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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India is a Repository of Great Knowledge: Vala !!

Governor Vajubhai Vala has said that India is a repository of knowledge and has been recognised the world over as a knowledge destination even in ancient times. “Nalanda and Takshashila Universities were centres of knowledge where the Vedas, Upanishads, and the Bhagawad Gita were learnt and researched,” he said here on Friday.

He was speaking after inaugurating a two-day conference on ‘Emerging technologies and future of libraries: issues and challenges’ at Gulbarga University. Mr. Vala said that although he does not want to belittle the contribution of other religions to the field of literature, he was proud to say that Hinduism’s contribution to the world of literature was immense and the works and teachers of saints like Sankaracharya, Buddha, Mahavira, Madhwacharya and Mahatma Gandhi could not be matched.

Earlier, Mr. Vala asked the organisers to remove the “Maharaja” chair on the dais kept for him and preferred to sit in a normal chair. Also, he more than once interrupted the organisers who tried to cut short the programme to facilitate his address. He asked them to go through the schedule as planned and listened to the speeches of others on the dais.
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Revived Nalanda University will balance local and global research !

India’s Nalanda International University, which is being built close to the site of Asia’s ancient Buddhist centre of higher education, will be a global institution focusing on research, pan-Asian integration, sustainable development and the revival of Oriental languages. At the same time, it will study local issues of environment, agriculture and livelihoods.

Member of Parliament Nand Kishore Singh, who is a member of Nalanda’s governing body, said the university – which will admit its first intake in 2014 – will balance local and global research goals.

“A study and revival of Oriental languages and translation of several manuscripts will enable us to understand cross-cultural experiences which governed India and Asia long before globalisation,” said Singh, speaking at the “One Globe 2013: Uniting knowledge communities” conference on global education in South Asia, held in New Delhi from 7-8 February.

Studying the past will help Asian countries realise how well integrated Asia used to be, contributing to building better relations, Singh said.

In 2006 China, India, Singapore, Japan and Thailand announced a plan to revive the renowned university, which existed in the northern Indian state of Bihar from the 5th century until it was ransacked and burnt to the ground in 1193 by Turkish invaders.

Based on Buddhist architectural principles, the new university will be built on 180 hectares in Rajgir, 10 kilometres from the site of the ancient Nalanda University, which at its height had more than 10,000 residential students and nearly 2,000 teachers, attracting scholars from Korea, Japan, China, Tibet, Indonesia, Persia and Turkey.

The new university will also be residential, offering courses in science, philosophy and spiritualism along with social sciences.

Speaking at the Jaipur literary festival in India’s western Rajasthan state last month, Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama said: “India is our guru, we are the chelas (disciples), and the source of all the [Buddhist] knowledge we have, has come from Nalanda.”

Research areas

Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, who was last year appointed the new university’s chancellor, has said there will be seven postgraduate schools, including a school of peace studies and international relations.

Last month the university published invitations for applications for research fellowships from scholars and researchers from any country, shedding light on the main areas of research.

“These fellowships are designed to encourage excellence in multidisciplinary research in specific fields and they mainly relate to inter-Asian interconnections while also engaging with various aspects of building a unique university,” the institution said in the document.

Research will initially concentrate on two inaugural schools – of historical studies, and environment and ecology – which will operate from rented premises from this year.

History fellows will help develop academic programmes in intra-Asian interactions, Asian history, regional history, heritage studies, the silk routes, art history and archaeology, among other areas.

Researchers in the school of ecology and environment will focus on human ecology, disaster management, agriculture, climate change, ecology and literature, and religion and ecology.

While environment and ecology are areas of global concern, Singh said they were equally relevant to the local context and population.

“A unique feature of Nalanda is that perhaps it is the only university which, as part of its academic responsibility, has encompassed 200 villages, which are integral to the immediate environment in which the university will come up,” said Singh.

The university has already identified 60 villages with which it will work to improve livelihoods, promote sustainable agricultural practices to improve productivity, start eco-tourism and impart skills training to the local population.

The importance of connections with local villages is also a response to many critics who say the university is too 'isolated' and in one of India's poorest states, although 100 kilometres from the state capital Patna, to attract the best researchers.

Philip Altbach, director of the Center for International Higher Education at Boston College in the United States, has questioned whether the university can be a success so far from major urban centres. He wrote in an article last year:

“The concept, of course, is wonderful – to recreate in modern garb a true cultural and intellectual treasure of ancient India. The plan for the university focuses on the humanities, social sciences, ecology and business studies – not the usual engineering and technology emphasis. But some serious practical and conceptual questions need to be asked."

"The site of academic institutions is of key importance," Altbach said. "For Nalanda International University, which wants to attract the best and brightest from India and the world, location is of special relevance. Are top students and faculty going to be attracted to rural Bihar?"


A committee headed by Singh is tasked with helping to create an endowment of US$1 billion. “We have several countries that have come forward to support us. But apart from funding we will also forge strong research and academic links,” Singh said.

Australia is supporting the establishment of a dean-level chair of ecology and environment. Singapore has announced it will design, build and donate a state-of-the-art library, at an estimated cost of up to US$7 million.

China in 2011 announced US$1 billion in aid for the reconstruction of the university after a meeting of Nalanda’s governing board in Beijing at the invitation of then Chinese premier Wen Jiabao. Thailand has contributed US$100,000.

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Old school is new again at Nalanda university !!

Which Indian institute of higher education enjoys the highest esteem in the world? Most people would say it’s a close race between the Indian Institutes of Management and the Indian Institutes of Technology. For decades, these state-funded schools have produced the sort of highly skilled, motivated and competitive graduate—usually from a middle-class background—who promptly leaves for big things in America, where, to use the language of the Indian family, he or she “makes us and India proud.” Even so, one Indian university has an aura that far exceeds that of any other. And although the school is itself extinct, it continues to embody the virtues traditionally associated with a university education: a love of knowledge for its own sake; an ability to frame a question from different points of view; a passion for formulating new answers to the great questions after making a thorough study of a tradition. The name has echoed around India and the world for well over a thousand years: Nalanda. The Buddhist monastic university, located in the modern state of Bihar, enjoyed a great reputation in the second half of the first millennium. From what we know of contemporary records, such as that of the great Chinese traveller Xuanxang, it was no ordinary seminary. Nalanda was not just a place where Buddhism could be comprehended in all its complexity, but also one where different schools of thought within Buddhism and outside it could be considered and a spirit of intellectual self-reflexivity and heterodoxy prevailed. “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,” Indian economist and philosopher Amartya Sen observed in 2010. Although it was sacked by Turkish invaders in the 12th century and slowly faded into oblivion, Nalanda endures as a symbol of the questioning spirit and intellectual freedom. Last week, in a culmination of many years of work by Sen and an international team of academics, supported by governments in many East Asian countries, Nalanda did, in a manner of speaking, rise from the ashes. Nalanda University, funded principally by the governments of India, Japan and China—the civilizations most closely connected with the history of Buddhism—reopened its doors after eight centuries to its first batch of graduate students in two disciplines. There are plenty of reasons to be skeptical of the dreams of a new Nalanda. Much of the infrastructure is still in the nascent stages; the East Asian crisis of 2008 has kept the new university well short of the $500 million in funds it requires. And there are worries that its location in one of India’s least developed states will be a disincentive to both academics and students. But history, as well as deep roots in the humanistic tradition, is a prominent part of the school’s unique capital. And its vision of itself is refreshingly different from the more technocratic and outcome-oriented one of higher education around the world today. According to the university’s website: Nalanda is a word known across the world and for centuries. It stands for a university which attracted students and scholars from across Asia and even farther away. It was a centre of excellence not only for Buddhist studies and philosophy but for medicine and mathematics as well. After teaching thousands of students for centuries, Nalanda ceased its existence just as universities were opening up in Bologna, Paris and Oxford at the beginning of the second millennium CE. The shift of centres of knowledge from East to West was symbolic of the eventual transfer of power which followed within half a millennium. There is now a perfect opportunity to recreate the hallowed universalism of Nalanda as a centre of knowledge. The second millennium CE ended with a tremendous resurgence of Asia after centuries of stagnation, division and decline. … Our challenge is to match the excellence of Nalanda of the first millennium CE for the third millennium CE. Importantly—though this has caused some distress in India, especially within the ministries that have committed funds for the project—the new Nalanda does not see itself as an Indian university, one that can be easily co-opted into some narrative of “India rising.” Rather, it sees itself as an international body, one that stands for values not necessarily aligned with those of nationalism—even if the great Asian powers seek to increase their influence by funding it. How it manages this tension will in great measure determine its future. China, Japan and Australia have been important donors to the project; a special act passed in parliament gives the university a considerable autonomy that other Indian institutions don’t enjoy. In recent years, there has been a great deal of soul-searching about why the country’s universities are almost invisible in global rankings, with the sense that higher education is trapped in a web of bureaucracy and petty standardization.

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Friday, January 30, 2015

Karnataka CM Promises 10 Crore for Nalanda University !

Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah promised Rs 10 crore for the construction of Nalanda Buddhist University, comining up at Jyothigowdanapura, near here, during the first Karnataka State Buddhist Convention held here, on Sunday.

Speaking at the programme, he said, the State government would also allot 50 acres of land for the proposed varsity. All disputes related to the land, where the varsity will come up, will be sorted out, he said.

He said, he was against declaring holidays to mark the birth anniversaries of social reformers. Therefore, the State government will not declare a holiday on account of Buddha Poornima, he said.“At present, terrorism and Naxalism are on a rise. Humane values propounded in Buddhism can provide an answer in controlling them,” he said.

MP Mallikarjuna Kharge said, the Constitution has given rights for citizens to follow the religion of their choice. However, cases of forceful re-conversion in the country are on a rise, he said.

He said, B R Ambedkar embraced Buddhism out of self-respect. Members of Dalit community have no unity, which is being misused by some elements, he said.

During the convention, hundreds of Buddhists from all around the State paid respects to the remains of Buddha.

Speaking about it, Bodhidatta Bantheji of Nalanda Buddha Vihara, said, emperor Ashoka of Maurya dynasty divided the remains of Buddha into 84,000 fragments, of which a few parts were taken by her daughter Sangamithra to Srilanka.

The remains present in Chamarajanagar were brought from Somathi Boudha Vihar in Srilanka in 2008, he said.
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Nalanda University Cuts PG Fee by 80%

The next batch of Nalanda University (NU) students will have to shell out much less than the pioneering batch as the university's governing board has cut the tuition fee for post-graduation courses from Rs three lakh to Rs 58,000 per annum.

Interacting with the media at the Patna airport after a two-day board meeting at Rajgir, NU chancellor Amartya Sen on Wednesday said fee revision was aimed at accommodating more talented students from economically average or weaker bac grounds.

"I'd expressed concern in this regard earlier too. After much debate and discussions, we agreed to put it at Rs 58,000 or about US $1,000 on the lines of South Asia University in Delhi," Sen said, adding he was happy with the functioning of the varsity so far.

Sen admitted the board was initially not quite alert while deciding the fee. But, vice-chancellor Gopa Sabharwal and the varsity dean received a number of letters from students saying they were interested in studying at NU but the fee structure was a deterrent.

The fee of the first batch of students, called Nalanda Pioneers, will also be adjusted in next session. The chancellor hoped the fee reduction will help attract more students to the university which started its first session with two schools - School of Ecology and Environmental Studies and School of Historical Studies, 13 students and 11 faculty members in September 2014.

NU is also contemplating opening more schools, governing board member Sugata Bose said. "A School of Economics and Management is being planned right now. A School of Public Health, which was not on the list of originally-planned seven schools and also a School of Buddhist Studies, Philosophy and Comparative Religion are also under consideration," Bose said.

Sen said, "I am personally involved in the School of Public Health and am visiting medical schools across the globe to see what best can happen at NU. Public healthcare institutes are not many in India but universal healthcare is the need of the hour."

All except one of the governing board members were present at the meeting held on January 13 and 14. The board has also sanctioned funds for the first phase of construction work on the 455-acre permanent campus of NU, few km from the old Nalanda Mahavihara.

"Our architects want the ground level work to finish before the monsoon hits the state. The tenders should be issued by the end of this month," Bose said even as Sen added old Nalanda had 10,000 students and NU eventually would have more than that.
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India committed to boosting BIMSTEC connectivity: PM

Making a strong pitch for enhanced regional connectivity, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Thursday that India was committed to worki...