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K. K. Aggarwal: SAU is indeed facing a financial crisis

K. K. Aggarwal: SAU is indeed facing a financial crisis

Professor K. K. Aggarwal is the President of South Asian University, New Delhi, India. Before joining SAU, he was chairman of the National Board of Accreditation and founder vice-chancellor of Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, Delhi. South Asian University started in 2010 and is the flagship project of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). Prof Aggarwal was on a day trip to Nepal on 26 May, and Kamal Dev Bhattarai of ApEx interviewed him regarding SAU, his future plans, challenges, and opportunities associated with the university.

What was the basic concept behind the establishment of South Asian University?

I think the basic concept was that in the South Asian region, where all the countries are developing countries with limited resources, we should develop a platform for a niche area of academic and research, so that all the bright students of SAARC countries can train and use their knowledge for the development of their respective countries. The concept was also to create a platform to bring together distinguished professors from SAARC countries, regardless of where they are based. That was the reason why the university was prepared to pay anything to get distinguished professors. The concept was great, but somehow, the implementation was lacking and the idea was also diluted.

What are the reasons for the dilution of this great concept? 

I think the primary reason was that setting up the campus took time. The university shifted to a permanent building only last year; before that, the university was running from Akbar Bhawan, Chanakyapuri. The governing board's practice of meeting once a year is another challenge. The last board meeting happened after a six-year hiatus. When running a university, many things have to be decided quickly. I believe the given structure should have been changed for quick decisions. We need a dynamic structure of decision-making for rapidly changing scenarios.

Lately, there have been reports that South Asian University is facing a financial crisis. Is it so?

Yes, the university is indeed facing a financial crisis. There are two parts of expenditure on the university. As far as the building part is concerned, India will take care of it by agreement. As for the operational expenditure part, there is an agreement which stipulates every country pays its decided portion. Now, for whatever reason or financial difficulties, many countries have not been able to pay their decided portion for some time. Some countries have not contributed in years. This means there are irregularities in the payment of each country's respective share of the university's operational expenses. This is why the university is currently facing a financial crunch.

What is your immediate plan to address the current financial crisis of SAU??

My immediate plan is to request every country. Everyone I met promised to ensure regular payment. I hope they keep their word, and soon enough, we will get their respective share, and difficulties will be resolved. I am also requesting the secretary general of SAARC if they can find an effective mechanism. Because they are the common body for all SAARC countries, I believe they can facilitate the process more smoothly. Also, if the government of India could somehow find a mechanism to temporarily or provisionally take over financial responsibilities from those countries who cannot pay timely and outline how it can be done, it would be beneficial. As the president of the university, my duty is to not let the university suffer for lack of funds. 

What is your plan in terms of the overall development of South Asian University, including introducing new courses that meet the challenges of the rapidly changing scenarios of the region?

My plan for the university is to stretch my imagination and find out what the common needs of the South Asian region are, and work on that. If even you cannot find the common needs for all the countries, the common need for three or four countries should be prioritized. There are several areas of common interest, such as Hill studies, coastline studies, disaster management, and emerging technology like Artificial Intelligence. These are things that we will explore in the coming days.