Sunday, July 31, 2011

Nalanda’s glorious past a uniting factor in future !

BY end-2013, an Asian university with a universal outlook and approach will take shape 887km east of New Delhi, to match what is being billed as the “Asian century”.

No geopolitics in it, although India’s soft diplomacy is very much in evidence. It is an international effort, but participating nations are not competing to gain political or economic mileage. No brownie points are being scored by individuals.

On offer at Nalanda are only knowledge and enlightenment.

Nalanda is being rebuilt near a cluster of ruins today located in backward Bihar state that was once the land of Lord Buddha and housed the internationally renowned centre of higher learning.

It will be a modern university, but will hark back to a glorious past.
Established in the early 5th century, it was the world’s first ever university. Nalanda was over six centuries old when Bologna, the oldest European university, was born.

Another distinguished university, which did not stay in existence continuously either, Al-Azhar University in Cairo, with which Nalanda is often compared, was established in 970 AD, when Nalanda was already over five centuries old.

Nalanda pre-dated Oxford and Cambridge by centuries. Had it not been destroyed and had it managed to survive to our time, it would be, by a long margin, the oldest functioning university in the world.

It was destroyed three times by invaders, but only rebuilt twice. The first time was by the Huns under Mihirakula during the reign of Skandagupta (455-467 AD). But Skanda’s successors promptly undertook the restoration, improving it with even grander buildings, and endowed it with enough resources to let the university sustain itself in the longer term.

The second destruction came with an assault by the Gaudas in the early 7th century. This time, the great Hindu king Harshavardhana (606-648 AD) restored the Buddhist university.

The final blow came when it was violently destroyed in an Afghan attack led by the ruthless conqueror Bakhtiyar Khilji in 1193.

Re-establishing a university after an 800-year hiatus is not easy, says Nobel Laureate and chairman of Nalanda Mentor Group (NMG) Amartya Sen. The idea of reviving it as a centre of excellence in the creation and dissemination of knowledge in Asia was first mooted by then president of India A.P.J. Abdul Kalam in February 2006 during his official visit to Singapore.

Kalam, as is his wont, took the idea home and spoke to the Bihar legislators. Both Bihar and Singapore got motivated enough to translate the idea into a concrete project.

The Bihar assembly passed a bill in 2007 to establish Nalanda University, acquired land for it but wisely handed over the project to the government of India in view of its emerging international character.

Singapore pursued the idea more vigorously than even India in some respects and, to carry the message to East Asia, organised a “Nalanda Symposium” in November 2006.

It succeeded in enlisting the support of East Asian countries, especially China, Japan and Korea. Singapore has also joined hands with Japan in mobilising funds for giving shape to the project and executing it.

The governing board of the new Nalanda University last Monday unveiled a road map. The institution would be functional tentatively by 2013. The recruitment of faculty would be done one or two semesters before the first batch is enrolled so that they have a part in finalising the course structure.

The university will start with seven schools, primarily in humanities, but will include departments of Information Sciences and Technology, Business Management in Relation to Public Policy, and Development and Ecology and Environment, in addition to Languages and Literature, Religion and Philosophy, Historical Studies, International Relations and Peace Studies, and Buddhist Studies.

Religion and Philospohy? Yes. It will be secular, and yet it will have religious studies, says Sen. Even the old Nalanda was a Buddhist university, he points out, but it was remarkably open to many interpretations of that religion.

Today, when one keeps hearing blood-curdling war cries and talk of the “clash of civilisations”, Nalanda could perform a vital role consistent with its original ethos — to be an institution devoted to religious reconciliation on a global scale.

Nalanda University is destined to emerge as a strong instrument of soft power at two levels, for the rising Asia in relation to the West and for India in relation to Asia.

Without invoking any competitive drive with its immediate neighbours, Nalanda could help India consolidate its position in the region. Scholars and students going out of Nalanda would become India’s goodwill ambassadors in their countries.

As the project recaptures its past glory and √©lan, it will also boost Asia's confidence in its intellectual and academic capacities, and dent the heavy reliance today on Western universities like Oxford, Cambridge and Harvard for Asian scholars’ professional credibility and recognition, says Prof S.D. Muni, visiting research professor, Institute of South Asian Studies, Singapore.

Defining the link between the Nalanda project and Asia’s rise, Singapore Foreign Minister George Yeo, also an NMG member, calls it the “icon of Asian Renaissance”.

He sought an international airport near Nalanda and said the Buddhist tourist circuit would get a boost once the institution became functional.

During his India visit last year, Chinese leader Wen Jiabao pledged US$1 million (RM3 million) to the Nalanda project. What has come so far is meagre. “We got US$7 million from Singapore, US$1 million from China, Australia is funding a chair, while Laos has given US$50,000,” says Prof Gopa Sabharwal, the first vice-chancellor.

Funding the project is indeed a formidable challenge. The present target is to create an endowment of US$1 billion. Harvard University’s endowment is US$35 billion. The funding constraint has restrained the NMG from opening faculties in the hard sciences.

Participating in the 2006 symposium, India-based Prof Tan Chung recalled that when the Han dynasty was on the verge of collapse in the 6th century, the spread of Buddhism from Nalanda helped China revive.

Prof Wang Bangwei of Peking University, now an NMG member, emphasised that “Nalanda belonged to not only India but all Asian Buddhists”.

Prof Wang Dehua of the Shanghai Centre for International Studies said: “Let us forget about the 1962 incident. This project will symbolise the rebuilding of our old friendship and understanding.”

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Saturday, July 30, 2011

Nalanda-The Greatest University of World !!

MP Speech on the Nalanda International University Bill in Parliament !!

World Oldest university on earth is reborn after 800 years !!

Nalanda, an ancient seat of learning destroyed in 1193, will rise again thanks to a Nobel-winning economist-Dr. Amartya Sen.

During the six centuries of its storied existence, there was nothing else quite like Nalanda University. Probably the first-ever large educational establishment, the college – in what is now eastern India – even counted the Buddha among its visitors and alumni. At its height, it had 10,000 students, 2,000 staff and strove for both understanding and academic excellence. Today, this much-celebrated centre of Buddhist learning is in ruins.

After a period during which the influence and importance of Buddhism in India declined, the university was sacked in 1193 by a Turkic general, apparently incensed that its library may not have contained a copy of the Koran. The fire is said to have burned and smouldered for several months.

Now this famed establishment of philosophy, mathematics, language and even public health is poised to be revived. A beguiling and ambitious plan to establish an international university with the same overarching vision as Nalanda – and located alongside its physical ruins – has been spearheaded by a team of international experts and leaders, among them the Nobel-winning economist Amartya Sen. This week, legislation that will enable the building of the university to proceed is to be placed before the Indian parliament.

"At its peak it offered an enormous number of subjects in the Buddhist tradition, in a similar way that Oxford [offered] in the Christian tradition – Sanskrit, medicine, public health and economics," Mr Sen said yesterday in Delhi.

"It was destroyed in a war. It was [at] just the same time that Oxford was being established. It has a fairly extraordinary history – Cambridge had not yet been born." He added, with confidence: "Building will start as soon as the bill passes."

The plan to resurrect Nalanda – in the state of Bihar – and establish a facility prestigious enough to attract the best students from across Asia and beyond, was apparently first voiced in the 1990s. But the idea received more widespread attention in 2006 when the then Indian president, APJ Abdul Kalam set about establishing an international "mentoring panel". Members of the panel, chaired by Mr Sen, include Singapore's foreign minister, George Yeo, historian Sugata Bose, Lord Desai and Chinese academic Wang Banwei.

A key challenge for the group is to raise sufficient funds for the university. It has been estimated that $500m will be required to build the new facility, with a further $500m needed to sufficiently improve the surrounding infrastructure. The group is looking for donations from governments, private individuals and religious groups. The governments of both Singapore and India have apparently already given some financial commitments.

Mr Sen said the new Nalanda project, whose ancestor easily predated both the University of Al Karaouine in Fez, Morocco – founded in 859 AD and considered the world's oldest, continually-operating university, and Cairo's Al Azhar University (975 AD), had already attracted widespread attention from prestigious institutions. The universities of Oxford, Harvard, Yale, Paris and Bologna had all been enthusiastic about possible collaboration.

Some commentators believe a crucial impact of the establishment of a new international university in India would be the boost it gave to higher education across Asia. A recent survey of universities by the US News and World Report magazine listed just three Asian institutions – University of Tokyo, University of Hong Kong and Kyoto University – among the world's top 25.

Writing when plans for Nalanda were first announced, Jeffery Garten, a professor in international business and trade at the Yale School of Management, said in the New York Times: "The new Nalanda should try to recapture the global connectedness of the old one. All of today's great institutions of higher learning are straining to become more international... but Asian universities are way behind." He added: "A new Nalanda could set a benchmark for mixing nationalities and culture, for injecting energy into global subject. Nalanda was a Buddhist university but it was remarkably open to many interpretations of that religion. Today, it could... be an institution devoted to global religious reconciliation."

As Mr Garten pointed out, the new university will have much to live up to. The original, located close to the border with what is now Nepal, was said to have been an architectural masterpiece, featuring 10 temples, a nine-storey library where monks copied books by hand, lakes, parks and student accommodation. Its students came from Korea, Japan, China, Persia, Tibet and Turkey, as well as from across India. The 7th Century Chinese pilgrim, Xuanzang, visited Nalanda and wrote detailed accounts of what he saw, describing how towers, pavilions and temples appeared to "soar above the mists in the sky [so that monks in their rooms] might witness the birth of the winds and clouds".

Yet the project is not without controversy. Mr Sen was yesterday asked about reports that claimed the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan Buddhist leader who has lived for more than 50 years in the Indian town of Dharamsala, had been deliberately omitted from the project to avoid antagonising potential Chinese investors and officials. He replied: "He is heading a religion. Being religiously active may not be the same as appropriate for religious studies."
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Nalanda International University will start with seven schools or more and expand later

As a new university is being established in Nalanda to revive the glory of ancient India’s most famous centre of learning, experts have asked the government to carry out more excavations at the site of the original university to dig out those parts of the institution that still remain undiscovered.

Some members of the governing board of the new Nalanda University, including chairperson Amartya Sen, last week held a meeting with top officials of the Culture Ministry to explore the possibility of further excavation at the site where the ruins of the world-famous ancient Nalanda University stand.

“There has been a long-felt demand that there should be much more excavation at the ancient Nalanda site. There is so much that we have read about Nalanda and there is a lot of indication that there was much more to the ancient university than what is reflected in the ruins today,” said Gopa Sabharwal, vice-chancellor of the new Nalanda University that is supposed to open by 2013.

Culture Secretary Jawhar Sircar told The Indian Express the ministry had already initiated the process by referring the matter to a technical committee of the Archeological Survey of India to carry out ‘assessment and exploration’ at the site which would establish whether there was need for excavation or not.

The government had last year passed a legislation to set up a new university, very near to where the original one was situated with the aim of reviving the past glory of Nalanda. The new university will start with seven schools and expand later. The Bihar government has already allocated 446 acres of land for it.

Sen wanted the ASI to carry out a thorough check at the site acquired for the new university to prevent damage to any archeological artefacts that might be present there. A satellite survey of the site is being planned.

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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Nalanda International University Mentor group !!

The Central Government of India constituted a Nalanda Mentor Group (NMG) in 2007, under the Chairmanship of Professor Amartya Sen (Nobel Prize Awarded) to examine the framework of international cooperation, and proposed structure of partnership, which would govern the establishment of this University as an international centre of Learning and excellent education. The University of Nalanda is proposed to be established under the aegis of the East Asia Summit (EAS), as a regional initiative. The NMG also has representatives from Singapore, China, Japan and Thailand. The NMG has met six times. The last meeting was held in New Delhi on 2-3 August 2010.

The Nalanda University mentor Group consists of these notable personalities:-

1) Amartya Sen - Professor at Harvard University.
2) Sugata Bose - Professor at Harvard University.
3) Wang Banwei - Professor at Beijing University.
4) Meghnad Desai - Emeritus Professor at London School of Economics.
5) George Yeo - Former Minister for Foreign Affairs of Singapore.
6) Tansen Sen - Associate Professor at Baruch College, CUNY.
7) Nand Kishore Singh - Member of Parliament - Rajya Sabha, India.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Bihar Government sets terms for President mentor group

The Presidency University mentor group, with Harvard University professor Sugata Bose as its chairman, doesn't want the new university to be just another addition to the list, encaged within the run-ofthe-mill Act passed in the West Bengal assembly during the Left regime.

The Nalanda mentor group will be looking at complete overhaul, right from setting up search committees for recruitment of teaching staff and officers up to the level of the vice-chancellor, and streamlining the admission procedure to attracting the best talents. The group is also leaving open the option of keeping the newborn varsity a state one, or giving it a central university status, or recommending the "new innovation university" tag for it. At least, that is what the terms of reference for the mentor group indicate.

The Harvard professor and chairman of the mentor group handed out the terms of reference to the media on Wednesday after he called on chief minister Mamata Banerjee at Writers' Buildings. Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen has agreed to advise the chairman. "The chief minister will be meeting Sen when he comes to Kolkata on July 8. As you know, we are both in the Nalanda mentor panel," said Bose.

Jadavpur University emeritus professor Sukanta Chaudhuri has been included in the 10-member mentor group, despite his resigning from the committee set up for improving higher education as a whole. During his meeting with the CM, Bose also took note of the suggestions made by the illustrious Presidency College alumni and teachers in several platforms, the latest being a seminar organised by the Presidency College Alumni Association.

The aim of the mentor group would be to suggest ways to groom the new university into a centre of excellence with emphasis on merit and high quality teaching that was once the USP of the premier education institution. While charting out the terms of reference in consultation with Sugata Bose, the chief minister took care to plug all possible loopholes that might frustrate the goal.

For instance, the state government wants the mentor group to come out of the confines of the Act, and suggest a model university governance structure appropriate to pursue "excellence and equity." They include introduction of multi-disciplinary studies, electronic access to library, cross-registration agreements with research institutes in West Bengal and India and also develop international partnership with select universities all over the world.

In a bid to achieve all these, the new university needs an outstanding and diverse faculty who can foresee and innovate changes in the curricula and make amends to it from time to time to keep abreast with the latest changes in the academia. At the administrative level, the mentor group will try out ways to remove all sorts of "red tapism" as far as possible that had stunted the growth of the teaching staff in terms of conducting research, attending international seminars and also getting grants from several funding agencies. The mentor group also leaves room for participation of the alumni in the development of the university, both academic and financial. The university vice-chancellor Amita Chatterjee, while speaking at the alumni seminar, referred to some of the teething problems such as space constraint, dearth of sanctioned teaching posts, a rich library and state-of-the-art laboratory, apart from teaching staff.

According to chairman Sugata Bose, the 10-member committee will submit some short-term and longterm recommendations and progress reports to the government in phases beginning August 2011. The next four reports will come in January 2012, August 2012, January 2013 and June 2013. The mentor group has eight members at the moment with a provision to co-opt two more members adding up to a total 10. They include Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, Harvard professor Sugata Bose, Isher Judge Ahluwalia of the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations, MIT professor Abhijit Banerjee, director National Library Swapan Chakraborty, Jadavpur University emeritus professor Sukanta Chaudhuri, Freiburg professor Himadri Pakrasi, Allahabad University professor Ashoke Sen.

Nalanda varsity governing board members visit sites

Nalanda International University's governing board members on Thursday inspected the site for the proposed varsity at Nalanda and Rajgir and appreciated the initial work on the 467 acres of land given by the Bihar government for the ambitious project. Board chairman Amartya Sen, however, did not go for inspection and stayed back here.

"Only those members who had not been to the site earlier inspected the place," board member N K Singh told TOI before catching a Delhi flight.

The members, including former Singapore foreign minister George Yeo and university's vice-chancellor Gopa Sabharwal, went around the site and also inspected the subdivisional office and Convention centre at Rajgir which the state government has designated as temporary campus and university's office.

The state government has committed to do fencing of the acquired land and the work has reportedly been allotted to Bihar Rajya Pul Nirman Nigam, which is expected to start the work soon. Its officials, including the chairman, also met the governing board here and assured that the work would be completed on time.

The prolonged meeting of the board, held here on Wednesday, is believed to have discussed the design and architecture of the campus, university building, residential quarters and offices. Amartya Sen declared that global tender would be floated and the design and architecture of the university would be of international standard, which would reflect the image of the old university that existed centuries ago.

"We are looking for an appropriate architectural design so that people do not say that the old varsity was so great and the new one is not," Sen said amid laughter. It is expected that architectural designing and construction companies from different parts of the world would bid for the prestigious project.

In Nalanda, the visiting dignitaries also held talks with the DM at the circuit house and asked the administration to ensure that local issues were taken care of and solved at the local level itself.

Sen and the varsity's first visitor APJ Abdul Kalam had earlier inspected the site. The state government has offered to provide alternative accommodation for academic activities till the university's buildings come up. The old subdivisional office, which has been renovated, and the Convention centre have been identified as alternative places so that the academic session could be started possibly from 2013-14. Gopa Sabharwal said the academic activities would start with just two streams: school of historical studies and environment and ecology studies.

Sen said they discussed the faculties to start with as well as pattern of teaching and structure of teaching pattern. The proposed university will have wide range of courses including Buddha studies, international relations, peace studies and information sciences and technology.

Inspired by :

7 Wonders of India: Nalanda University !!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Global competition for Nalanda university design

A global competition will be held to get the best architectural design for the Nalanda International University at the ancient seat of learning in Bihar, officials Thursday said.

"For the sake of the best design for Nalanda university, a global competition will be held soon," said N.K. Singh, a member of the Nalanda Mentor Group (NMG) headed by Nobel laureate Amartya Sen.

The new university will be built on an area of 446 acres in Rajgir, 10 km from the site of the ancient university in Nalanda district. The members of the NMG, including Sen, visited the site of the university Thursday.

N.K. Singh said by telephone that the decision for holding a global design competition was taken at a marathon meeting of the NMG held here Wednesday.

"It was the idea of Amartya Sen not to decide the design in a hurry as it will be the university of the coming centuries," Singh told IANS.

This was the second meeting of the NMG. The first meeting was held at Bodh Gaya in 2009.

According to N.K. Singh, Sen made it clear to the interim board of governors that the revival of the ancient Nalanda university in its new 'avtar' would call for a grand architecture.

N.K. Singh said it was also decided to float a global tender for the construction of the university.

Another NMG member Sugata Bose of the Harvard University said that there were already inquiries coming in from leading architects of the world.

The objective was to bring the world to Bihar through the university. The ancient university was an architectural marvel and this one would have the cutting edge, Bose said.

University Vice Chancellor Gopa Sabharwal said that the meeting also discussed issues related to academic activities.

It was decided in the meeting that the university would begin in 2013 with two schools -the school of historical sciences and the school of environment and ecology - if the Bihar government provided suitable accommodation, she said.

The university would carry out academic activities from a rented premises for the time being till the construction of its own campus, she said.

The idea of the university was first mooted in the late 1990s but it was the then president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam's initiative in early 2006 that gave shape to the project.

The excavated site of the ancient university at Nalanda is a place of national importance. A fifth century architectural marvel, the university was home to over 10,000 students and nearly 2,000 teachers.

Named after the Sanskrit term for 'giver of knowledge', the ancient varsity, which existed until 1197 AD, attracted students and scholars from South Korea, Japan, China, Tibet, Indonesia, Persia and Turkey, besides being a seat of higher education in India.

Though it was devoted to Buddhist studies, it also trained students in subjects such as fine arts, medicine, mathematics, astronomy, politics and the art of war.

Officials said the state government acquired nearly 500 acres of land needed for the Nalanda International University and infrastructure work was on at the site.

The university will be fully residential, like the ancient Nalanda. The university will have courses in science, philosophy and spiritualism along with other subjects.

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Nalanda University to Start Academic Activities From 2013

The Nalanda university will begin academic activities from the 2013-14 session from rented premises with two subjects - Historical studies and Environment and Ecological studies, Vice-Chancellor Gopa Sabarwal said today.

The Nalanda university, being set up in the scenic precincts around Ranjir, will launch academic activities from 2013-14 session and start with two subjects, she told reporters after 10-hour-long meeting of the governing board attended among others by Nobel laureate Prof Amartya Sen.

The university will carry out academic activities from rented premises for the time being till the construction of its own campus the work on which was in progress, Sabarwal said.

The contour of the historical studies will have a strong archaeological component in view of the excavations significance of the Nalanda region and Bihar which has had a great historical background since ancient times, Nalanda university vice-chancellor said.

Speaking on the occasion, Sen expressed satisfaction with the progress in the construction of Nalanda University campus and said that the members of the governing board will inspect the construction site tomorrow.

Referring to the governing board's agenda, he said that the members, barring Lord Meghnad Saha who was absent due to personal reasons, discussed and approved financial rules, statutes and rules and regulations of the new university.

Prof Sen said that the governing board has set up a high-powered international advisory panel headed by its member and former Singapore foreign minister George Yeo with a purpose to bring the world to Bihar by making investment in the new university.

Instead of Bihar seeking to draw attention of the world about its historical significance vis-a-vis ancient Nalanda university, it was the world and Asia which were looking upto the state with interests and the panel will help channelise the growing global interests into investment.

Meanwhile, another Nalanda university governing board member N K Singh said that the next meeting of the governing board will be held in Beijing sometime in the middle of October this year at the invitation of the Chinese government.

Nalanda Mentor Group holds meet in Patna

The Nalanda Mentor Group, headed by Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, held a meeting here on Wednesday to discuss the progress of setting up an international university at the ancient seat of learning, an official said.

The meeting was attended by Singapore's former foreign minister George Yeo, Lord Meghnad Desai, Sugata Bose of Harvard University and others to discuss the progress in the setting up of the university, said a state human resource development official.

The university's vice chancellor, Gopa Sabbarwal, was also present. This is the second meeting of the group. The first was held at Bodh Gaya in 2009.

The university plans to begin its first academic session by 2013 at its new campus in Nalanda and begin the admission process from 2012.

Sen, who arrived here Tuesday to release a report on primary education in Bihar, will also visit Rajgir in Nalanda district on Thursday.

"Sen and other members of the mentor group will visit the site of the upcoming university," the official said.

The idea of the university was first mooted in the late 1990s. In 2006, then president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam's initiative gave shape to the project, which is to come up at the ancient site of Buddhist learning.

The excavated site of the ancient university at Nalanda is a place of national importance. A fifth century architectural marvel, the university was home to over 10,000 students and nearly 2,000 teachers.

Named after the Sanskrit term for 'giver of knowledge', the ancient varsity, which existed until 1197 AD, attracted students and scholars from Korea, Japan, China, Tibet, Indonesia, Persia and Turkey, besides being a seat of higher education in India.

Though it was devoted to Buddhist studies, it also trained students in subjects such as fine arts, medicine, mathematics, astronomy, politics and the art of war.

Officials said the Bihar government had already acquired nearly 500 acres of land needed for the university and infrastructure work has already started at the site.

The proposed university will be fully residential, like ancient Nalanda. The university will have courses in science, philosophy and spiritualism along with other subjects. IANS

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