Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Brown University's Aim: Create Intellectual Entrepreneurs

Christina Paxson, president of Brown University in the US, explained her plans to rejuvenate the college

Published: Jun 18, 2014 06:56:44 AM IST
Updated: Jun 18, 2014 11:58:11 AM IST
Brown University's Aim: Create Intellectual Entrepreneurs
Christina Paxson: Looking for creative answers to traditional problems

Christina Paxson, president of the 250-year-old Brown University in the US, was in India recently to forge deeper associations with Indian institutions. Her interest in the country is obvious: Indians are the second-largest constituent of international students (after the Chinese) at Brown, an Ivy League college most famous for its liberal arts education. Forbes India caught up with Paxson, who explained her plans to rejuvenate the college without having to establish campuses overseas

Q. Funding problems have impacted the financial position of US universities after the slowdown. How is Brown dealing with this? And how does it impact financial aid for students?

Our revenue streams are mainly from tuition [fees from students], endowments [from well-wishers], research funds [from the US government and foundations] and current-use gifts [for immediate use]. Like other universities, our endowment funds declined after the financial crisis in 2008. We have since been trying to diversify our revenue streams.

Only in the middle of this year have we managed to get back to the funding levels at the beginning of the crisis. We have about $3 billion now. The funding problem had reduced our ability to offer financial aid to students in need. At the under-graduate level, about 15 percent of our students are international. Only a quarter of these receive financial aid—but we hope to be able to grow this to 45 percent over the next few years to be at par with aid received by US students. We are keen to attract the best talent from around the world. Our goal is to be need-blind for these students.

Q. How are you planning to find new revenue streams?

We are creating new programmes reaching out to newer students, for example, mid-career professionals. We now offer a high-quality, blended MBA programme with IE Business School of Spain. This cohort of about 30 students spends time at the campuses in Madrid and Brown, and at their workplaces, while getting focussed lessons online. Similarly, we are working on a health care leadership programme for professionals from that industry. We are also building strong connections with corporations to monetise our research. The number of patents filed by our researchers is going up rapidly.

Q. Does this mean that you will reduce support for basic sciences?
No, we have to continue with basic sciences. We will push the US government to support it too.

Q. Brown is famous for its liberal arts education. Yet, in the US, there seems to be growing emphasis on STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) studies.
I think there is incredible value to liberal arts. At Brown, students are free to take courses across the spectrum—I meet students studying a variety of combinations, like neurosciences and music. The idea is to create ‘intellectual entrepreneurs’—creative people who are able to find new answers, not just do technical things. I think most of today’s problems, for instance global warming, need an approach that is not just scientific. It has to be about people. We have a broad recognition of the importance of liberal arts, especially for cultivating creativity in young minds.

(This story appears in the 27 June, 2014 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)