October 21, 2008

$50M Tata Gift Will Fund Scholarships, Research

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Cornell’s expansion around the world will soon make its way to India, thanks to the Tata Education and Development Trust’s recent endowment of $50 million. The donation is largely from the efforts of Ratan Tata ’62, whose Indian conglomerate Tata Group is one of India’s largest and most respected employers. Last year, Fortune Magazine named Tata one of the 25 most powerful people in business. A member of the University board of trustees, Tata’s knowledge and connections with India have been useful to the University.
“It’s a transformational gift,” said David Harris, the interim provost. “Across the country, you’ll find very few gifts like this from international alums.”
President David Skorton announced the donation in his State of the University Address on Friday. The endowment is split into two projects. $25 million will go towards the establishment of the Tata-Cornell Initiative in Agriculture and Nutrition and $25 million will go towards the Tata Scholarship Fund for Students from India.
In India, the scholarship fund will be integral to bringing an education to those who might not otherwise have the chance to learn in America. Zia Rahaman ’12, whose parents emigrated from India, cited the lack of opportunity for many of his friends and family to attend schools where prestige comes with a high price tag.
“College is a priority, but as far as coming to America, it’s out of most people’s realm,” said Rahaman. “The biggest obstacle is definitely the economic factor. The scholarship will enable a lot of students to cross that divide.”
Amit Joshi ’12, whose parents also emigrated from India, reiterated the economic barriers facing Indian students seeking higher education.
“They would not be able to afford $50,000 a year,” said Joshi of his cousins in India. “If they didn’t have to worry about money, it would let them focus on just getting in.”
The scholarship fund will be available for six to 10 students annually. The cause of making a Cornell education affordable is one close to the heart of Skorton. He noted his own experiences working his way through college and graduate school, and wants to keep “any person, any study” a reality for underprivileged students.
“One of my most important priorities is maintaining student access to Cornell, regardless of economic background,” said Skorton. “The endowment will allow us to hopefully attract Indian students to consider Cornell.”
The Tata-Cornell Initiative in Agriculture and Nutrition focuses on advancing research and implantation of methods for more efficient farming and higher quality nutrition.
“There’s not a lot of variety as far as food goes [in India],” said Rahaman. “Protein isn’t as easy to get, because meat is more expensive.”
Seeking to improve nutrition and agriculture in India is crucial. Alice Pell, vice provost for international relations, cited the thin line between obesity and malnutrition as being one major challenge in developing nations. The large endowment for studying this field gives scientists flexibility in their goals and research.
“This means we can look at a 15-20 year time frame for the things we are doing,” said Pell. “One of the benefits is the fair amount of work that will be India focused, which will give Cornell more of a global presence.”
The next step is forming governing committees for the projects, headed by Skorton and Tata. With global markets worldwide affected by economic downturns, and many universities questioning the exorbitant spending projects ubiquitous among institutions of higher education, the Tata endowment enforces the University’s goal not to retreat from need-based financial aid. Skorton emphasized the importance of keeping a Cornell education accessible to all in his State of the University Address.
“This visionary gift sets a new course that befits the history of our partnership with India and the needs of the new century,” said Skorton in a prepared statement.
Doris Davis, associate provost for admissions and enrollment, reiterated the value in the endowment.
“[Tata’s] commitment to supporting the goals and priorities that Cornell has established allows Cornell to continue to be a preeminent university,” said Davis in an e-mail statement. “Tata’s gift will help Cornell enroll deserving students from India; we are committed to enrolling students from all over the world.”