The South Asian University (SAU), the only educational institution for higher studies created by all the eight members of the SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation), has been without its topmost official for more than two years. The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) had advertised twice for the post but the SAU continues to be led by an “acting president” .
Sources in the SAU said the absence of a permanent president, which is equivalent to a vice chancellor, has contributed to a sense of instability in the prestigious varsity. “Prof Kavita Sharma retired in November 2019 and an acting president was appointed and now SAU is being led by a second acting president and yet there is no sign of appointing a full-time president, which is the responsibility of the MEA as that has been agreed to by other members of the SAARC,” an informed source from the university noted.
The SAU, which started academic operations in 2010, offers postgraduate and doctorate programmes in economics, international relations, mathematics, biotechnology, sociology, and a host of other subjects that are available to students from the member countries. It had been in news because of the delay in the construction of its 100-acre campus in South Delhi, which will be its permanent location. The university has been functioning in Chanakyapuri’s Akbar Bhavan, a large multi-storeyed building in the heart of the diplomatic enclave of the capital.
Following the retirement of Dr. Sharma, the MEA appointed A.V.S. Ramesh Chandra, a senior IFS official, to the post. He was repatriated to the Ministry following a controversy over his payments and allowances. Ever since, Ranjan Kumar Mohanty has been serving as the “acting president”.
The university remains one of the few prominent initiatives of the SAARC where all the member-countries have participated. Apart from the absence of a full-time leadership, it has also been affected by the violence in Afghanistan during which many of its Afghan students were assaulted by warring factions in Kabul. Afghanistan had joined the initiative during the pre-Taliban government, and at present is yet to find government-level representation, as the Taliban is yet to be engaged by the SAARC.
That apart, the tense India-Pakistan relation has also been a factor that has prevented convening of the next SAARC summit. Overall regional dynamics has been a factor in the administration of this unique university as it is led by the spirit of regional cooperation in South Asia.