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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