"Born in India, but for the world"

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Vivek Mehra

Vivek Mehra describes the foundation of Vikramshila, which aims to "embrace academics of all nations"

Tell us a little about your background and qualifications…

Over 20 years of my career have been spent in supporting higher education. Sixteen of these were spent in publishing research.

I’m the former CEO and Managing Director of SAGE Publications India, a top-tier publishing house well known for its books, journals, and digital products. I also served as the chairman of the same company for a year. 

Over the years, I have been recognised for my work through many awards. Govt of Maharashtra conferred me with the “Vijayshree” award in 1994 for simplifying complex dehydrating technology, ensuring a brighter future for small-scale farmers.

In 2019, I was recognized for my management & leadership skills by the New Delhi Institute of Management with the Business Excellence and Innovative Best Practices Academia Award.

Before that, in 2016, Sharda University conferred me the Sharda Top Rankers Excellence Award for Visionary Leadership

I started my career in the textile industry by getting a Bachelor’s degree in Textile Technology. This was followed by an MBA in marketing and two degrees in Intellectual Property Law. Both these were from premium institutions in the USA. On my return I tried my hand at several different industries but had mixed success.

From each of my failures I learnt what I could or couldn’t do. India in the 90s had few opportunities for my qualifications and even fewer for struggling bootstrapped entrepreneurs. I was perhaps a renegade at that time but today I would be known as a serial start-up entrepreneur! I finally ended up finding my calling in publishing. It is in this role that I studied for a Post Graduate Diploma (and Certificate) in Law.

I am currently pursuing my PhD in Management from an Indian University. I also serve as the honorary Council Member and Member of Board Studies for the Association of Learned & Professional Society Publishers’ (ALPSP) journal, Learned Publishing. I’m currently a Board of Studies member at the School of Business, Public Policy and Social Entrepreneurship at Ambedkar University Delhi and is also a part of the Quality Assurance Committee at the same university.

I have served as the Vice President of the Association of Publishers in India and am on the committee of CII and FICCI on IPR, Copyright and Higher Education. Passion for learning drives me constantly.

What inspired you to pursue a career in publishing and scholarly communications?

My career in publishing began as a failed author. When I heard about the prize money for a Booker award I was convinced this was money for jam. I wrote a novel, then spent a year and all my savings pursuing publishers to get my book out. I even travelled to London to meet with some high-flying literary agents. But of course, all of it was in vain. 

When reality sank in I turned to skills I possessed. India was at that time just becoming a powerhouse for outsourcing. I took up a freelance assignment as a language editor for an Australian technical training company. I then became a trainer with them. I was later recruited by an MNC academic publisher. For close to two decades now I have been in academic publishing. This has helped me understand the landscape.

What is the background to the foundation of Vikramshila?

In my stint as a representative of a foreign publisher in India, I was exposed to the workings, challenges, and possible opportunities in academic publishing. My focus was India as it today has more universities and institutes than even the USA. While the going was good as a representative there came a point when we had to part ways.

Vikramshila is a mission to help India and the developing world break the stranglehold that Western Publishers continue to enjoy on global academic publishing. While they have been in India for decades, their focus is clearly to sell products created for their primary markets; India was where the sold their remaindered stocks. Some publishers did invest in building Indian publishing but after a point they returned to their roots, growing their own portfolio of Western focussed content and publishing.

I can say this with confidence simply because I was equally a part of the system I am confident of challenging now. India and the developing world have actually handed over control of content taught in Higher Education establishments to foreign publishers. These foreign publishers feign to have domestic programs but when you peek behind the curtains you see that what is touted as Indian or Asian is just a rehash or toned-down version of content published in the Western world. Local Indian authors are selectively published, and most have their first ISBN from a foreign location.

The result is that India’s intellectual capital is not credited; the foreign ISBN or ISSN identifies this as foreign intellectual property. While India got its freedom in 1947, the damage done by Lord Macaulay’s move to introduce Western Education in 1835 continues to influence Indian academia in thinking publishing abroad is validation and prestige.

To be fair to Indian academics and those of the developing world, there never was a serious attempt to create an eco-system that would help locals believe in their publishing. Copyright violations were aplenty and for India, a nation that once struggled to feed its masses, taking shortcuts was easier than going through the pain of draconian print laws that were formed by the British but never abandoned even after independence.

The India of today though is different. As far back as 2015 I had predicted that the next revolution in HE for the masses would come from the East.

Please describe the intended activities of Vikramshila and what it aims to achieve…

Vikramshila gets its name from the third largest university in Ancient India; a university that was destroyed simply because the invader didn’t want such a treasure house to exist. Mission Vikramshila is to take the first step in building a culture of disseminating local research for the people who will want it the most.

Vikramshila is born in India but is for the world. It is about truly discarding the barriers of discrimination or rather market segmentation where content for the Western world rules the roost.

Vikramshila will launch a series of open access products where the focus will remain equal opportunity. We will redefine the parameters of transparency, speed, and costs to help academics across the world. Perhaps the single biggest contribution we strive to make is to ensure India’s reliance on foreign publishers is challenged; perhaps even broken.

In India, there is a mission known as “Atmanirbhar Bharat”, which translates to "self-reliant India". Vikramshila aspires to be a contributor to the transformation of India into a "knowledge superpower" and a global leader. Mission Vikramshila is an honest attempt to represent every research scholar who feels she isn’t given a fair chance to present her case for publishing her research.

Vikramshila will embrace academics of all nations who feel they need an alternate to Western Publishers with their exorbitant costs, opaque publishing processes and market segmentation practices.

What are your long-term hopes for the organisation – and, in a wider sense, the scholarly communications scene in India and beyond?

There is little value in predicting the long term because we live in a very dynamic world. The Internet democratized a lot of monopolies, and few saw this coming in the 80s.

In many ways this democratising helped research. But there still remain barriers to disseminating especially to developing nations. Mission Vikramshila besides providing a cost effective and transparent platform to academics will in the medium term be able to provide content to students in a manner that puts the student first. With India’s large numbers of academics who still struggle to get published, Mission Vikramshila will open doors to wider dissemination. For a nation relying heavily on Western content, and thus imbibing Western thought, Mission Vikramshila will be a pathway to traditions, learnings and practices that work directly for the locals.

The East was where learning first began, the West where it grew, but somehow Eastern thought was put on the back burner as we were made to believe we were inferior in our ways. It is time to set the balance right; it is time for nations like India and continents like Africa to publish their traditional learnings. We need an alternate pathway to research our own traditions even as we learn about the advancements in the West. Mission Vikramshila is a commitment to staying this course.

You sound like a very busy person, but do you have any interesting hobbies or pastimes you’d like to tell us about?

One can never bentoo busy to pursue one’s passion. What began as a therapy to manage rising blood pressure is now an integral part of my daily routine; Ayurveda, Yoga and Pranayam. Cooking is a stress buster and researching ancient lost recipes is a passion. I am teaching myself the art of slow cooking; some dishes are cooked overnight on a bed of coals and yes I am mad enough to wake up at odd hours to stir the pot.

India’s educational needs keep me up at night. Solutions don’t exist but they are not difficult to find. Perhaps you could say the quest to find solutions is now a hobby that I am hoping to make a full-time career of.

Website: https://www.vikramshilaedu.in/

Video introduction: https://www.vikramshilaedu.in/browse