think we feel very obliged to the government that they have given us this permission.”
A BIS spokeswoman said that Amity had applied for permission to use the word “university” in its trading name under the Company, Limited Liability Partnership and Business Names (Sensitive Words and Expressions) Regulations 2009. “The most important [factor] to establish is that the applicant is a genuine university in its country of origin,” she added.
Mr Chauhan said the ultimate aim in London is to offer a wide range of courses and to expand to 5,000 students.
“We have come to the realisation that it’s very tough to find large pieces of land [in London],” he said. But “the mayor’s office are helping us and various government departments are helping us”, he added.
Mr Chauhan also cited the example of UCL’s proposed merger with the smaller Institute of Education. “If there are other institutions which are in need of funds to sustain themselves, we are a foundation and would be very happy to work with them,” he said.