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COMMENTS PRINT
They have built industrial empires in an unlikely place: small-town India.The stories of these self-made entrepreneurs are unique. So are the challenges they face.
TV Mahalingam, Sriram Srinivasan, Ajita Shashidhar, Sudipto Dey
Sriram Srinivasan
TV Mahalingam
Ajita Shashidhar
Sudipto Dey

Vellore

  • G Viswanathan: Founder-Chancellor,VIT University
  • Area of operation: Education
  • No of students: 15,000

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G Viswanathan is a rare politician.He retired from politics. That too at the peak political age of 58. These days, he’s recognised more as the man behind VIT University (formerly called Vellore Institute of Technology). Founded 25 years back, the university has about 15,000 students on its rolls today.

Viswanathan became an educationist by chance. As a member of the Tamil Nadu assembly in 1984, he lobbied with the then chief minister MG Ramachandran for an engineering college in his hometown, Vellore. The government didn’t have money to start one. MGR, instead, suggested that Viswanathan do it on his own. After all, the government was opening up education to private players. “Till then, I had no inclination to start a college,”  he says.

Many advised him to start an institution in any of the top cities. But he preferred Vellore. Four years after it was set up, the institute gained visibility. That was when his students almost swept the University of Madras ranks. It took a few more years for the institution to be financially stable.

 
 
The state didn’t have funds. So Viswanathan started a college that now has students from 45 nations and tie-ups with 80 global schools.
 
 

Year 2001 proved to be the tipping point, with VIT becoming a deemed university. Since then, the number of students appearing for its entrance examinations has grown steeply. Last year, over 140,000 students nationwide competed for its 2,000 engineering seats. It is also increasingly making it to the top 10 engineering colleges in media lists and has tie-ups with over 80 foreign institutions. 

Sekar Viswanathan, one of the Pro-Chancellors and son of the founder, has a way to indicate the VIT attraction. He says there isn’t a room available in Vellore during counselling for engineering seats. TCS recruited over 1,000 of its students last year in one scoop. What started as predominantly a college for Tamil Nadu students is now as international as it gets. There are about 1,500 students from 45 countries, including nearly 500 from China (who are here to learn computers and English). 

Such numbers do require quite a lot of infrastructure. And GV Selvam, a Pro-Chancellor and another son of Viswanathan, is proud of VIT’s record. “It’s like running a big city,” he says. Sample this: there are 17 hostels for accommodating 10,000 students, one full-fledged bank, four ATMs, a 30,000 sq ft hospital with 21 beds, an indoor and an outdoor stadium. Besides all this, the university campus has also been given a
separate pincode.

If all goes according to plan, Vellore will continue to be VIT’s biggest centre for years to come. It doesn’t have plans to expand into other geographies except for an upcoming centre in Chennai. The Vellore centre can be expanded to house 25,000 students. That will happen eventually. 

Meanwhile, Viswanathan is keen on building VIT’s strengths in research and entrepreneurship. Not bad for someone who hoped the government would start an institute.  

COMMENTS PRINT
They have built industrial empires in an unlikely place: small-town India.The stories of these self-made entrepreneurs are unique. So are the challenges they face.
TV Mahalingam, Sriram Srinivasan, Ajita Shashidhar, Sudipto Dey
Sriram Srinivasan
TV Mahalingam
Ajita Shashidhar
Sudipto Dey
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