Saturday, March 28, 2015

New Chancellor, Nalanda Board Likely by July 2015

The government is getting ready to appoint a new chancellor of Nalanda University and may even move to reconstitute its governing board after Nobel laureate Amartya Sen left in a huff a few weeks ago.

Sources said MEA and the President's office received the report (minutes) of the January 13 meeting of the university's governing board only last week. The meeting had put forward a choice of either an extension to Professor Sen as chancellor, or to constitute a new panel. The government may have given Sen an extension, but he called it quits alleging government interference in academia. MEA had said that Sen was "jumping the gun".

The Nalanda Mentor Group said they had sent the relevant portions of the 'minutes' to MEA and the President, but both decided to wait for the full report and not take a decision based on excerpts.

Sources said a new chancellor will be appointed by July when Sen's term ends. The government may also reconstitute the governing board. The Nalanda Act, which was passed in 2010, stipulated that the governing board be appointed within a year. However, the board is yet to be formally constituted which, source said, is a violation of the Act.

For the past four years, the Nalanda Mentor Group has been functioning as the governing board. All this while, the government extended the provision of the Nalanda Act on the governing board every year on the ground that its constitution was taking a "lot of time". On the fourth occasion, it was extended indefinitely. The Nalanda Mentor Group wanted to amend the Nalanda Act to giving itself the power to nominate members on the new board. The UPA government refused to push through the amendment.

The Modi government reportedly contacted other contributing governments to seek fresh nominations to reconstitute the governing board. The current board took umbrage at this. Board member Sugata Bose (TMC MP) said in an interview, "We discovered that the government had written letters to four or five foreign governments seeking to reconstitute the board. And nobody on the board knew. You might call it a lack of courtesy, but it is still in violation of the Nalanda University Act (2010)."

A new board, said sources on condition of anonymity, may also reconsider the vice-chancellor's appointment. Gopa Sabharwal is vice chancellor-designate of the university and will have to be formally appointed. Sabharwal's name was forwarded, along with Pratap Bhanu Mehta and Ramchandra Guha, by Sen to then foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee in 2009, and she was chosen. The Nalanda Act was passed only in 2010.

When questioned, Sen had hotly defended the appointment in several interviews. But the appointment has been a source of controversy with questions raised about her capabilities as well as her salary, which many have objected to, including the CAG.

In an interview, Sugata Bose said the Nalanda Act contained a "bad clause" which should have been amended. The Nalanda board recommended a set of amendments to the Nalanda Act in 2013, which did not go through, largely because of sustained opposition from various arms of the government, including MEA and ministry of finance. The proposed amendments were: the Nalanda Mentor Group (NMG) should recommend five academicians to the new board, the government should bear the operating cost of the university in perpetuity and retrospective regularization of the salaries of vice chancellor, Gopa Sabharwal and Anjana Sharma. By this time, these salaries had been questioned by CAG's informal reports.

MEA, which has overseen the project since its inception, has had simmering problems with the Nalanda project for several years now. The issues ranged from the constitution of the governing board to transparency and accountability. In 2013, the government decided to probe more closely the operations of the Nalanda University project, because MEA was coming under fire for the repeated delays. After numerous consultations, the government decided to appoint an official who would be involved in the administration of the project. The Nalanda administration, which was functioning out of New Delhi, was persuaded to move to Rajgir only in 2014.

Government sources said the real hero of the Nalanda project is actually Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, who, they said, went out of his way to be the facilitating state government. But in recent years, Nitish had complained to New Delhi about mounting problems with the project. Former President APJ Abdul Kalam, who in many ways was the brain behind the university project, refused to be the first Visitor in 2011, saying he believed the job should belong to the President of India.
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Land Rider for IIM in Gaya Near Nalanda University

A site selection panel for IIM Bihar has put its weight behind Gaya with certain riders even as the human resource development (HRD) ministry was hesitant on the choice of location of the premier B-school.

The committee headed by Amarjeet Sinha, additional secretary in the ministry, visited possible sites in Patna and Gaya two months ago. In its report, the committee is learnt to have favoured Gaya with the condition that the state government has to commit that the land being offered there does not involve any dispute and that it would provide a temporary campus in the city, sources told The Telegraph.

The Bihar government has been pushing for Gaya as the site for the IIM. It has identified land on the campus of Magadh University for the proposed institute, which would start functioning from the coming academic session with five other new IIMs in the states of Odisha, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Punjab and Himachal Pradesh.

The Educational Consultants India Ltd (EdCIL) has detailed project reports on the proposed institutions outlining their functioning and future expansion. The ministry would soon seek cabinet approval for these institutions after which the process of appointment of directors will be started.

The ministry was not ready to accept Gaya initially. At a meeting on October 28 last year, higher education secretary Satyanarayan Mohanty had asked the state government to find out a site in Patna. The reason the Centre was not keen on Gaya was that the airport there was operational seasonally. One of the factors to select a site for institutions like IIT, IIM or a Central University is that the place should have regular flight connectivity.

Another reason for which Gaya was being ignored was that it did not have enough industries around it. The management institutions collaborate with industry for different research projects and provide consultancy. The institutes offer executive management programmes for in-service industry persons also.

The committee visited a site on the outskirts of Patna where the IIT would come up. However, the IIT authorities have declined to part with land for the proposed IIM. Since Gaya seems to the only option, the committee has agreed on it with conditions, sources said.

The plot in Magadh University is not free from dispute. The piece of land was donated to the university by the Mahant of Bodhgaya math in the 1960s with the condition that it would not be sub-let to others. The committee says that the state government should settle its issue with the mutt and provide dispute-free land.

Gaya, about 130km south of the state capital, would host a few other institutions soon. The HRD ministry is setting up the Central University of South Bihar in Gaya while the ministry of external affairs is in the process of establishing the Nalanda University at a place 70km from Gaya.

The committee's recommendations are now being examined by HRD minister Smriti Irani.

The Bihar government and the Union HRD ministry were at loggerheads over selecting a location for Central University of Bihar during the UPA regime when Kapil Sibal helmed the department. While the state government wanted Motihari as the site, the ministry insisted on Gaya. As the stalemate continued, the UPA government decided to set up two central universities, one in Gaya and another at Motihari.
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Saturday, March 7, 2015

I’ve received no salary or remuneration from Nalanda University !

Economist-philosopher Amartya Sen, who has written to the government to say he would not like to be Chancellor of Nalanda University after July, spoke to Seema Chishti on some of the questions that have been raised about his relationship with the university. Excerpts.

It is sometimes said that since the government is paying for most of the expenses of Nalanda University, it should be free to take the major decisions about the running of the university. Shouldn’t it?
There is a distinction between being, firstly, an autonomous institution financed by the government and, secondly, an institution under governmental command. The universities in Europe, going back many hundreds of years, have become academically excellent through governmental respect for the autonomy of the universities. The British guard academic independence in their own country with great care, even though the British rulers of colonial India very often violated the autonomy of public academic institutions. We should avoid following the colonial model.

There has been speculation about the kind of remuneration you have received for Nalanda all these years. How much have you received?
I have received no salary or remuneration whatsoever from Nalanda University, and have always worked in an honorary capacity. It has indeed been an honour for me to work for the revival of Nalanda University as a labour of love.

Dr. Amartya Sen's letter to Board members of Nalanda University !

Fellow Members of the Nalanda Governing Board

Dear Colleagues,

19 February 2015

I am writing to you on a subject relating to the governance of Nalanda University in which all of us have been very deeply involved. As you know, at its last meeting on January 13-14, 2015, the Board decided unanimously (in my absence - I had recused myself – leaving George Yeo to chair the Board meeting) that I should be asked to serve as Chancellor of Nalanda University for a second term, when my present term expires in late July. The unanimity was, I was pleased to be told, firm and enthusiastic, coming from all members of the Board , which – as you know – consists of representatives from different Asian countries (including China, Japan, Singapore and others), in addition of course to Indian academics and professionals.

However, the decision of the Governing Board becomes operational, according to the Nalanda University Act of Parliament, only after the Visitor of the University (the President of India, ex-officio) gives his assent to the decision. I understand that the Board’s decision was conveyed to the Visitor in mid-January, immediately after the meeting of the Governing Board of the Nalanda University, drawing his attention to the urgency of the matter, since the planning and implementation of new teaching and research arrangements are proceeding rapidly in the newly functioning University.

More than a month has passed since then, and it now seems clear that the Visitor has been unable to provide his assent to the Governing Board’s unanimous choice, in the absence of the Government’s approval. The Governing Board has not been favoured with a reply to its request, either from the President’s office or from the Ministry of External Affairs. As Board members are aware, our Visitor – President Pranab Mukherjee – has always taken a deep personal interest in the speedy progress of the work of Nalanda University, and given that, we have to assume that something makes it difficult – or impossible – for him to act with speed in this matter.

Non-action is a time-wasting way of reversing a Board decision, when the Government has, in principle, the power to act or not act. This, as you might recollect, also happened to the revised Statutes that the Governing Board passed unanimously last year. Many of these Statutes (including the one pertaining to the Chancellor’s term of office) also never received formal acceptance or rejection from the Ministry of External Affairs, which had the role of coordinating with the Visitor’s office.

It is hard for me not to conclude that the Government wants me to cease being the Chancellor of Nalanda University after this July, and technically it has the power to do so. This delay as well as the uncertainty involved is leading, in effect, to a decisional gap, which is not helpful to Nalanda University’s governance and its academic progress. I have, therefore, decided that in the best interest of Nalanda University, I should exclude myself from being considered for continuing as Chancellor of Nalanda University beyond this July, despite the unanimous recommendation and urging of the Governing Board for me to continue. I take this opportunity also to thank the Governing Board very warmly for its confidence in me.

As you would also remember, there was considerable disquiet among Board members about the Government’s evident unwillingness to appreciate the international character of Nalanda University and to pay appropriate attention to the multi-country Governing Board of Nalanda. In particular, the Governing Board was kept completely in the dark about an attempted unilateral move by the Government to rapidly reconstitute the entire Board, and to do this in violation of some of parts of the Nalanda University Act (reflected especially in the letters that have already been sent out to foreign governments, departing from the provisions of the Act as it now stands).

I write this letter with a heavy heart since re-establishing Nalanda has been a life-long commitment for me (as it is important also to you). While classes have very successfully started, on a small scale, in two Schools (the School of History and that of Environment and Ecology), we are, as you know, in the process of planning other Schools, including a School of Economics, a School of Public Health, and a School of Buddhist Studies, Philosophy and Comparative Religion, and also of augmenting the intake of students. I have been personally much occupied with this planning, but I will, of course, pass on the work-in-progress to the Vice-Chancellor.

I am also sad, at a more general level, that academic governance in India remains so deeply vulnerable to the opinions of the ruling Government, when it chooses to make political use of the special provisions. Even though the Nalanda University Act, passed by the Parliament, did not, I believe, envisage political interference in academic matters, it is formally the case – given the legal provisions (some of them surviving from colonial days) - that the Government can turn an academic issue into a matter of political dispensation, if it feels unrestrained about interfering. As a proud and concerned citizen of India, I take this particular occasion to communicate my general disquiet in public, which is why I am openly sharing this letter.

Also, since I receive a great many constructive suggestions every week about teaching and research at Nalanda University for possible implementation (a number of these suggestions coming from the public have indeed been extremely useful for the academic planning of Nalanda), I am using this occasion to publicly communicate that I shall do whatever I can over the remaining time I have, though the leadership of the long-run planning of Nalanda has, obviously, to come from someone else.

I end by thanking you for the help, advice and support I have been receiving from all of you, which I will continue to treasure even when I move away from Nalanda University this July.

Yours ever,
Amartya Sen

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Saturday, January 31, 2015

The challenge is to establish a Nalanda for our times: VC Dr Gopa Sabharwal !

Dr Gopa Sabharwal, Vice Chancellor of Nalanda University, talks to Sarika Malhotra about the setting up of the new Nalanda University, a truly international institution of higher learning, and a place where new knowledge emerges. According to Sabharwal, the biggest challenge is to establish a Nalanda for our times, keeping in mind the heritage of its illustrious predecessor. She says that like the old university, the new campus will be built in such a manner that it is in harmony with its surroundings. The design includes thick walls to prevent the heat from penetrating inside, and a water body at the center.

Q. What is the projected cost for the 450-acre university?

A. The projected cost for the development of the university is Rs 2,727.10 crore - Rs 1,749.65 crore as the capital expenditure for development of infrastructure, and Rs 977.45 crore as the running cost (recurring expenditure) for the 2014/15 to 2021/22 period.

Q. In terms of funding, what is the contribution of the Union and state (Bihar) governments?

A. The Bihar government has provided 455 acres (approx.) of land to the university free of charge and is also providing all other possible assistance to carry the project forward. The Centre has provided the entire capital and recurring expenditure. It is committed to providing funds for the establishment and running of the university to the extent required.

Q. Did the university get any funding from personal endowments as well?

A. An Endowment Committee has been set up with N.K. Singh, a Member of Parliament and also a member of the governing board of the university, as its Chairperson. The endowments are expected to start coming in soon. The late Madanjeet Singh, Founder of the South Asia Foundation and a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador, had offered to contribute $1 million to the university. We are trying to work out the modalities of the donation.

CP Group of Thailand has contributed $5,000 to the Thailand Fund, a corpus from private companies donations which would be earmarked for scholarships and/or fellowships for students and academicians pursuing Buddhist Studies, Philosophy and Comparative Religion at the university.

Q. What are the voluntary contributions made by different countries to this revival project?

A. The following contributions have been made so far:

-China: $1 million for a China Floor in the library.
-Thailand: $1,00,000 for the Establishment Fund, to be used as the governing board deems fit.
-Laos: $50,000.
-Singapore has offered to design, build and deliver the library within the framework of the master plan.
-Australia has announced that it will finance a chair in the School of Ecology and Environment Studies for a period of three years.   
-Japan has said that it will help improve the infrastructure environment by renovation of approach roads (National Highways 82 and 83) to the university. It will also set up a peace institute (in Japan), which will serve as an incubator of the School of International Relations and Peace Studies.

Q. How is the construction going and by when is it expected to be completed?

A. A boundary wall measuring 8.3 km has been built around the campus. After an international architectural design competition, an architect - Vastu Shilpa Consultants, Ahmedabad - and a design for the master plan of the campus and buildings to be constructed in Phase-I have been selected. The university is in the process of negotiating an agreement with it. The construction will begin in 2014 and will be spread over more than a phase. It is likely to be completed by 2020/21.               

Q.What is the current teaching and administrative staff strength?

A. At present, the university has a Vice Chancellor and a Dean (Academic Planning) on the academic side as full-time employees. On the administrative side, it has a finance office and a consultant (administration) and some support staff - a total of 17 people. In order to fulfil its mandate as a research institution, the university announced Fellowships in January 2013, which were designed to encourage excellence in multidisciplinary research in specific fields relating mainly to Inter-Asian interconnections while also engaging with various aspects of building a unique university. Four Fellows have joined the university for duration of nine months for research work for the School of Historical Studies and School of Ecology and Environment Studies.

Q. What about the faculty and administrative staff recruitment?

A. The recruitment of the faculty for the first two schools - School of Historical Studies and School of Ecology and Environment Studies - will begin very soon. The process will be advertised/publicised in India and overseas. The selection of suitable persons from among the applicants will be done by the selection committees constituted for the purpose. The recruitment of other administrators will happen as operations gear up to handle a fully functioning university.

Q. What will be the final teaching and administrative staff strength?

A. The seven schools will have an estimated 307 academics and the administrative staff strength will be 193.

Q. What will be the criterion for teaching staff selection?

A. Selection committees that reflect the international character of the university have been formed for selecting the best faculty from across the world. The selection process is tiered and involves the processes of application, review, excellence in publication, teaching, research plan, campus visit, workshops, presentations, etc., and is not based on one single interview. Separate processes are in place for non-teaching staff, where exposure to international norms and ability to multitask and set systems in place are desirable.

Q. Till the residential campus is ready, where will the students and faculty be housed?

A. The students and faculty will be housed in rented accommodation till the campus is ready. The Bihar government has also provided a small campus to the university, which has an office block and some houses. These facilities will also be used for housing some of the academic and non-academic staff.

Q. By when will the first academic batch be launched?

A. The academic session in the first two schools, namely School of Historical Studies and School of Ecology and Environment Studies, will begin in 2014/15. The first batch will pass out in 2016.

Q. What will be the class size?

A. The university is a postgraduate and research institution only. It is proposed that when it is fully developed, each school will have 300 PG students and 50 research scholars. In 2014, we will begin with a soft launch.

Q. Will the first batch entail foreign students as well?

A. Yes, foreign students will be admitted to all batches, including the first one.

Q. Do you plan to advertise for the same and by when?

A. Admission of students will be advertised through the media and on the university website. For foreign students, wide publicity will be given through the print media and India's diplomatic missions overseas.
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