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Sunder Raju | Founder | Atria University
Sunder Raju | Founder | Atria University

The world of knowledge delivery both formal and adjunct is strewn with well-intentioned experiments that have come to naught. Or, are so marginal in their adoption that mainstream educational institutional systems have gobbled it up like black holes.

This malaise is true across the spectrum regardless of whether it is a premier world-class institution or a tier-three one. The only paradigm that exists today for the next-gen is to benchmark existing schools on the basis of their pedigree and ratings. Run the rat race to qualify for the best, on metrics that have no true bearing on how prepared they will be for the world they will step into. The pedigreed institutions spin the story to claim that they have the best knowledge delivery process. When, in fact, across the swathe, they are just a filter to get the best students who have the industry to jump hoops that these institutions place the prospective students ways. All of this has led to a distancing of students from the real world.

Creating Leaders For An Emerging World

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Bleeding-edge companies are starting to ignore graduation certifications and are setting up their own metrics of measuring talent. It is a storm that is brewing. One, that will - in one swipe - knock formal knowledge delivery institutions off their pedestals. It is a question of “when not if.” This will leave in its trail a whole generation that learned yesterday's methods while the real world is on a different playing field altogether.

Atria University is attempting to address the challenge of tomorrow by stitching together disparate learnings into a single holistic process. Distilled to its core the underlying theme is “Learning to Learn.” If that is the only skill that a student takes away, I believe we would have provided a truly differentiated offering.

And, our goal is much more than that. It is creating a citizen of tomorrow. Capable of navigating the fast-paced disruptions the future portends. The devil is in the details. Programs that define tomorrow. Using technology tools to bypass the classic classroom delivery, creating learning paths that allow the multitasking youth of today to learn in that environment. Individualized learning processes. Formalizing the peer and collaborative learning. Technology framework tools that measure every learning instance continuously. Rounding the individual to be curious. Be articulate in communication – a process that in itself should be ingrained through the rigor of applying the skill ad nauseam. Identifying problem statements and finding resources to solve them. Measurement metrics that give the world a 360-degree view of the graduate, and metrics that allow the child to assess their own maturity to deliver the skill they pursue.

As I look at new age universities, we all seem to fall into the trap of creating a better version of the best universities in the world. So, we travel the world to study at Oxford, Cambridge, MIT, and to the next rung of Ivy Leagues around the world that catch our fancy. And, we aim to build better versions of them. None of them genuinely break the mold and are of scale. Haven t really understood where the problem lies? The inertia is so immense that every leader brought in cannot think beyond, and necessarily succumbs to the 1500-year-old model with just a twist of their own or the search committees have been so careful that they have not instituted a leader who will break the mold. We, at Atria University, look to be the first to do so.

Our approach to making it work

The commitment is such that intrinsically and architecturally we are built differently. A robust “frontier university” would have to be pushing the edges on multidimensional axes. The foundation of the university is the X and the Y-axis.

The Y-axis is all-important.

This will be the focus of the leader or the Director of the University. On this axis, our emphasis is on the creation of the Centers of Excellence (CoE), based on people who are passionate about an area of research & development that is of societal importance. While the University will fund the CoE, based on recommendations the CoE will have a path to self-sustainability.

Each year there will be targets for setting up new CoEs so that as the University grows, there is a commensurate growth of CoEs. Each CoE will have researchers, consultants, industry outreach trainers, and other professionals to become self-sustaining over a period of time. The goal for each Professor in the CoE is to offer themselves for no more than 12 weeks a year, for teaching ideally. They should be acquainted with the real world so that the teaching is fresh and has real-world relevance.

The CoEs are at the heart of what makes this University unique. For they are set up because we find researchers of passion. Not because we need teachers for subjects for a curriculum. Whether CoEs meet the curriculum needs momentarily or not is incidental. The only mandate to the director is that the lead for a CoE must have a passion for their area. Everything else is incidental.

The X-axis is very student-centric.

  1. There is a program Director managing all programs
  2. Each program has a program manager. It is possible that one person could be managing multiple programs
  3. The program manager is responsible for creating the curriculum, get the BOS approvals, and keeps the course work current at all times
  4. The broad contours of the manner of delivery will be defined by the program manager but will have have the following:
    • Will be a 3-week course; project-based
    • The course leader will deliver no more than 5 % of the 120 hours in a formal classroom setting
    • There will be individual efforts and student teamwork followed by delivery at the end of each 3-week session; in the form of a white paper, audiovisual, poster, or seminar, and is determined by the students
    • The process of evaluation is predetermined by the program manager and the curriculum lead
    • This makes each course unique in the way it is taught, learned, and evaluated, keeping the learner fresh and on their toes.

Student Labs & Clubs

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Yet another axis and dimension, and to my mind, a unique differentiator is what I call the play labs/clubs. Every student has to compulsorily be a member/start one and be part of it through the journey of the program. From drama to drones to nanotech, these labs and clubs are where the students will explore and discover new frontiers. It is my hope that we will make these places rich, alternative learning environments, where students will invest at least 10-20 hours per week.


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One area that is close to my heart and I am hoping that the students will themselves drive is transhumanism. In the next 5 years, I would like to see an Ethics shop run by students that has no supervision. Yet, anyone who walks, in picks up goods, pays for it as they go out, and the shop run by students makes no losses. Am willing to lose money for many years till the day students take that up as a challenge.

We would have truly created a perfect University when that dream comes true. All this is the underlying bedrock of what my generation was inspired by and lived dreaming through the movie Star Wars and all that it stood for

Sunder Raju
Founder, Atria University

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