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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," Sen said.

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 the university.

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 summit.

"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 said.

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 consul-general there.

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 (975 AD).

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 Nalanda project.

source: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/Cities/Patna/Amartya_chairs_meet_on_Nalanda_varsity/articleshow/3362543.cms
source: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/Nalanda_to_move_from_ruins_to_riches/articleshow/3029197.cms
source: http://www.bihartimes.com/newsbihar/2008/Aug/newsbihar19Aug3.html
source: http://www.freshnews.in/nalanda-university-dream-set-to-turn-real-next-year-50701

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