Nalanda University dream set to turn real next year
Compiled by Tipitaka Network Newsdesk, Sunday, August 17, 2008
Updated: Saturday, August 23, 2008
The dream of a global university, which will epitomize the rise of Asia
on the world stage, will move closer to reality at the forthcoming East
Asia Summit in December when 16 Asian nations are set to approve a
report for setting up the Nalanda University in India.
"We have drafted a proposal. The report of the Mentor Group will be
finalized by the time EA Summit is held in Bangkok in December,"
Amartya Sen, Nobel-winning economist and the head of the 10-member
Nalanda Mentor Group, told reporters after the fourth meeting of the
group convened by India's Ministry of External Affairs. The meeting,
which lasted two days, was held at Hyderabad House in New Delhi.
The mentors include Lord Meghnad Desai, N.K. Singh, deputy
chairman of Bihar's Planning Commission, Professor Sugata Bose of
Harvard University and Professor Wang Banwei of Beijing University.
"It will be followed by an act of the Indian parliament that
will formalize the establishment of the university," Sen said.
"The foundation stone for the university will be laid sometime in
February next year," he said. The university will, however, get into
the business of teaching by 2010, he said.
The Nalanda University will be located in the Indian state of Bihar at
the site of the ancient centre of Buddhist learning that acted as a
magnet for scholars and intellectuals from all over Asia.
In its heyday, the ancient Nalanda University, one of the world's first
residential universities founded some 1,500 years ago, boasted of over
10,000 students and 2,000 teachers coming from Korea, Japan, China,
Tibet, Indonesia, Persia and Turkey.
The university, in its modern incarnation, will have six faculties
dealing with Buddhist studies, comparative religion and philosophy;
language and literature; development and management; international
studies and relations; ecology and environment and historical studies.
The mentor group met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and former president
A.P.J. Abdul Kalam and discussed with them issues relating to the
proposed university. "The prime minister was very supportive. Kalam has
agreed to be a visitor to the university and play the role of advisor,"
The group also met Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, who urged members
to initiate steps to kick start the academic session from next year.
Kumar also suggested that around 200 villages linked with the ancient school
should also be linked with the proposed university to instil a feeling
of ownership among the local people.
The group discussed the legal and financial framework for setting up
the university and agreed that funds would be invited from various
countries. The group is looking at an initial endowment of anywhere
from $250 million to $1 billion, a modest start in an era when Harvard
University's endowment stands at $35 billion.
While India as a host country would provide a large endowment in the
form of a grant till the university becomes sustainable on its own, it
will also encourage public-private partnership. Singapore, Thailand,
China, Japan and South Korea are also expected to fund the university.
The mentor group also discussed the appointment of the inaugural rector for
an initial period of five years to oversee the project. A team of
experts and an executive council will be appointed to work with the
inaugural rector and advise on academic and administrative aspects of
Linking the idea of the Nalanda University with the rise of Asia on the
world stage, Sen waxed eloquent about the university marking the high
point of an Asian renaissance that is unfolding.
"It's a global university and it's also an Asian university. It's a
reflection of the rise of Asia in the world and goes back to days when
Asia was dominant," he said while underlining the unique nature of the
proposed university, the first project of its kind that will involves
collaboration between 16 Asian nations who are part of the East Asia
"The destruction of the Nalanda University in the 12th century
coincided with the establishment of Oxford University," he said.
"Nalanda is the only educational establishment where the
Chinese went for higher education," he said.
The Bihar government has already acquired the land and is planning to
expand infrastructure in and around Nalanda, said N.K. Singh, a former
member of the Planning Commission and member of the mentor group. "A
six-lane highway is being constructed and there are plans to forge
direct air links between Nalanda and key capitals in East Asia," Singh
Earlier, the group had held its meetings at Singapore and Tokyo, and the
third meeting, held in New York, was hosted by Neelam Deo, India's
At the third meeting, the group decided on the six faculties for the
proposed post-graduate research university. It also decided to select
an eminent academician to be the inaugural rector for an initial
appointment period of five years to oversee the project.
The oldest extant universities in the world -- in continuous operation
-- date back to around 1200 years ago, and they are all outside the
United States. The University of Al Karaouine in Fez, Morocco (founded
859 AD), is listed as the world's oldest, continually-operating,
degree-granting university, followed by Cairo's Al Azhar University
European universities all came in the next millennium with Bologna
(1088), Paris (1150), and Oxford (1167) listed as the oldest. Nalanda
preceded all of them, having been founded around 450 AD under the
patronage of the Gupta emperors, although some records date it back to
500 BC around the time of Buddha. It functioned till 1193 when it was
sacked by the armies of Bakhtiyar Khilji.
But now, with the economic weight of the world shifting again to the
east, countries in the region appear keen to also gain intellectual
heft. Although India, China, Japan and Singapore are the prime movers,
even Australia and New Zealand are said to be keen to contribute to the