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"Canada can, within a positive friendly atmosphere, ask the Chinese government to resolve the Tibetan situation."

Scholars revive ancient Indian university

August 7, 2010

By James Lamont in New Delhi
The Financial Times
August 3, 2010

One of the world’s oldest universities --
Nalanda, in the impoverished Indian state of
Bihar -- is to be refounded more than 800 years
after it was destroyed, fulfilling the dreams of
scholars from India, Singapore, China, and Japan.

India’s parliament will this week consider
legislation allowing foreign partners to help
recreate the ancient Buddhist centre of learning
close to the red-brick ruins of the original
university, 55 miles from Patna, Bihar’s capital.

The initiative has been championed by Amartya
Sen, the world-renowned scholar and Nobel
laureate for economics, who described Nalanda as
"one of the highest intellectual achievements in
the history of the world." Prof Sen said
Nalanda’s recreation would lead to a renaissance
of Indian learning that would draw students from all over the region.

Founded in the third century AD, according to
N.K. Singh, a Patna-based member of parliament’s
upper house, Nalanda university at its height
accommodated 10,000 students from all over Asia.
It was sacked by invading Turkic forces, and its
famous library burned down in 1193, at a time
when some of Europe’s oldest academic
institutions, such as Bologna and Paris, were just beginning to flourish.

The project has the backing of India’s foreign
ministry and senior members of the Singaporean
government, and plans to attract students from
mainland China, among other countries.

Pledges of financial support by India’s powerful
planning commission and a gift of 500 acres of
land by the state government of Bihar also show a
high level of commitment to promoting Buddhist culture by Hindu-majority India.

Prof Sen, who is irreligious, said the Buddhist
foundation would create international faculties
across the full spectrum of learning, including
philosophy, mathematics, medicine and information
technology, and would be able to open facilities within two years.

He invited private donors, including religious
organisations and wealthy individuals, to back
the project in a country where tertiary education
has traditionally been the preserve of the public sector.

However, Prof Sen declined to estimate how much
it would cost to set up the university.

Prof Sen, who plans to lecture at the university,
said he was also enlisting the support of
institutions such as Harvard, Oxford, Cambridge
and older European institutions.

"Nalanda was flourishing before many of them were being born," he said.

George Yeo, foreign minister of Singapore,
acknowledged there were "a lot of hurdles" to
overcome before Nalanda reclaimed its former
academic glory. But he envisaged the site
becoming a tourist attraction among countries with large Buddhist populations.

He suggested Nalanda university could help
promote Buddhist learning elsewhere. "Once the
university is established, it will spawn lots of
other centres in the world," he said.
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