Innovator and education activist Sonam Wangchuk, who is said to have inspired Bollywood star Aamir Khan’s character in 3 Idiots, aims to set up a skill-based alternative university at a cost of Rs 800 crore in the Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir. He hopes to raise a total amount of Rs 7 crore, of which 70% has already been met, for the first phase by 26 January, through crowd funding. At an event in New Delhi, Wangchuk called upon the people to contribute for the Himalayan Institute of Alternatives (HIAL), which would be spread over 200 acres in Phyang valley.

The HIAL initiative was launched by Wangchuk last year and is aimed at providing a more contextual and experiential education in the mountains. When asked about his vision behind the alternative university, Wangchuk told The Sunday Guardian, “The long term vision is not just for the mountains. The mission is for the mountains, but the vision is for a change in the way we look at higher education. We have somehow made it into a ritual that nobody enjoys or even benefits from.” This initiative, he said, is to provide education in the mountains that makes sense rather than aping the western education system that was designed during the times of the Industrial Revolution and may not serve the 21st century agenda.

“The model of education we are reeling under is based on the western idea of unlimited needs that have to be fulfilled, whereas the Indian tradition, be it yoga or vipassana, the technology was not to produce more in factories but to reduce desires,” he added.

Wangchuk has already been changing the face of education in the mountains for more than 25 years with the Students’ Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakh (SECMOL). Talking about SECMOL at the occasion, Wangchuk said, “We have been running for students rejected by the system. In the SECMOL campus we try to find solutions for the mountain people just like the ice stupa, which started at this very school to solve the water shortage in the region. Our first crowd-funding campaign was to make ice stupas possible.  That’s how we conceived the idea of an alternative university.” The engineer-turned educationist won the prestigious Rolex Award Enterprise in Hollywood in November 2016 for the ice stupas and has donated the cash award of Rs 1 crore for the foundation of the alternative university.  He appealed to the nation to help raise half of the Rs 14 crore that will be needed to start the first school of the HIAL alternative university. The other half is expected to be raised from the corporate’s CSR initiatives. For the first phase of the university, Wangchuk hopes to raise Rs 150 crore by 2020.

HIAL will have a live lab for every school of academic study in the university. Wangchuk said, “In Phyang we have been setting up farm stays for women who are left alone with young people leaving for Leh for economic opportunities which is slowly leading the villages to collapse. By now some 45,000 families have started farm stays where farming is an activity that tourists engage in. We have started test courses for sustainable solar powered mud structures and the university will be made by the school of sustainable architecture.” The university will have two wings—a skill development section and also classes having the provision of degrees.

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