George Yeo quits as Nalanda University chancellor

Mr Yeo said that as chancellor, he had not been consulted about the decision to reconstitute the governing board.
Mr Yeo said that as chancellor, he had not been consulted about the decision to reconstitute the governing board.

Singapore's former foreign minister George Yeo has resigned as chancellor of Nalanda University over what he said was the Indian government's failure to maintain the university's autonomy.

In a statement yesterday, Mr Yeo said that as chancellor, he had not been consulted about or informed of the important decision to reconstitute the governing board, which makes key decisions for the university.

"The circumstances under which the leadership change in Nalanda University has been suddenly and summarily effected is disturbing and possibly harmful to the university's development. It is puzzling why I, as chancellor, was not even given notice of it," he said.

Mr Yeo has been involved for close to a decade in the project to revive Nalanda, an ancient seat of learning in India's Bihar state. As foreign minister, he led Singapore's diplomatic effort in 2007 to get support for the project at the East Asia Summit, an Asean-led annual forum that today brings together leaders of 18 nations.

His resignation added to the uncertainty surrounding the future of the university, which has been mired in controversies over autonomy issues and seen many delays.

Nobel laureate Amartya Sen resigned as chancellor in July last year but remained on the governing board. He had criticised the Indian government for bureaucratic delays and failing to safeguard the international character of the university. The Indian government, which provides the biggest share of funds, had wanted greater oversight over finances and other key decisions.

Mr Yeo said: "When I was invited to take over the responsibility from Amartya Sen last year, I was repeatedly assured that the university would have autonomy. This appears not to be the case now."

On Monday, Indian President Pranab Mukherjee, who is the visitor of 126 universities including Nalanda and oversees them, had dissolved Nalanda's old governing board and created a new one.

In a post on his Facebook page, Mr Yeo said the dissolution of the old board "is bound up with Indian domestic politics which I do not wish to be embroiled in".

Nalanda currently has 130 students from 13 countries and 30 faculty members. It held its first convocation in August.

Harvard University professor Sugata Bose, an Indian politician who was on the disbanded governing board, called Mr Yeo's resignation a "setback to the Nalanda dream".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 26, 2016, with the headline 'George Yeo quits as Nalanda University chancellor'. Print Edition | Subscribe