The much-awaited Nalanda University starts functioning from Monday with two schools, 15 students and 11 faculty members. Of the students, five are women.
Set up following a 2010 special Act of Parliament, the university acquired 455 acres at the Rajgir foothills but as there has not been any construction so far, it will for now function from Rajgir Convention Centre, a state government building. Government-owned Tathagat Hotel will serve as the hostel.
Though each discipline is to have a maximum of 20 students, only 15 in all have joined in the two schools of the planned seven that will be starting Monday. The 15 were selected from around 1,000 applicants after multiple screening and tests. The admission process is still on. Of the 15, three students are from Bihar.
The students include a Bhutan university dean on study leave and a postgraduate in Buddhist Studies from Japan. The first two schools to start are the School of Ecology and Environmental Studies and School of Historical Studies.
While two of the faculty members are from abroad — Samuel Wright from the US and Yin Ker of Singapore — the Indian teachers too have experience of teaching at foreign universities. The university plans to stick to a faculty ratio of 1:8.
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From the Rajgir Convention Centre, classes are expected to shift to a makeshift building in a month. Construction work on own campus is expected to start from February 2015.
At the Tathagat Hotel, 40 rooms have been hired for students and teachers. The five women students are lodged on a separate floor.
Vice-Chancellor Gopa Sabarwal said despite the university starting with only two schools, “it was a dream come true”. “Of the 11 teachers, seven have arrived. All teachers have outstanding careers. We hope to add schools of linguistics and literature, economics and management and also public health in a year.”
She added that the idea was to blend values of the ancient Nalanda university with the contemporary. Collaborations have been tied up with a number of foreign universities, including Yale.
Shashi Ahlawat, a B.Tech from Technological of Textiles and Sciences, Haryana, is among the five students enrolled at School of Historical Studies. Despite her science background, she said, a brush with competitive exams showed her that “I am cut out for excelling in history”.
Ngawang, the dean of historical research at Royal University of Bhutan, said there can’t be a better place than Nalanda University to study history. “Ever since the Bhutan government introduced Bhutan and Himalayan history in 2011, I had been thinking of studying history,” he said.
Anshuman Shekhar quit a job at an IT firm to enrol at the School of Ecology and Environmental Studies. He had studied microbiology at Bharati Vidyapeeth University, Pune.
Akiro Nakamvva, a post-graduate from the University of Tokyo, will also be studying history at Nalanda University.
Sabarwal said though classes are planned only for five days a week, students and teachers can mutually agree to work over the weekend as well. The annual fee for a post-graduation course is Rs 3 lakh, apart from Rs 75,000 administrative charges. However, the first batch of students will have to pay only half the tuition fees.
Among the significant contributions to Nalanda University has been the US $1 million given by China in November 2011, to set up a library, and Thailand ambassador’s donation of US $100,000 in January 2012.