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Nalanda university new VC’s mantra: Zero tolerance of indiscipline, focus on expansion

For Nalanda university vice-chancellor Sunaina Singh, the most important thing for the international varsity is to develop a culture of and commitment to research, in keeping with the spirit of its earlier avatar.

india Updated: May 21, 2017 17:33 IST
Arun Kumar
Sunaina Singh, who took charge as vice-chancellor of Nalanda University, Rajgir (Bihar), on May 15.
Sunaina Singh, who took charge as vice-chancellor of Nalanda University, Rajgir (Bihar), on May 15. (File photo)

Sunaina Singh is vice-chancellor of the prestigious Nalanda University (NU) at Rajgir in Bihar, which seeks to recapture the glory of the ancient university bearing that name - an international centre of learning from 5th century CE to 12th century CE. She took charge on May 15, just months after the university, envisaged as a centre of inter-civilisational dialogue, was rocked by a sexual harassment case, in March. In her first interview, Singh, who was earlier with the English and Foreign Language University (EFLU), Hyderabad, tells Arun Kumar about her priorities to take forward the one-of-its kind institution. Excerpts:

Recently, NU was in controversy over a sexual harassment case. To prevent a recurrence of such cases, what do you intend to do? 

I am a believer in rules and regulations and have zero-tolerance for people who show disrespect to the institution in any way. I intend to ensure that students focus on excelling in their chosen field of study and fulfil the objectives that brought them to the university. Institutional mechanisms will be put in place to deal with and prevent any untoward incident. I have had meetings with students as well as faculty members and the response has been very positive. I will adopt an enlightened approach to build the image of the University. By following rules and regulations we show our respect to our institution. Therefore, the effort will be to establish a transparent and accountable administration. Automation will be a reality soon. 

You have come from a central university. How different will NU be, with an entirely new set up? 

NU is still at a nascent stage which is when the culture of an institution is established. The advantage is that the university can write its own narrative. It is a huge opportunity and I feel honoured to be here. My top priority will be to establish a culture of excellence - be it in academics or administration. I will also focus on capacity building in order to attract good talent to the University. NU has to be different and prove how India can play a dynamic role in the educational sphere. 

What changes will you like to see in NU? 

I like my work to speak for itself and I hope to make these changes visible rather than just talk about it. By 2020, things will start taking concrete shape and be visible. So far, we have not made concrete beginning, but I view things optimistically. The minister for external affairs is keen on seeing NU emerging as a strong and vibrant educational centre. Bihar CM Nitish Kumar, whom I met after joining, is also highly supportive and has assured us of all help. The new governing board is also very supportive and wants things to shape up fast. After just 12 students in the first year, 50 will graduate this year. The enrolment is 140 at present. We want to increase the intake and courses. 

Taking over as VC, as you are, at a time when NU is in a crucial phase, what will be your priorities? 

NU should be a symbol of India’s soft power. My immediate priorities will be to focus on ifive areas: nfrastructure development; capacity building; expansion of knowledge domain to attract focused students from across Asia; streamlining governance and library databases and e-resources to be enriched in keeping with the international image of the University. The most important thing is to develop a culture and commitment for research in keeping with the spirit of ancient Nalanda. We will develop a core research cluster so that it could be opened up for inquiries in specific knowledge areas. The focus will be on multi-disciplinary approach, which Indian education system once epitomized. 

How soon NU will shift in its own premises? 

The construction work on the main campus is in full swing. We hope that we will be able to hold some classes in the main campus within a year. We will also use prefab structures to ensure that we start functioning from there even if it is in a small way. A monitoring committee will be set up to ensure that the construction is timely and meets all the quality requirements. 

NU board had, in 2016, decided to start the school of linguistics and literature from the 2016-17 session. Is it on? 

I have just joined so I will see how we can go about it. Even if it is not launched from this year, we will have certain modules. Communication is a very important aspect and there is an urgent need for it. From the 2018-19 session it will certainly be on. We have to develop a level of infrastructure for it. The school of international relations and peace studies will be the next one we will focus on. We will review the existing programmes and plan, accordingly. 

Any new initiatives? 

We also need to have more departments for academic excellence. So far, departments have not come up. Within the existing schools we will create new departments. We also plan to introduce Vedic studies, Indian spiritual tradition and peace studies. The Indian knowledge systems have to be explored. The University may also start some short-term executive programmes on subjects like Mindfulness and Yoga, Sanskrit, cultural anthropology, astronomy, history of science under different schools. Scholars and faculty members will be roped in for them.