Unique institution focuses on regional cohesion
Within just three years of its inception, South Asian University (SAU) in New Delhi has developed into an international centre for learning and a hub for the promotion of peace and co-operation in the region.South Asian University educates students from all eight SAARC member nations. The institution hopes to grow from its present 323 student population to 7,000 in three years when its permanent New Delhi campus will be completed.
Established by the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation (SAARC) in 2010, SAU is the only university that can boast having students, faculty members and non-faculty personnel from all eight member nations (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, Afghanistan and the Maldives).
“We not only aim to provide international-level education, but also ensure that our students have a better understanding of the region, its culture, rich resources,” University President G. K. Chadha told Khabar South Asia. “In an environment of globalisation, this university aims to raise the voice of the nations in South Asia at international platforms.”
This year, SAU has launched a new mandatory course ‘Introduction to South Asia’, which will “Provide a detailed study of all the countries that comprise SAARC and this is why several institutions are keeping a close tab on our course,” Chadha said.
The university, which currently operates from a government building on Akbar Road, follows a seat-allocation system for students from different SAARC nations. India gets half the seats, Pakistan and Bangladesh get 10% each, and the remaining five members get 4% each. Students from non-SAARC nations are eligible for the remaining 10%. So far, only one non-SAARC student — from Eritrea — has enrolled.
Currently, the university has 323 students, but aims to grow to 7,000 and 700 faculty members when its $300m, 100-acre campus at Maidan Garhi, New Delhi is complete in three years.
Each member nation contributes two members to SAU Board of Directors and pays a proportional share of operating costs – $5.77m in 2012. To date, only Pakistan has abstained from nominating board members or investing money, perhaps due to “the conflicts and tensions at the political level,” Chadha said.
“However, the good news is that this is the first time that the website of Pakistan’s Department for Higher Education has included SAU as a prospective centre for learning for its students, and we hope to have more students from across the Line of Control (LoC) in the next academic session,” he said.
There are already 15 Pakistani students at SAU. Zaigham Abbas, from Narowal in Punjab province, is pursuing a Master’s degree in computer science. “I am very happy to be here, as these facilities are not available in my country. I have the full support of my family as well as the students and teachers here,” he told Khabar.
Last August 14th and 15th, students from Pakistan and India celebrated their respective country’s Independence Day together, he said.
“It was entirely an initiative of the students and the university authorities had nothing to do with it,” Abbas said. “We celebrated our country’s Independence Day from 8.00pm to midnight and left the stage for our Indian friends to celebrate their Independence Day.”
Tasfaldet Hadgu, the sole student from Eritrea, favours the university’s international roster of instructors.
“I came to this university because I got a scholarship, said Hadgu, who is a first-year SAU law student. “Moreover, this is an international university that has faculty members from various parts of the world, especially in my stream. Therefore, I consider that this is the best place where I can be.”
“I have made many friends here and also plan to visit some of their native places. The milieu is very friendly and encouraging. I think I have been fortunate to be here. When I go back home, I will tell my friends and relatives there to pursue their higher studies here.”
Aman Ullah, a barrister from Pakistan teaching international law at SAU, said of the university, “This is one of the wonderful things that could have happened, as, besides education, students here are getting an opportunity to learn about each other’s cultures and getting closer. When they go back home, they spread this message of peace and closeness.
“In fact, when I visit my home every month, people ask me about SAU and life in India, and I tell them that this is a peaceful, democratic nation, where the common people do not have any rivalry or animosity towards Pakistanis. I hope that we are able to follow the pattern of the European Union at SAU and attain the same success.”
Rubaiyat Rahman, from Dhaka, told Khabar, “On February 21st, students belonging to different South Asian countries celebrated the International Mother Language Day at the university. Students from each country put up a show reflecting the culture of their nation. This not only brought us closer, as we had to work together for days for the programme, but I personally learned a lot, especially about the cultures of Afghanistan and Sri Lanka. Now, we even converse in each other’s languages.
Khabarsouthasia.com provides information in three languages – English, Bengali and Urdu – on developments affecting the stability and security of the South Asia region. The site features news, feature articles and multimedia content from paid correspondents located across the region.