The Future Of Education
A knowledge society has emerged globally in which creation and dissemination of knowledge happens at great speed and development and growth depend on education, innovation, and entrepreneurship.
The region of South Asia has a large population, a majority of them being young with limited access to resources especially formal academic resources. This young population is aspirational and eager to avail of the opportunities that have opened up in today’s world. However, this depends on the kind of educational opportunities that they get. Also, this area has the challenges of poverty, inequality, gender issues, a paucity of health facilities and lack of connectivity. Knowledge and education is the key to solving these problems. South Asia is also conflict-ridden which only increase these challenges. Its strength, however, is its young people, its strong civilizational heritage, knowledge, traditions and an aspiration to develop and grow.
There is a lot of emphases nowadays on diversity on university campuses and internationalization of higher education. The ICT revolution has made us all neighbors who need to understand each other. Globalization demands that universities produce graduates who can work at different places in the world. A knowledge society has emerged globally in which creation and dissemination of knowledge happens at great speed and development and growth depend on education, innovation, and entrepreneurship.
Keeping the challenges of South Asia in mind and of the new world that lies before the people with all its demands of diversity and development, the South Asian University was established and the first academic session started in July 2010. It was proposed by the then Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh at the 13th SAARC Summit on 12-13 November 2005 in Dhaka, Bangladesh. This proposal was accepted by the SAARC member states and an agreement for the establishment of SAU was signed by the Foreign Ministers of all SAARC countries on April 4, 2007. It is a great initiative in which all eight countries of SAARC have come together to establish an educational institution. The Government of India undertook to contribute the major share required for the establishment of the university by agreeing to provide 100 acres of land together with all the required capital costs. In addition, it gives just over 50% of the operational costs, the rest being shared by the other seven countries of SAARC. The University has half students from India and the other half are from the other seven SAARC countries the largest members coming from Nepal, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan. There are also students from Sri Lanka and Pakistan but from the Maldives, there are very few perhaps because of the small population base of Maldives. The idea is to develop a regional consciousness and provide academic excellence to students in this region. Since the students in SAU get a regional perspective of the challenges facing the region. The curriculum of the university is different from other national universities. It gives a wider perspective and provides an understanding of the entire region itself. This is unique and draws students to SAU.
Students in university come together for education in its widest terms as education is not confined to the classroom but they also learn as they work together on projects and papers, and participate in conferences and seminars. There are plenty of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities too, that brings them together. It is heartening to see that on their return to their countries, many non-Indian students get very good placements or pursue the even further education in other countries, often at the post-doctoral level.
While currently there are about five hundred and fifty students at the Masters and Doctoral levels, the number of students will gradually increase as the number of faculties and departments in the university expand. Right now the construction of the campus is in full swing and 12 buildings are coming up of which at least four are expected to be ready in March next year. In the next couple of years, the major part of the campus would be ready which will enable the university to expand into at least ten faculties and about sixteen departments. This will lead to the even greater diversity of students and faculty.
The university will finally have a student population of 5000 and faculty strength of 500. The infrastructural constraints prevent the academic expansion of the university at the moment and so it has five faculties with seven departments. These are Faculty of Social Sciences with Department of Sociology and International Relations, Faculty of Life Sciences and Biotechnology, Faculty of Economics, Faculty of Legal Studies and Faculty of Mathematics and Computer Science.
The university has done well in the short period of time since its establishment in spite of infrastructural constraints. As it grows, I am sure, it will rank amongst the top universities in this region and in the world. This is truly a collaborative venture with eight governments coming together to make it succeed. Given this commitment, the University aspires to produce leaders of tomorrow who will look towards ameliorating the lives of the people in this region rather than getting bogged down by past baggage. I am sure that with all stakeholders coming together, this will be possible although the conversations will perhaps be very dynamic and vibrant as the university charts its own course through hitherto unexplored paths. Perhaps, this kind of collaborative effort is where the future of education lies if we are all to grow and prosper together harmoniously and live peacefully.
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