PROFESSOR SUNAINA SINGH: AN INSTITUTIONAL ARCHITECT

Prof. Sunaina Singh is presently the Vice Chancellor of Nalanda University, Bihar, an internationally acclaimed historical University under the Ministry of External Affairs. Prof. Singh is entrusted with the naissance task of rebuilding the ancient Nalanda University, largely because of her compelling leadership and her nuanced critical acumen as an educationist. She is among the most prominent leaders in higher education in the South Asian Region. A distinguished academician and administrator, she also holds the position of the Vice President, Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR); Member, Governing Council, Association of Indian Universities (AIU); Member Comprehensive Language Policy of India; Academic Advisor, National Cyber Safety and Security Standards (NCSSS) and Governing Board Member, India Foundation, a think tank. As the former Vice Chancellor of The English and Foreign Languages University (EFLU) Hyderabad, Prof. Singh has played a dynamic role in streamlining the administration, reinvigorating the academic culture, and bringing about transparency and accountability into the system.

We see a vision in her world. The leaders of the country have observed her dedication and commitment for the enhancement of nation’s education. Her uprightness, honesty and non-negotiable nature puts her into several challenges. She has always believed in, and has worked towards setting new benchmarks in both the personal and public spheres. As a dynamic leader, she touches many hearts and inspires many minds. She is widely known for her leadership and integrity.

Reflection on Prof. Singh’s life

In an increasingly complex world, the challenges and opportunities humanity faces are both vast and exhilarating. Prof. Singh asserts:

The yearning to understand, address and to set benchmarks in the interest of the institutions I have had the opportunity to lead has been a primary motivation for me. I realized quite early in my journey that any attempt to rebuild or re-orient higher education requires both the vision and the courage to implement transformative changes apart from administrative acumen.

Prior to joining Nalanda University, she served as the Vice Chancellor of English and Foreign Languages University (EFLU), a Central University, and as President of the Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute, a bi-national research institution with headquarters in New Delhi and Calgary under the MHRD and Canadian Government. Before- that she has spent over 32 years as Professor of English and as visiting Professor at various Universities abroad.

Prof. Singh has excelled as a leader in education sector for more than three decades now. Her journey from Professor of English to second time Vice Chancellor in central institutions has not been without its challenges. Speaking about Nalanda University, Prof. Singh says:

Nalanda by far has been the most challenging assignment I’ve been entrusted with. It’s a providential opportunity to rebuild this historic Nalanda University. Nalanda has been a beacon to one of the longest surviving civilization with unprecedented traditions of spiritual and literary output and learning. The effort in this university would be to recreate the dynamics of the ancient Nalanda Knowledge Tradition and Culture and to evolve innovative globally relevant courses – a coming together of Indian ancient wisdom with the contemporary polity and technology.

Achieving Milestones

Prof. Singh’s career graph is indicative of a rich blend of scholarship, professional integrity, and administrative acumen. Her impeccable and proven track record as an able and a visionary administrator has enabled her to excel in her leadership role. This is widely acknowledged by the many prestigious awards she has been conferred with. Some noteworthy ones include: – International Education Award-2018 (NWSI) awarded in British Parliament, London; Bharat Shiksha Ratan Award, 2018; Education Leadership Award, 2017 (World Education Congress); Bharat Gaurav Award 2016 (IIFS); Chanakya Award for Excellence in Good Governance 2014 (Public Relations Council of India); Woman of the Year Award, 2014 – Citizens Council of A.P.); Award for Outstanding Contribution to Education, 2014 (World Education Congress); Education Leadership Award, 2014 (Dewang Mehta Business School); International Leadership Certificate, National College, Nottingham, U.K. (2013), Rashtriya Gaurav Award, (2011, IIFS). She was also honoured with a citation by the India-Canada Chamber of Commerce (ICCC), Canada, for strengthening bilateral ties and collaborations in higher education, in 2011. She is also a recipient of Postdoctoral Faculty Research Award (2003) from the Department of Foreign Affairs, Canada, University of Toronto, and in 1984 the Commonwealth Academic Staff Scholarship Award. 

As an Educationist

As an educationist Prof. Singh is engaged in creating new paradigms of educational architecture. She believes that “a university is where wise and knowledgeable people offer their intellectual hospitality, their wealth of learning to others, ‘Vidyadaan’ and earn in return the knowledge from other worlds. This has to be the fundamental telos of knowledge.” Currently, a member-designate of several distinguished National and International Academic committees, Prof. Singh is engaged in the challenging task of restructuring and redesigning university pedagogical and administrative systems.

An acclaimed Professor of Comparative Literature and Culture, and an able administrator, Prof. Singh presents a rare blend of excellence in the area of higher education. In both her roles her focus has always been on quality. Few academics can match her integrity, intellectual caliber, and dedication to teaching, research, and administration. As a Visiting Professor at prestigious Universities abroad, she has played a crucial role in drawing the attention of the West towards Indian culture, philosophy, and epistemological concerns. Prof. Singh worked at evolving and benchmarking a collaborative bi-national research domain at the Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute. As the Vice-Chancellor of the English and Foreign Languages University, a central institution, she was engaged in building coherent structures, bringing about an academic audit and enhancing international profile of the university. Even at ICCR, she is currently engaged in promoting the Indian Soft Power overseas.

Nalanda University – where Tradition Meets Modernity

Located in the heart of a UNESCO recognized world heritage site, Nalanda University is known for its prestigious history. For centuries, Nalanda was a beacon that attracted scholars from all over Asia and became a symbol of knowledge and inter-continental interactions. The revival of Nalanda as an International University was endorsed at the East Asian Summit in 2009. The University came into being with the Parliament’s approval in 2010 with its academic operations commenced in 2014. The university, today, has the endorsement of 17 participating countries, a truly ‘sui generis’. Nalanda is perhaps the only University with the mandate to promote peace and harmony through knowledge. With a distinctive empirical and experiential model of learning, Nalanda is inspired by the academic excellence and global vision of its historic predecessor and aspires to meet and set global standards of academic excellence and research and enable capacity building in all areas of higher learning in the member countries.

With the support of the Member States of the East Asia and the Intergovernmental Memorandums of Understanding signed by 17 countries, this International University is poised to emerge as a shining example of Asian collaboration. Prof. Singh affirms that:

With an objective of reinvigorating India’s historical linkages with Asia and East Asian countries the University invades to reinvent the University knowledge systems to suit the needs and demands of 21st Century. The University is in the process of establishing itself in ensuring a “Man-Making” education (Swami Vivekananda) while focusing on the emerging domains of knowledge. The University campus will be the first of its kind with a net zero environmental impact. This would mean that the University will be completely self-sustainable from sending out zero Waste into the environment. The University structure is designed and inspired by ancient archaeological and astronomical practices. For instance, the incorporation of the Kalachakra concept to mediate a smooth operation and a successful expansion of the University. It is an attempt to tie up the historical legacy inherited by the University with one of the most urgent contemporary issues that needs to be addressed – environmental sustainability.

towards the Revival of Nalanda University

Under Prof. Singh’s able leadership, Nalanda University aims to enable and empower the inter-Asian interactions through its rich knowledge repositories. Prof. Singh guides the team in a manner that in the near future, the university will provide platform for cross cultural and transnational sharing of knowledge amongst the scholars coming from ASEAN and other countries, thus helping strengthen ties with the Asian community. Prof. Singh points out:

In many ways, Nalanda University aims to revive the ancient Asian connections as we are envisaged as an icon of the new Asian renaissance. At Nalanda, our objective is to develop a global tapestry of value-systems, build universal peace and encourage innovative research through the Vast domain of Indian-Asian wisdom and knowledge space. The amalgamation of emerging new knowledge with the ancient knowledge traditions of ‘Vidya-Gyan-Bhakti-Ananda’ is to build the institutional architecture with the mandate of “the promotion of regional peace and harmony” (University ACT). No other University in the world perhaps has such a noble goal, and this needs to be the focus while formulating our courses.

Mantra and Message

Speaking about her energy and motivation in her everyday life, Prof. Singh says: “I believe what Martin Luther King Jr. had said ‘We must accept finite disappointments, but never lose infinite hope’, I’ve always believed that one must strive to inspire & guide young minds to approach life with integrity, have the courage to speak the truth, and stay true to one’s principles. This keeps me motivated to train and develop my students, faculty & staff to be the best versions of themselves.” We understand the idea behind these words. Prof. Singh is affirmative towards the youth of the country whom she thinks “are focused and diligent, and they should be encouraged to be courageous in choosing their career paths.” Believing passionately in equality of opportunity and the value of higher education, Prof. Singh adds: “The ultimate goal of combining learning with a competitive edge must guide the career and research aspirations.”

After an engaging discussion with Prof. Singh, we were more and more convinced that Prof. Singh is a rare example of a committed leader. Prof. Singh believes that “not everything we attempt will succeed. But the promise of a confident individual rests on the knowledge that if we do not risk, we fail.” Prof. Singh’s advice to the future generation is “never to give up – persistence does pay,” and we left with one of her favorite lines from Rudyard Kipling:

“If you can make one heap of all your winnings

And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings

And never breathe a word about your loss”

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