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Tata gifts Cornell University $ 50 million

By Dharam Shourie in New York
Last updated on: October 20, 2008 13:44 IST
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Noted industrialist and philanthropist Ratan Tata has gifted $ 50 million to his alma mater, Cornell University in New York, to help recruit top Indian students to support joint research projects with Indian universities in agriculture and nutrition.

Tata graduated from Cornell in 1959.

The gift from the Tata Trusts -- a group of philanthropic organisations run by Tata, chairman of the business conglomerate Tata Sons Ltd -- will allow Cornell to establish and expand partnerships with Indian scientists that build on its strength in applied agriculture research.

The endowment will also be used to set up a scholarship fund to bring more Indian students, who may be discouraged by Cornell's price tag, to the university. The gift could eventually help support as many as 25 Indian undergraduate and graduate students at a time.

The endowment consists of $ 25 million to establish the Tata-Cornell Initiative in Agriculture and Nutrition, which will contribute to advances in nutrition and agriculture for India and $ 25 million for the Tata Scholarship Fund for students from India, to help attract more of the best and brightest talent to Cornell.

Tata was named one of the 30 most respected CEOs in the world by Barron's magazine last year, and the Tata Group was awarded the Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy in 2007.

Cornell President David Skorton announced the gift during his state of the university address Friday last, calling it "one of the most generous endowments ever received from an international benefactor by an American university."

The Tata Group is one of India's oldest and largest conglomerates, operating in seven business sectors and employing around 320,000 people.

The Tata Education and Development Trust promotes the acquisition of knowledge by Indian youth in leading global academic institutions and aids research in agriculture and nutrition.

"This visionary gift sets a new course that befits the history of our partnership with India and the needs of the new century. With the Tata Scholarship Fund for Students from India, Cornell will be able to welcome many more of the best and brightest Indian talents in a manner that would make Ezra Cornell proud, that is regardless of their financial circumstances," Skorton said.

Building on the remarkable achievements in India throughout the better part of the past century, the Tata-Cornell Initiative in Agriculture and Nutrition will increase collaboration among Indian and Cornell scientists and students in nutrition and agriculture to improve the livelihoods and nutritional status of the rural poor in India, he added.

The goal of the new agriculture initiative is to improve the productivity, sustainability and profitability of India's food system, with the aim of reducing poverty and malnutrition, said Alice Pell, Cornell vice provost for international relations.

Record high food prices, dietary changes, climate change and increasing energy costs underscore how changes in the food system affect the poor.

Although Cornell already has numerous successful public-private partnerships in both agriculture and nutrition in India, the gift will extend existing relationships and permit the development of new initiatives, Pell said.

Cornell's long-standing expertise in international agriculture and nutrition will receive a significant boost through Tata's gift, Pell said, adding that her office will work with an advisory board, to be co-chaired by Tata and Skorton, to decide the type and scope of initiatives to be undertaken.

"Although the Tata funds will be used to address problems in rural India, the gift will also help us learn how universities can better contribute to development and poverty reduction in other parts of the world," Pell said.

As a longtime faculty member who has worked in these areas, Pell also expressed gratitude for the 'fantastic opportunities' that such a gift will provide for students and researchers.

The $ 25 million scholarship fund will help scholarships to between six and 10 students annually, depending on level of need, and could ultimately support up to 25 Tata scholars at Cornell at any one time.

The university's entire endowment for international financial aid is about $ 1.5 million per year, which covers about a dozen new students a year from outside the US, Canada and Mexico, and is often allocated for students from specific parts of the world, according to Doris Davis, Cornell's associate provost for admissions and enrolment.

After being in India meeting prospective students last year, Davis recalled: "I met so many bright, talented students who would make such a contribution to Cornell. Now I can go back and tell the Cornell story with this added information -- not only is Cornell committed to admitting students from India, but now we have the resources to help students who want to attend Cornell with their financial needs."
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Dharam Shourie in New York
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