An Indian Christian university, the first in the Union of India, says it is pursuing a unique agenda in its goal to provide quality job-oriented education that will also meet the needs of the healthcare and social service work of the churches in the world's second most populous nation - writes Anto Akkara.
"Though we [the churches] have been pioneers in the field of education running hundreds of colleges, we could not devise courses that we needed most," said K. M. Shyamaprasad, chancellor of the recently-founded Martin Luther Christian University based at Shillong, the capital of India's northeastern Meghalaya state
"Only a university can devise new courses, while a college can only follow the syllabus prescribed by the university," Shyamaprasad told Ecumenical News International in an interview. He was a founder of the university, which was enacted by a special resolution of the legislature of the Christian-majority Meghalaya state.
Initiated by the National Lutheran Health and Medical Board of the Lutheran churches in India, the Khasi Jaintia Presbyterian Assembly based at Shillong is the local sponsor of the university according to the federal government's registration norms for a university.
The first batch of admissions started in June 2006 with more than 500 students enrolling for vocationally-oriented courses such as master's degrees in social work, counselling and psychology, and degrees in nursing, surgical and laboratory technology, hospital administration, as well as diplomas in laboratory management and paramedical care.
"Most of those who are undergoing courses in our university have been already assured of jobs," said the Rev Edwin H. Kharkongor, the university registrar.
The university admitted a fresh batch of 500 more students for the 2007 academic year, and efforts are now on to add to the available places from June 2008 due to an increasing demand from the region, where three of the seven small states have a Christian majority.
"In many ways, this is a unique university," said Shyamaprasad, who is also the director of the National Lutheran Health and Medical Board of the Lutheran churches in India, which is based at Chennai in south India.
Christians in India account for only 2.3 percent of the 1.1 billion population, but administer more than 15 percent of the country's educational and health care institutions.
Nearly half of the students get 60 percent of their fees subsidised from state scholarships, but the university is now mooting a scholarship endowment fund to take care of other needy students.
India's northeastern states constitute one of the least developed areas in the country. The university coordinates its operations from the Presbyterian church office in Shillong while the classes are held at five Christian hospitals and other centres across in Meghalaya state.
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International  is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]
The initial version of this report stated that the Martin Luther Christian University was "India's first Christian university" John R. Hudson writes to correct this: "India's first Christian university, Serampore College, was founded in 1818 and gained its charter in 1827. It is the only university authorised to grant degrees in theology in India and also offers courses in the social and natural sciences among other subjects. It was recently assessed at the highest level among Indian universities.There are numerous other Christian colleges all affiliated to Serampore University in respect of degrees in theology."
However, it has also been pointed out to us that while the Seramapore theological college did have 'university status' under the British, the secular university status was withdrawn by the Indian government decades back, and that the Martin Luther Christian University is the first Christian university approved by the federal government's University Grants Commission.
It is possible to argue that Serampore was the first Christian university in India, but that Martin Luther one is the Union of India's first Christian university.
It is Ekklesia's policy to seek to correct or clarify factual and interpretative questions when they are put to us.