More Sri Lankans should study at South Asian University in New Delhi -Prof Sasanka Perera

Our Special Correspondent

NEW DELHI, July 8: The prestigious South Asian University (SAU) here can admit at least 20 Sri Lankans every year for higher studies, but the island nation has not utilized its 4% quota fully since the institution funded by eight SAARC countries was established here in 2010.

A total of 210 students from all member countries are studying at the SAU this year. Barely a dozen of them are Sri Lankans—-the highest in eight years!

 The SAU is an international university established, funded and maintained by the governments of the eight member nations of South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation (SAARC) , namely: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

In the first five years since the SAU was set up here (2010-2014), Sri Lanka has paid US$2.951million, or LKR 444.5 million, as its share of funding the university. India meets all capital costs. The annual operational cost of running the university is $7.6 million, or LKR 1,155 million.

The expenses of running the university are proportionately shared by all SAARC member countries:  But Pakistan is yet to pay its share. However, its students are admitted every year in SAU’s Master’s, MPhil and PhD courses.

According to Prof Sasanka Perera, SAU’s Vice President and Dean, Faculty of Social Studies, 16 Sri Lankan students can be admitted to the Master’s courses and four more for the MPhil/PhD courses. But Sri Lanka has not managed to fully utilize its quota so far.

According to SAU data, 108 Sri Lankans had sought admission to its Master’s courses during 2010-2016, but only 26 qualified to be admitted. For the MPhil and PhD courses introduced in 2013, of 37 Sri Lankans who sought admission till last year, only three could be admitted.

And for the first time, a dozen Sri Lankans are studying at the SAU this year. Eight are doing their Master’s, one is doing MPhil and three are continuing their studies.      

 The approximate cost for a student in SAU per annum is $ 8,500, or LKR 1.29 million.  

However, students from the SAARC member nations enjoy about 90% subsidy and have to pay only $ 880 or LKR 133,760 per annum. And about 80% of the students from the eight countries receive scholarships, financial aid, tuition fee waiver, hostel fee waiver, etc.

 Sri Lanka has fully met its financial obligations to the SAU in the first funding cycle since the university began operations in 2010: LKR 444.5 million. This is a significant cost to the state, and perhaps much more than the amounts some national institutions might have received in the island. 

 Says Prof Perera, the only Sri Lankan on SAU’s faculty: "Given this commitment, Sri Lanka has hardly met its quota of students since inception.  This is partly because the SAU’s own outreach in Sri Lanka has been inadequate.  But it is also because no Sri Lankan entity has attempted to make the university known within the country, including its University Grants Commission (UGC). 

 "Though the Sri Lankans have paid the funds obligated to the university, they keep forgetting that this is as much one of their own universities as it is also of Nepal’s, Maldives’, Bangladesh’s, Bhutan’s, India’s, Afghanistan’s and Pakistan’s," says Prof Perera, who has a Master’s and PhD from the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Currently there are 58 faculty members, eight of whom are from various countries and the rest are from India. There are currently only two faculties from Sri Lanka: Prof  Perera and one administrator (Dr D D Menaka Ranasinghe, a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Mathematics and Computer Science).  

 This is because Sri Lankan authorities have not tried to put a leave system in place for its academics or university administrators to easily come to the SAU for at least short stints. Other SAARC countries have such a system in place. 

 Says Prof Perera: "I have written to various people about this at different times, but nothing has happened. I think it is important for Sri Lankan students and colleagues to come to SAU regularly. This is not only about getting a reasonable education, but also about getting access to the broader South Asian reality through the people they would meet, and also access to the vast cultural terrain that India itself has to offer."

 Interestingly, Bangladesh and Afghanistan are the two countries other than India who make best use of their quota. Left-over quotas from other countries are distributed among the member nations with India considered last.

 During SAU’s second convocation on  June 11, four Sri Lankans were among the 185 scholars who received their  Masters and MPhil degrees in various programmes that include Applied Mathematics, Biotechnology, Computer Science, Development Economics, International Relations, Legal Studies and Sociology.

Out of the total number of graduates, 21 were from Afghanistan, 28 from Bangladesh, one from Bhutan, one from Maldives, 16 from Nepal, 11 from Pakistan and three from Sri Lanka while the remaining 104 are from India. Nine students got their MPhil Degrees: one each from Sri Lanka and Afghanistan and seven from India.

Those who have studied at the SAU are well employed either in their home countries or at universities in Europe and the US.

 The SAU is mandated to inculcate a sense of regional consciousness among the young minds of the South Asian region while imparting cutting-edge knowledge. The university took off in 2010 with two Master’s Degree Programmes. Today, SAU offers seven Master’s and an equal number of doctoral programmes.

The construction of the permanent campus of the South Asian University is going on a 100-acre plot in Maidan Garhi in New Delhi since May last year. India will bear the entire capital cost to set up the campus. The university is currently functioning from Akbar Bhawan, Chanakyapuri, New Delhi. 

The SAU attracts students from all over South Asia, and its degrees are recognized by all the eight SAARC countries. Many of its graduates have already found employment in the region and some have been offered higher education opportunities in countries beyond South Asia as well.

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