The Indian education sector has witnessed positive transformations. It is gradually evolving and spreading its wings, owing to which students have been able to explore a plethora of opportunities. However, this sector has also experienced a fair share of challenges.
But, just like every other industry, the education sector of this nation has witnessed the rise and dominance of prominent leaders. These frontrunners have given everything to ensure the development of this sector. They are the ray of hope, positivity, and empowerment.
Characterized by dedication, innovation, and a never give up attitude, inspiring leaders such as Prof. Sunaina Singh are ushering in a new era of educational and academic excellence. Prof. Sunaina is the Vice Chancellor of Nalanda University, Rajgir, Bihar, and an Honorary Professor of Oxford Academic Union (OAU), UK.
Moreover, she’s a Governing Board Member of the Indian Institute of Advanced Study (IIAS) Shimla and an Advisory Council Member and Adviser of the Research and Innovation Association of Universities of Asia and the Pacific (AUAP).
A Seasoned Veteran
Education has always played a significant role in Prof. Sunaina’s life. After completing PhD in comparative literature, she conducted postdoctoral research in a wide range of areas, including women’s writing, postmodernism, diaspora literature, and South Asian literature.
She has been a professor of English for over 32 years, as well as a visiting professor at many universities abroad. Prof. Sunaina has been engaged in the challenging task of restructuring and redesigning university pedagogical and administrative systems through the different assignments that she has been entrusted with.
Many roles played by Prof. Sunaina also include the Chairperson of the Department of English at Osmania University, the Director of the Canadian Studies Centre, and further as the President of a bi-national research organization where a conglomerate of 90 higher education institutions from India and Canada participate.
Leadership worth Celebrating
Prof. Sunaina is among the most prominent leaders in higher education in the South Asian region. She is engaged with the renaissance task of rebuilding the renowned ancient Nalanda University.
The honor of re-establishing this international institution of ‘National Importance’ has been entrusted to her largely because of her widely acknowledged inventive and sterling leadership. The Oxford Union conferred Prof. Sunaina with the Honorary Professorship in 2020 in recognition of her contribution to promoting Indian higher education and culture.
The citation also acknowledges her leadership in rebuilding the historic Nalanda University. Prof. Sunaina has recently been conferred with ‘Ambassador for Peace’ by the Universal Peace Federation, a global network of peacebuilders, in 2022.
As a distinguished academician and administrator, she has played a key role as a member-designate on several distinguished national and international institutions. She has the distinction of serving as the Vice President of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR), a premier national body with MEA that fosters and strengthens cultural relations and mutual understanding between India and other countries.
Prof. Sunaina is also the Advisor of the Research and Innovation Committee of Asia-Pacific Universities. She has the distinction of serving as Visitors’ (President of India) Nominee on the Executive Board of more than 12 Central Universities apart from other Central Institutions, including the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla.
A Dynamic Change Leader
Prof. Sunaina has the distinction of being an institutional builder- as the first Indian woman President of Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute, a bi-national research institution, headquarters in New Delhi and Calgary with the MHRD and Foreign Affairs Canada. She’s also the former Vice Chancellor of The English and Foreign Languages University.
Prof. Sunaina has played a dynamic role in both these institutions in creating innovative research clusters, reinvigorating the academic culture, streamlining the administration, and bringing about transparency and accountability into the system. These crucial interventions have helped steer the institutions forward and enabled them to emerge as important institutions of higher learning in the Asian region.
It is due to her sterling leadership that after a span of 17 years, Central University was accredited with an ‘A’ grade. It is also widely acknowledged that the institutions have emerged out of a critical period in their history largely due to their determined and indefatigable leadership.
Prof. Sunaina also held the first convocation in the history of the University over 50 year’s journeys. The then President, Shri Pranab Mukherjee, complimented her for her vision and dedication.
Under the energetic leadership of Vice Chancellor Prof. Singh, the last five years have seen Nalanda University (NU) transforming from an idea to reality: academic framework; new schools and centers; short programs; enhanced student scholarships; state-of-the-art infrastructure; and an almost complete sustainable net-zero campus.
The campus consists of 200 odd structures, a health center, and library automation. Prof. Sunaina took policy initiatives such as statutes, ordinances, and internal and external audit systems along with measures towards bringing accountability and transparency.
Prof. Sunaina has always first emphasized fulfilling the educational needs of the students and developing them in academics. Her dedication has resulted in her winning several prestigious awards. She won the ‘Ambassador for Peace’ award from the Universal Peace Federation of India in 2022.
Prof. Sunaina is the recipient of the Leadership for Net Zero Endeavour Award 2022 by Indo-American Green University Network, New York. Asia One awarded her the Global Leader of the Year 2021-2022 in London 2022.
Some of the other praiseworthy awards won by Prof. Sunaina are as follows:
- Innovation Leadership Award 2022 by IndiGlobal Media Network, Bengaluru
- Asian Award as a Woman Entrepreneur in Higher Education in Asia 2021 by Asia One, with a citation “With a strong person and unmatched integrity, Prof. Singh is truly an epitome of the empowered woman of the 21st century.”
- Honorary Professorship by the Oxford Union in 2020, for her contribution to promoting Indian higher education and culture
- Vishwa Kavi Rabindranath Tagore Award by Oriental Heritage 2020
- Innovative Vice Chancellor of the Year, by AsiaToday 2020
- International Education Award-2018 (NWSI) by British Parliament, House of Lords, London
- Bharat Ratna Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam Excellence Award, 2018
- Bharat Shiksha Ratan Award 2018
- Education Leadership Award, by World Education Congress in 2016, 2017, and 2018
- Bharat Gaurav Award 2016
- Chanakya Award for Excellence in Good Governance 2014 by the Public Relations Council of India
- Woman of the Year Award, 2014, by Citizens Council of A.P
- International Leadership Certification by Nottingham University, U.K. 2013
- Rashtriya Gaurav Award, 2011
- Leadership Certification by India-Canada Chamber of Commerce (ICCC), Calgary, for strengthening bilateral ties and collaboration in higher education, 2011.
Motivated to Transform the Educational System
The love for academics and the dedication towards the nation are the two motivating forces that guide Prof. Sunaina’s way. Reviving the ‘Vishwa-guru” status for the country is a legitimate dream to which she wants to contribute to the best of her ability. Prof. Sunaina states, “I am restless to create academic excellence and determined to innovate ways to advance learning in our campuses and comprehensive education in our society.” To this, she has devoted all her years of service and shall continue to do the same in the future.
Overcoming Adversities Confidently
As per Prof. Sunaina, it is everyone’s uncompromising integrity, unshakeable optimism, and enthusiasm that propel them to defy all odds and stay focused on their goals. She always stays motivated by the high moral and ethical standards of her father and guru, Prof. Satyanarain Singh. Her impeccable upbringing keeps on inspiring her to set new benchmarks in life.
When Prof. Sunaina took over as Vice-Chancellor of the EFLU, the University was in upheaval, with frequent strikes. During that time, she overcame myriad issues that came my way with sheer determination and enthusiasm.
“The rebuilding of Nalanda University, as I had just mentioned, has been the most challenging assignment I’ve been entrusted with. The name ‘Nalanda’ is magical— a reminder of the past glory of ancient Indian academia and a lingering icon that evokes the expectation to achieve an ideal once again,” shares Prof. Sunaina. According to her, its hallmark is ‘liberated knowledge’ -that which is free from the confines of geography or spirituality.
In the opinion of Prof. Sunaina, reviving the glorious knowledge traditions of ancient India in a new world of the modern age requires deep thought, planning, and diligent action.
“Nalanda is a new avatar, and as we know from our traditions, a new avatar appears only when the turmoil and dismay are at their peak!” quotes Prof. Sunaina. She shares that there were challenges and doubts, apprehensions, and predictions about failure, causing a threat to prestige. But like a true Indian, she commenced work with grit and honest dedication leading her team. Owing to the government’s support, she could accomplish her goals properly and with utmost sincerity.
Uplifting the Education System and the Society
As an academic, Prof. Sunaina is mindful of the present and near-future social concerns. “What we chose as the logo of the University– depicting the ‘Human-Nature concord’ reflects the ethos of Nalanda,” she shares. Prof. Sunaina tried to demonstrate this ethos in all aspects of Nalanda’s creation and development. She shares that Nalanda offers an opportunity to dispel the inner darkness and bring enlightenment to present-day society.
According to Prof. Sunaina, the ‘Nalanda Culture’ is all about understanding and compassion; politeness and discipline; learning and service; and peace and progress. Integrity is the armour of this culture; integrity alone holds identity, culture, and values. “Character, creativity, and Competence shall be our watchwords,” she quotes.
Emphasis on Experiential Learning and Academic Research
Prof. Sunaina looks at education from the lens of India’s ancient ‘Gyānparampara’ (knowledge tradition), which involves a wide spectrum of human development and the unbroken tradition of knowledge leading to the creation of a knowledge society.
She believes combining classroom education and academic research with societal engagement can enrich knowledge, understanding, and a lifetime preparation for students and faculty.
She believes that to suit the needs and demands of the 21st century; universities need to build human values, culture, and ethos through the emerging knowledge domains. Bringing a blend of academic knowledge and experiential learning into the learning environment is the need. The effort of universities should be to evolve innovative courses – a marriage of ancient Indian wisdom with contemporary polity, sciences, and technology.
Prof. Sunaina Singh points out that Nalanda University has innovative specialised MA programs under a cafeteria model and a Global PhD programme. In addition, it has short-term courses, e.g., capacity building and leadership, ‘Pali/Sanskrit/Tibetan/Korean languages’, ‘remote sensing and GIS’, ‘Nalanda Heritage’, ‘Consciousness Studies’, ‘Indo-Persian Heritage’ and so on that are popular. Establishment of the Centre for Bay of Bengal Studies at Nalanda and its functioning as the nodal institution for the ASEAN-India Network of Universities (AINU) further adds to its international stature.
In her opinion, universities should provide platforms for cross-cultural and transnational knowledge sharing amongst scholars. In this connection, the Common Archival Resource Centre was visualised as a repository of digitised archival and art treasures from India and Southeast Asia for researchers in different fields. Another effort Prof. Sunaina commenced is the “Digital Data Credit Bank” to benefit students aspiring to study abroad.
Exploring the Future
In the opinion of Prof. Sunaina, inspirations are never lost, motivations last forever. She believes that people who lived millennia ago are still inspiring to present generations. Prof. Sunaina always values discipline, integrity, and responsibility as the guiding principles of life. Her quest for the future is always to develop her inner strength and ethical values. She reckons that this is enough to be inspiring. “The vivacity of our demeanour captivates and should inspire everyone around us,” she expresses.
Motivational Words for Tomorrow’s Generation
According to Prof. Sunaina, character, creativity, and competence are the keys to success and to enriching India’s intellectual presence in this ever-changing world. She strongly believes that education leads to liberation.
Addressing the young generation, Prof. Sunaina states that leadership symbolizes the mind of the institution because that only energizes the team and directs the course. Correcting the team’s waywardness, complacency, and distractions is a tough responsibility. This requires grit and impartiality.
She states that not everything we attempt succeeds. But the promise of a confident individual rests on the knowledge that ‘if we do not risk, we fail’. She advises them never to give up. She believes that persistence does pay.
Prof. Sunaina emphasizes the words of Martin Luther King Jr. “We must accept finite disappointments, but never lose infinite hope.” She has always believed that one must strive to inspire and guide young minds to approach life with integrity, has the courage to speak the truth, and stay true to one’s principles. “This keeps me motivated to influence and develop my students, faculty and staff to be the best versions of themselves,” she adds.