By Anjali Ojha
Just two years into its creation with the aim of forging closer cooperation among neighbours, the South Asian University here is already bringing nations of the region closer.
The university, which was established in 2010 after an inter-governmental agreement at the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), is one of the few in India with students from Pakistan. In a unique display of friendship between India and Pakistan, students from the two countries celebrated their respective Independence Day together at the university.
While India's Independence Day is on Aug 15, Pakistan celebrates it a day earlier. The relationship between the two countries has seen several rough patches, with concerns over terrorism a major sticking point.
"It was an initiative by the students; they said they wanted to celebrate the independence day of both countries together," university president G. K. Chadha told IANS.
"On the night of 14th August, from 11 p.m. to midnight, students from Pakistan staged their cultural performances, and from midnight to 1 a.m., India's Independence day was celebrated," he said.
The sight of students of the two countries celebrating their independence day together filled everyone with joy. The president says he felt that the university was born that day.
"We were overwhelmed and I said, SAU has taken birth today."
SAU, at present housed in a government building in south Delhi, has 323 students.
Of the total, 174 are from India. The second highest number of 51 students comes from Bangladesh, followed by 32 from Nepal and 31 from Afghanistan. Pakistan has 15 students, and Sri Lanka 12.
From the smaller SAARC countries, Bhutan has five students and the Maldives two, while one student is from a non-SAARC country Eritrea, in the Horn of Africa.
Chadha brushed aside criticism of the university being a non-starter.
"We have students from all SAARC countries, but there are several factors including that of status of education within those countries that affects the inflow of students," he said.
Under the seat-sharing system, Indian students are allowed 50 percent of the seats. While 10 percent share goes to Bangladesh and Pakistan each; 10 percent seats are of non-SAARC country students, and four percent each is the share of Sri Lanka, Nepal, Afghanistan, the Maldives and Bhutan.
Chadha says the university's main aim is to create a think-tank which would promote regional identity in the South Asian region.
"Evolving a regional consciousness is one of the main objectives of the university," Chadha said.
University vice-president Rajiv K. Saxena said the institution wants to create a regional platform for cooperation in South Asia.
"This is the era of regional groups, whether it is EU (European Union) or BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa). We need to push that consciousness in South Asia," Saxena told IANS.
"If we succeed, the world will look at us as an example," Chadha added.
On funding for the university, Saxena said India is bearing the capital cost for the infrastructure. SAARC countries have their share for the operational cost fixed.
"India has the highest 54 percent share, Pakistan has the second largest share of nearly nine percent, Bangladesh has five percent and the smaller countries contribute around 2.5 percent each," Saxena said.
Pakistan, which has 15 students and one faculty member, has however not been forthcoming with any contribution or other administrative help, said Chadha.
"Pakistan is yet to nominate any one for the board of governors of the university. We have also so far not received any contribution from Pakistan," Chadha said.
All SAARC countries, including Pakistan, had vowed to support the university at the time of its formation.
He said the Pakistan government has not provided any dedicated centre for the conduct of examinations.
"Our entrance exam was conducted by Beaconhouse National University, a private university in Lahore," the president said.
Of the 54 faculty members, 46 are from India, three from Bangladesh and one each from Australia, Bhutan, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
The university conducts only masters programmes in seven subjects - development economics, sociology, international relations, law, computer science, biotechnology, and applied mathematics. It is now planning to start Ph.D. programmes from the coming academic session.
(Anjali Ojha can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
--Indo-Asian News Service