July 2, 2024


Will the new Nalanda University campus regain its past glory?

(Image credit: Narendra Modi’s X post)

India has always had a rich and storied history of research, academia, and education. Scientific and mathematical concepts that were developed then are still used worldwide. One of the ‘temples’ or centres of learning in India was the Nalanda University.

It now has a new campus spread across 455 acres, thanks to the government. The new modern campus, built for over ₹1,700 crore, has state-of-the-art facilities and is seen as a collaborative effort between India and East Asia Summit (EAS) countries. But will the university regain its past glory in its new avatar?


The university’s history goes back to the times of the Buddha. The “Nalanda Mahavihara”, as it was known back then, was founded in the 5th century by Emperor Kumaragupta, long before Oxford University was even a thing. It’s commonly known as the first residential university in the world.

It is believed to have had 2,000 teachers, including the likes of Nagarjuna, Aryabhatta, and Dharmakirti, and 10,000 students. It attracted scholars from China, Korea, Japan, Sri Lanka, and South East Asia. Thanks to writings from Chinese scholars, we know it was a prominent destination for those who wanted to study Buddhism.

The ruins of the university were first discovered by Scottish surveyor Francis Buchanan-Hamilton in 1812. In 1861, it was identified as the university by Sir Alexander Cunningham. Till then, the ruins were a topic of discussion and fascination among historians and archaeologists.

The university’s demise is a matter of contention due to its connection with the rise in nationalist history. It was popularly believed that Turkish invader Bakhtiyar Khalji destroyed it. However, research by some scholars said otherwise. Other sources, including two Tibetian scholars, Dharmaswamin and Sumpa, who studied Indian history, particularly related to Buddhism, also don’t mention him.

Reviving this once-great institution was APJ Abdul Kalam’s idea. Support also came from abroad, including Singapore’s The Nalanda Proposal. In 2010, the Parliament passed the Nalanda University Act. In 2014, the first batch of students were welcomed.

Over the past decade, the university has seen its share of controversies, particularly on its autonomy. Two successive chancellors quit, citing political interference. Founding Chancellor Amartya Sen withdrew his candidacy for a second term due to approval delays. A year later, the second Chancellor, former Singapore foreign minister George Yeo, also quit after claiming he wasn’t informed about changes in the governing body.

Now, there’s a brand new swanky campus. The master plan was proposed in 2013 by B.V. Doshi’s Vastu Shilpa Consultants. It’s a carbon footprint-free Net Zero campus whose design and architectural elements are inspired by the original monasteries and buildings at the Nalanda Mahavihara.

With the high-profile inauguration, can the university once again be the temple of learning?

VIEW: Dawn of a new era

This isn’t really a matter of making the old new again. While some saw Nalanda as primarily a religious institution, it also taught medicine, public health, astronomy, architecture, law, and linguistics. The new campus continues to build on the old to help guide the future. As Prime Minister Narendra Modi noted after the inauguration, nationality wasn’t a criterion for admission to the old Nalanda and won’t be for the new.

Not to be forgotten is the state-of-the-art sustainable infrastructure in place. It’s part of what makes Nalanda a truly modern infrastructure marvel. The entire construction is to the requirements of green building certification by GRIHA. Water bodies cover over 100 acres of the campus area and another 100 acres are covered with greenery.

The point of establishing the new Nalanda University was to revive the lost glory that made Nalanda a centre of knowledge and learning. The result was a partnership between East Asia and India to recover and renew the legacy of ancient thoughts and practices for a modern world. Modi has often spoken of making the 21st century an Indian and Asian century. The new Nalanda campus is a significant step forward toward that goal.

COUNTERVIEW: A new era for whom?

Building good, even great universities, is tough. Nalanda University might have a shiny new campus, but will its past issues persist? A report from several years ago showed all wasn’t well. Many teachers left, and specialised courses were no longer available, and students had to abandon their research. There were also allegations of the administration being suspicious of foreign faculty.

For over a year, the university has had no regular vice-chancellor. Most members of the Governing Board are from the government bureaucracy, with few from academia. The faculty recruitment process on a temporary or contract basis doesn’t bode well for getting qualified teachers. It has begun offering diploma and certificate courses. Some would see that as a downgrade, given Nalanda is seen as an eminent research university.

It also seems that it’s a university for the elite. The semester fee for an MA course is about ₹42,500. A twin-sharing room costs ₹22,500 per semester with over ₹20,000 for the mess bill. A fee structure this high is nothing but a filter to only allow the rich and privileged. It’s all part and parcel of the New Education Policy’s advocacy for the commercialisation of education.

Reference Links:

  • Nalanda University: Then and Now | A 1600-year transformation – India Today
  • How Nalanda, world’s 1st residential university, rose from ashes after 900 years – India Today
  • Did Bakhtiyar Khilji Destroy Nalanda University? – The Wire
  • Nalanda: The university that changed the world – BBC
  • A new dawn for Nalanda: Reviving an ancient seat of learning – The Hindustan Times
  • Swanky Buildings and ‘Net Zero’ Academics is Modi’s Model for Nalanda University – The Wire
  • Whose Nalanda? In the End, It Will Only Serve the Elite – The Quint

What is your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)

a) The new Nalanda University campus will regain its past glory.

b) The new Nalanda University campus won’t regain its past glory.


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