In what has been described as the "largest visible sign of transformation of SAARC", the Indian government has approved the tabling of a bill in parliament to create a South Asian University (SAU) here.
"The establishment of the SAU in India would be the largest visible sign of transformation of SAARC from declaratory to implementation," Finance Minister P. Chidambram said while briefing reporters Friday on the decisions taken at a cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh late Thursday evening.
"It will also be the first international university to be set up in India and would have branches of learning in other SAARC member states," he added.
The SAU, whose jurisdiction will extend to the whole of India and to campuses and centres established outside India in the SAARC region and "would have full and functional autonomy", the finance minister said.
The university is expected to commence functioning in the second half of 2010 with 5,000 students and a postgraduate academic programme.
"The SAU shall grant the necessary diplomas, certificates and degrees, as it determines," Chidambaram said.
At the request of the external affairs ministry, the Delhi Development Authority will be allotting 100 acres of land for the SAU at Maidan Garhi near the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU).
The cost of the land, approximately Rs 750 million, would be borne by the external affairs ministry.
"Contribution on other expenditure would be decided by the SAARC member states at the necessary intergovernmental mechanisms based on the existing participatory approach," an official statement said.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had proposed SAU's establishment at the 13th SAARC Summit held in Dhaka in November 2005 to provide world-class facilities and professional faculty to students and researchers from SAARC countries.
An Inter-Governmental Agreement for establishing the university was signed at the 14th SAARC Summit in April 2007. The SAARC member states also decided that the university would be established in India.
The SAARC member states have already set up a Project Office for the university that India is funding for two years.
"The Project Office will be tasked to acquire land for the university, oversee its construction, draw up charter, byelaws, business plan, governance structure and course curricula," the statement said.
"The realization of this prestigious project on schedule would be a visible manifestation of India's asymmetric commitment to SAARC contributing to SAARC's transformation to the implementation phase," the statement added.