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Choosing Ashoka In Pandemonium

By Ananya Gupta, Undergraduate Batch of 2022

This time last year, I had been fervently emailing the Outreach team and several Ashokan seniors back and forth, in attempts to gauge the academics, infrastructure and campus life of this unconventional and exciting University in Sonipat. It’s been a year for the batch of 2022 and our lives have made terrifyingly swift strides towards difficult times. A report in the MIT Technology Review explains how the current methods of social distancing are simply “flattening the curve”, which is slowing the spread of the virus to prevent overloading of healthcare systems.

This brings our collective fears to the foyer, the virus will need to exist (at a low level) in the population for a long period of time. This is until enough people have had it and become immune to it or a vaccine is invented, whichever happens earlier. A study by the Imperial College of London proposes fluctuating quarantine, suggesting that strict measures are put in place every time the ICU numbers peak and laxed every time they fall. In this model, quarantine is maintained two-thirds of the time over a minimum of eighteen months. Eighteen months? The inference is that for every two months of quarantine, we get one month of normal life.

The implementation of such a model, the most viable one in current circumstances, will mean that our methods of work, interaction and education are bound to change in irreversible ways. Most of us at Ashoka will find it impossible to travel to and fro from campus every two months, because of the risks of travel as well as the cost it incurs. Considering this, online education will presumably continue into the monsoon semester. How does this impact Ashoka’s admissions process? Choosing Ashoka under normal circumstances was also a leap of faith for many of us, will Ashoka be able to stand its ground when a global pandemic catapults towards it?

In the realm of online education, how is Ashoka any different from other Indian universities? Ashoka heavily advertises the academic culture on campus, from an intellectually stimulating, discourse driven classroom to frequent talks and colloquiums. Classrooms during COVID-19 have transformed into recorded lectures or are coping with the logistical horrors of interaction heavy zoom meetings. Talks and colloquiums seem like a distant possibility, if one at all.

Online classes also mean that students do not get access to college infrastructure. This refers to both physical infrastructure and supporting incentives like the orientation week, the cohort program and the RAs, which sets Ashoka apart from other Indian college experiences. There is also the unquantifiable and ineffable feeling of existing in a liberal environment – feeling secure enough to stay out of our rooms at odd hours and living devoid of patronizing dress codes and codes of conduct. All of this remains compromised in the current situation.

Owing to the COVID-19 outbreak, several Universities which applicants commonly consider in comparison to Ashoka, like Delhi University and Christ University have also adopted an online lecturing model. As the country’s economy spirals and there are mammoth changes in Ashoka’s college experience, applicants may not leap towards a relatively hefty tuition fee (considering residence and meal fee is exempted for a stay at home semester), especially when most other colleges have a similar online learning approach. In an environment of widespread panic, applicants are also more likely to lean towards institutions that occupy popular imagination and bring familiarity to the table.

For students interested particularly in a liberal arts education, the panic around international travel may propel them to consider Ashoka, the Indian alternative. And if universities across the globe also continue with online education, as is most likely, Indian students will struggle to manage time zones for live online meetings. However, it is also quite possible that several universities relax their admission criterion in light of the tumultuous COVID-19 period, inviting more applications. This combined with cheaper flight tickets and cheaper living expenses (stemming from sinking world economies), can largely incentivize students to study abroad too.

Ashoka also benefits strongly from the level of pre-admissions engagement it commits to. The possibility of Young Scholars Programme getting cancelled this year disengages applicants for both the current and subsequent years. The infeasibility of meet ups post-admissions, which acquaints the applicant with their peers and strongly uplifts acceptance, is also a setback.

The most obvious setback in admissions is the outreach team’s inability to travel and conduct coffee table conversations, parent FAQs and personal interviews which they are looking to substitute with webinars and WhatsApp reachability. This fails to have the same impact on applicants and their families. It lacks in both, the illusion of a personal and accessible relationship that human contact forges and alludes to lesser physical and capital effort on part of the University.

When we witness the list of issues that can backtrack Ashokan admissions, online substitution doesn’t seem to suffice. The admissions team needs to diversify its approach to make sure that the quality of admissions remains unwavered. With resources like ACWB, CWC and OLS being made available to students online, the administration seems to be moving in the right direction. Nonetheless, we still require a lot of concentrated and prolonged effort to make ‘Ashoka Online’ even a semblance of what the Ashokan college experience really is.

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