Saturday, January 30, 2016

Search Starts for Next Nalanda Vice-Chancellor !!

The next governing board (GB) meeting of Nalanda University, scheduled to be held on January 29-30, will be a key one with the government keen on beginning its search for a new vice-chancellor, who will succeed Gopa Sabharwal.

The GB, which was earlier called the Nalanda Mentors Group, will meet in Rajgir, Bihar, where it will also decide on the composition of the next GB.

Gopa Sabharwal
When contacted by The Sunday Standard, a Nalanda University spokesperson denied that the issue of selecting the next vice-chancellor was on the agenda of the governing board. However, sources have clearly indicated that while the vice-chancellor will propose the agenda, efforts will be made to ensure that the selection process begins at the meeting.

In October, the GB had given an extension to Sabharwal ahead of the expiration of her term in November. Sabharwal got an extension up to one year or till the appointment of the next vice-chancellor, as per the Nalanda University Act 2010.

Sources said that the GB will be asked to set up a search committee, which will propose three names for consideration to President Pranab Mukherjee, who is the Visitor to the University. This process should not take more than three months.

Sabharwal, who has supporters in the GB, could be named as one of the three candidates, but the final decision will be taken by the President. Another important item on the agenda will be for members to decide the composition of future GBs of the university. “There will be some tweaking, but it will not be a major deviation. This will be incorporated in the Amendment Bill, which the government may be finally introduced in the next session,” said an official.

As per the university spokesperson, the “agenda (of the GB) includes discussion on all provisions of the Amendment Bill”.

The UPA government had tabled the Nalanda University Amendment Bill in September 2013, but it was then referred to the Standing Committee. The Bill covers all aspects to operate the university from its special privileges to the recruitment of officials to sources of financial resources. The report of the standing committee was released in December 2013.

When the NDA government came to power, the Amendment Bill remained in the deep freezer, with the ministry mulling its status. Last year, there was a change in helm at the top with former Singapore foreign minister George Yeo taking over from Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen as chancellor of the university. “Naturally, we wanted to consult with the chancellor about his views on the Amendment Bill,” said the official.
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Nalanda work to start in March 2016 - Governing Board Clears new Buddhist Studies school !!

The construction of the Nalanda University building will start in a couple of months - a decade after then President APJ Abdul Kalam conceptualised it.

The announcement, made by chancellor George Yeo, came after the 13th meeting of the governing board, signifying the delays and difficulties the much-touted university has gone through.

The university administration would complete the tender allotment process for the upcoming building by February-end after which the construction work will start by the end of March.

The varsity is, at present, functioning from its makeshift campus on the premises of a healthcare and research unit near the Rajgir bus stand.

Yeo, a former foreign minister of Singapore, replaced Nobel laureate Amartya Sen as chancellor last year. Sen continues to be associated with the university as a member of the governing body. He attended the meeting today held at the Rajgir International Convention Centre.

The governing board also decided to launch its fourth school - on linguistics and literature - in the 2017-18 academic session.

The university has already announced it would start its School of Buddhist Studies, Comparative Religion and Philosophy from the academic session 2016-17. At present, the university is running the School of Historical Studies and School of Ecological and Environment Studies. The School of Public Health is expected to come up in the 2018-19 academic session.

Yeo said the building construction work is likely to start from March-end. "With the construction work commencing, the university will go into expansion mode by increasing student intake."

At present, the student strength is 63. This year, the university's target is to increase the strength to 300.

Sources said the first phase of construction would include the academic block, administrative blocks, residential quarters for faculty and other staff members, hostels for students and roads for reaching to various blocks. The first phase of construction work will be completed within 42 months at an estimated cost of Rs 700 crore.

Yeo denied there has been any delay in the construction. "There is no delay in construction. It takes time, as the university has to follow several procedural steps such as selecting the design architecture, erecting boundary wall and other formalities," he said.

The new Nalanda University campus is coming up over 454 acres at a site around 15km away from the ruins of the famed ancient seat of learning.

The planned School of Linguistics and Literature will complement the present School of Historical Studies and the upcoming School of Buddhist Studies, Comparative Religion and Philosophy. While catering to the present needs of the neighbourhood in which the university is located, the School of Public Health will greatly benefit the region.

Yesterday, an exhibition was held to showcase the design of the master plan and library plan of the university. Ahmedabad-based Vastu Shilpa Consultants, whose principal architect is B.V. Doshi, is the master planner of the university. RSP Architects, Planners & Engineers of Singapore is the library designer.
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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.