Singapore's former minister George Yeo starts term as Nalanda University chancellor

"Our challenge is to build a secular, international university that is worthy of the name 'Nalanda', dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge,'' Mr Yeo said in a statement.
"Our challenge is to build a secular, international university that is worthy of the name 'Nalanda', dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge,'' Mr Yeo said in a statement. ST PHOTO: JOYCE FANG

NEW DELHI - Singapore's former foreign minister George Yeo said he would like to build a "secular, international university'' as he started his three-year term on Saturday as chancellor of India's Nalanda University .

Mr Yeo said construction would start soon on the campus, which will be in the town of Rajgir some 12 km away from the ruins of the ancient university.

The first phase of construction includes academic and administration buildings and will cost Rs 6.14 billion (S$132 million) over three years.

"Our challenge is to build a secular, international university that is worthy of the name 'Nalanda', dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge,'' Mr Yeo said in a statement.

He took over from Nobel laureate Amartya Sen who has agreed to continue as a member of the university governing body.

The Buddhist institution, set up in the early 5th century and burnt down by marauding invaders in 1193, was India's first residential university, attracting scholars from as far away as China, Persia and Turkey. In its heyday, the university housed 10,000 students and faculty members.

The university started its first academic session in September 2014 with 15 students from India, Bhutan and Japan and 11 faculty members in the School of Historical Studies and the School of Ecology and Environment Studies in a temporary campus in Rajgir.

The project to revive the university was first announced in 2006 but it has seen delays and has been mired in controversy.

In the past year or so, Dr Sen has accused the government of failing to safeguard the international character of the university and of bureaucratic delays. The government, which is funding the project to the tune of Rs 27 billion, had wanted greater oversight of finances and the hiring of staff and their salaries.

During his time as Singapore's foreign minister, Mr Yeo, who is a member of the governing body, had led the city state's diplomatic effort in getting backing for the project from the East Asia Summit, a regional grouping of 18 nations that includes Asean, in 2007.