Amidst deep funding cuts in Britain’s higher education sector, the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) has received a 20 million pounds donation from a Chicago-based foundation to study and preserve Buddhist and Hindu art in south-east Asia.
One of the foremost centres of learning on India, Asia, the Middle East and Africa, the London-based SOAS was founded in 1916 and generations of Indian scholars, journalists and others have since gained higher education qualifications there.
The 20 million pounds donation described as “transformational” has been given by the Alphawood Foundation, which was set up by former SOAS student, Fred Eychaner. It is one of the bigest donations to a British university, particularly in the field of Arts and Humanities.
The donation will be used to fund scholarships, chairs and campus expansion in central London. SOAS said that most of the Alphawood donation, 15 million pounds, will fund an ambitious academic programme that builds on SOAS’ research expertise and existing institutional links in the Southeast Asia region.
Three new fully endowed academic posts will enhance SOAS’ Asian arts expertise – the Hiram W Woodward Chair in Southeast Asian art, the David L. Snellgrove Chair in Tibetan and Buddhist art, and a Senior Lectureship in Curating and Museology of Asian Art.
Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum said: "Southeast Asia has an immense artistic heritage including the world-renowned monuments of Angkor Wat, Borobudur and Bagan. These rank among the greatest sacred monuments of Asia and were built on an unprecedented scale and with unmatched perfection of workmanship”.
He added: “Despite this, the treasures are still relatively little known and the academic field remains relatively undeveloped. This is indeed a visionary philanthropic donation which will have a profound and long-lasting effect on the understanding and study of Southeast Asian art”.
Professor Paul Webley, Director of SOAS, said: "SOAS has been studying and interpreting the development, languages, arts and cultures of Asia for nearly 100 years and this project will draw on that knowledge as well as further reinforce our position as a world-leading centre for the study and interpretation of Southeast Asian art”.
He added: “We aim to attract the highest-calibre candidates for the new academic posts and will reach out to our contacts across the region to attract students, curators and scholars, enabling a new generation of Southeast Asian art experts."