Quietly, a unique SAARC varsity takes shape
by: Anubhuti Vishnoi
Courtesy: IndianExpress, Jan 15, 2010
New Delhi:To reverse brain drain, provide an academic opportunity in the subcontinent and promote a sense of South Asian community, a plan first mooted in 2005 is finally and quietly taking shape — in the form of the first truly international university being set up by eight nations.
Tax-free dollar salaries for an international faculty, a variety of multi-disciplinary courses focused on research, a multinational exam for admission, an academic environment free of directions from Commissions, and a think tank to ponder over the shared problems of the subcontinent — these will be the key features of the South Asian University (SAU) being set up by SAARC nations.
The university, headed by former JNU V-C Prof G K Chadha — once a student of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh — will start operating between August 2010 and January 2011, offering postgraduate courses in economics, computer applications and biotechnology. Faculty will be recruited largely from SAARC countries, but SAU has kept open options of looking beyond.
“We hope to start the MCA and M.A. Economics courses in August itself, followed by M.Sc Biotechnology in the next semester. We will start the first two courses with some 10-15 teachers, but will expand the faculty to 500 members by 2014,” Prof Rajiv Saxena, OSD, Academics and Planning, SAU, told The Indian Express.
“Biotechnology courses should start in January next year when the required labs etc are in place. The focus will be on getting academics from within the SAARC region, but 20 per cent of the faculty will be picked from other nations as well. There is also a provision for visiting faculty from abroad,” Prof Saxena added.
The university is yet to call for applications for faculty positions, but academics from all over the subcontinent have already begun sending in their CVs. Keen to ensure the best join, subcontinental partner nations are ready to pay faculty nearly double what they normally get in India, in dollars, tax-free.
With no precedents or templates to follow, the creation of the multinational university has involved lots of learning, unlearning and consensus-building. Rules and regulations presently under discussion are likely to get a go-ahead in a key meeting of SAARC representatives in March, paving the way for admissions and hirings. Curricula for the M. A. Economics, MCA and M.Sc Biotechnology courses are ready.
SAU will take in some 50 students for the first semester; the strength will increase as courses in the humanities and sciences, and the proposed law, medicine, management and engineering schools begin, Prof Saxena said. A few undergraduate admissions will be given, but the focus will be on postgraduate studies and research.
A common admission test will be given to applicants in all eight SAARC nations. To ensure a fair representation, no more than 50 per cent of students will be from India. Every SAARC country will have at least 4 per cent of students at SAU.
The proposed university will also set up a think tank, the Institute of South Asian Studies, to discuss and research key regional issues and shared regional problems such as disaster management, water-sharing, cross-border epidemics, climate change and preservation of cultural heritage.
Prof Chadha, the CEO, is being assisted by two OSDs and four task forces — on Academics, Governance & Legal Structure, Business Plan and Infrastructure. Experts like Prof Imran Rehman from Dhaka’s University of Liberal Arts, Syed Imtiaz Hussain Gilani, V-C, NWFP University of Engineering & Technology, Peshawar, Dr Yubaraj Sangroula, Founder Director, Kathmadu School of Law, Prof. S B S Abayakoon, Dean, Faculty of Engineering and Member, UGC, Sri Lanka, Prof A G K Menon, Advisor, Delhi Urban Arts Commission, and Prof Pema Thinley, V-C, Royal University of Bhutan, are on the task forces.
For now, SAU is operating out of the old JNU campus. It will later move to a 100-acre campus near the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU). Master plan designs of the campus have been invited from architects across the SAARC region.
India is meeting all capital costs of setting up SAU, including providing free land in Delhi for the university. It will meet 50 per cent of operating costs; the rest will be shared by other SAARC nations.