Perusing the papers recently, it was interesting to note that the World’s oldest “university”, an ancient centre of Buddhist learning, might be rebuilt with the intention of establishing a world-class international university. Since being destroyed by a Turkic General, Bakhityar Khilji, in 1193, the ancient seat of learning at Nalanda has fallen into ruin. Ambitious plans, which have so far garnered support from a number of prestigious universities and funding from Japan and Singapore to the tune of $100 million, would see the site transformed into a university capable of attracting the best students from all over Asia. Amartya Sen, a Nobel prize winning economist who is firmly behind the plans, believes it will create a school that will “offer an enormous number of subjects in the Buddhist tradition, in the same way that Oxford [offered] in the Christian tradition”.

While the plans seem to be feasible and there is every chance that the legislation required to begin construction will be passed in the next month, it does seem a shame that a site so abundant with heritage and spectacular ruins should be built upon, an act that will inevitably change the landscape for the worse. It could be compared to taking Stonehenge and turning it into a cathedral on the grounds that it was probably used as a place of worship once upon a time. That said, the alternative fate for Nalanda, which is that of a tourist attraction, would no doubt prove almost as detrimental in the long run, with droves of tourists likely to flock in to visit should the facilities there be improved.

It’s a conundrum, but one cannot argue that a world class university in India would no doubt be of huge worth to the growth of higher education in the fast developing country. Let’s just hope that they respect tradition whilst in the pursuit of education.

Ben McCabe

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