It is only appropriate that a government that is actively seeking overseas collaboration in the arena of higher education should be steadfast in its support for an inclusive and ambitious model of global partnership. The Union Cabinet’s approval of the amendments proposed by a Standing Committee on External Affairs should settle once and for all the question of the status of Nalanda University — at Rajgir in Bihar — as an international institution. As per the proposed amendments, the preamble to the 2010 Act would characterise Nalanda unambiguously as “a non-state, non-profit, self-governing international institution.” Such a stipulation should put an end to attempts to depict the modern avatar of the historic centre of learning as a central university, thus saving the government the embarrassment of having to clarify its position to other participant-countries in this unique project. Indeed, the Standing Committee has proposed the insertion of a clear reference in the relevant law to the 2013 intergovernmental memorandum of understanding that has entered into force. Significantly, the latter provides for the involvement of any country that subscribes to the objectives of Nalanda. Russia, the United States, Australia and New Zealand have already expressed their commitment at various levels.
The transnational composition of the modern Nalanda was only to be expected. For the states of the second East Asia Summit (EAS) in 2007 saw the revival of this ancient seat of learning as being central to realising the concept of an Asian community and strengthening regional educational cooperation. A capacity to attract students and faculty from across geographical boundaries was one of the hallmarks of this great and ancient seat of learning. It would have therefore seemed rather odd for the architects of Nalanda’s new version appearing not keen to foster a cross-cultural and cosmopolitan spirit of intellectual and cultural exchange. In the context of the relatively backward State of Bihar, the creation of state-of-the-art infrastructure and improved overall connectivity would prove an immense boon. The University’s Chancellor, the Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, has repeatedly emphasised his commitment to promoting the highest academic standards, as well as ensuring equity in the recruitment and admissions processes. These are worthy objectives that India’s public institutions generally, and those in the field of education in particular, must foster at every level. If indeed the 21st century is critical to the future of Asia, then Nalanda is potentially a great platform to create that future. It could prove no less a model for the promotion of international understanding.