Hint of hope

  • The South Asian University is a noble step towards regional consciousness
Hint of hope

Jul 17, 2014-

Twenty-nine years into its existence, there is very little to rejoice about the formation of Saarc apart from the fact that it still exists. Only 17 Saarc summits have been held so far, even though it is supposed to take place every year. Geopolitical problems between its member nations and political instability within countries are to be largely blamed. Last year, for instance, Nepal cancelled the 18th Summit owing to domestic problems. The Summit is now scheduled to be held in Kathmandu in November.

Contrary to the lack of progress in Saarc, the South Asian University, an educational institution jointly established and funded by the eight member countries, seems to be faring quite well. An indication of this is the huge surge in applications it has received over the years. The varsity, which is set to begin its fifth academic session by the end of July, received 4,600 applications for 250 seats this year. The University currently offers seven Masters’ and M.Phil/PhD programmes in computer science, economics, biotechnology, sociology, international relations, applied maths and legal studies.

When the Saarc University first came into operation in 2010, it was housed in one corner of the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, India. A Sri Lankan architect had renovated a long single-storeyed debilitated building beyond recognition, which fulfilled the multiple needs of the university. The classroom for the two courses on offer—development economics and computer application—a small reading room with a thin collection of books, a computer lab and the faculty room were on the ground floor. Hardly anyone knew of the institution, even in Delhi. Four years later, the University is often cited as one of Saarc’s few successful initiatives.  

The University’s rise, however, has not been without problems. In its second year, there was an uproar in the Indian media over the curriculum, the number of faculty members for courses and even the granting of ‘university’ status to the institution. The future of the university looked bleak. Things have certainly improved for the better since then, but problems persist. The first convocation of the University, for instance, which was supposed to be held in presence of then Prime Minister of India Manmohan Singh and President of the Maldives Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom last December, was repeatedly postponed and has still not taken place. This is ironic as the University was actually Singh’s idea. It is equally telling of the little importance placed on the institute by the region’s political class.    

The Saarc University stands as a noble attempt at building regional consciousness in South Asia, where two-fifths of humanity resides. This alone should be reason enough for member nations to be motivated to make the University work. More so, since strengthening regional consciousness among the young seems like a more promising route to ending the almost three decades of impasse in the Saarc than anything else.

Published: 18-07-2014 08:54

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