George Yeo to be new chancellor of Nalanda University

George Yeo to be new chancellor of Nalanda University
Former foreign minister George Yeo.

SINGAPORE - Former foreign minister George Yeo is set to be the new chancellor of the revived Nalanda University, an ancient seat of learning in India's eastern Bihar state, further strengthening Singapore's links to the project.

Indian Ministry of External Affairs spokesman Vikas Swarup said that Mr Yeo, a member of the university's governing board, will take over from Nobel prize- winning economist Amartya Sen on July 17.

Dr Sen had earlier accused the government of political interference and, in February, publicised his decision to step down at the end of his tenure, even though the board had approved his continuation as chancellor.

Still, his association with the university will continue as a board member, revealed Mr Yeo, who also said it was a "great honour" to be appointed chancellor.

"I can't fill Amartya's shoes but will try my best to further his good work and support staff, students and stakeholders in making Nalanda worthy of its name and a light to the world,'' said Mr Yeo in an e-mail response to The Sunday Times.

The governing board, led by Dr Sen, unanimously approved Mr Yeo as new chancellor on May 3, and this was approved by Indian President Pranab Mukherjee.

Mr Yeo has been a prime mover of the revival effort of the educational institute since it was established in 2010. In 2012, the Indian government awarded him the Padma Bhushan, the third highest civilian award in India, for his role in public affairs.

Nalanda, founded in the fifth century, was India's first residential university that drew scholars from China, Persia and Turkey. It was famed for its nine-storey library, burnt down by invaders in 1193. The revival efforts kicked off in 2006 and received the support of the East Asia Summit.

The university, which opened last year in a temporary campus, now has 13 students and 10 faculty members in the two schools: Ecology and Environment Studies, and Historical Studies.

Those associated with the university were positive about Mr Yeo's appointment.

"George Yeo saw the significance of reviving the ideals of Nalanda by building a new university as soon as he heard about the proposal nearly 10 years ago... His commitment has been inspiring to all those involved," said governing board member Wang Gungwu of the National University of Singapore.

"In particular, everyone is most appreciative of his dedication to raise funds from Singapore to build the university library."

Singapore has committed US$5 million (S$6.7 million) to the library.

Harvard University professor Sugata Bose, also a governing board member, said: "We are naturally delighted. He is a natural leader with a vision for Nalanda."

Mr Yeo's challenges include the starting of construction on the campus, which is 12km away from the ruins of the ancient university. The site is near Rajgir, about 110km from Patna. He will also oversee the introduction of new schools in economics and Buddhist studies, among others.

In February last year, India's previous Congress government approved 27 billion rupees (S$572 million) in expenditure until financial year 2021-2022, and had wanted greater oversight of the running of the university.

This article was first published on May 31, 2015.
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