Universities must be the bastions of free speech and expression where there should be no room for intolerance, prejudice and hatred, President Pranab Mukherjee said today.
Addressing the first convocation of Nalanda University after laying the foundations stone of its new campus here, he said universities must be the arena where diverse and conflicting schools of thought contend.
"There should be no room for intolerance, prejudice and hatred within the spaces of this institution. Further, it must act as a flag bearer for the coexistence of multiple views, thoughts and philosophies.
"The lesson for modern Nalanda is to ensure that this great tradition finds new life and vigour within its precincts," he said.
Mr. Mukherjee said the ancient Nalanda was a melting pot of civilizations and modern India should remain the same.
“We should not close our windows and yet we should not be blown off by winds from outside. We should let the winds flow freely from all over the world and get enriched by them. We should embrace free discussion and debate leaving behind narrow mindsets and thoughts,” he added.
Mr Mukherjee said as Visitor to Nalanda University, it was his hope that it would truly attain the status of the Nalanda of yore. There are many practices of ancient Nalanda which are worthy of emulation by the new Nalanda. One of the most important characteristics of ancient Nalanda was that it was an international institution where inter-Asian connections, in particular, flourished, he said.
Chinese monks like Xuan Zang, Yijing and Huichao, among others, visited, lived, studied and taught in Nalanda. At a later period, scholars from Tibet kept coming to N?land? for studying Buddhism and other branches of knowledge, he said.
Monks from several other countries including Sri Lanka also came to N?landa, revealing the diversity of religious and cultural influences on the institution. And, the traffic was not just in one direction. Monks from N?land? spread their wisdom across the world and had reached China before Xuan Zang’s visit to India.
The President said ancient Nalanda was known for the high level of debate and discussion it nurtured. It was not a mere geographical expression but it reflected an idea and a culture.
Nalanda conveyed the message of friendship, cooperation, debate, discussion and argument. Discussion and debate are part of our ethos and life, he said.
Mr Mukherjee said though the main subjects of study were the Buddhist texts, importance was also given to critiques of Buddhism by various schools, study of Vedas and beyond.
“I am pleased to know that the Nalanda University has around 125 students including about 25 foreign students from countries such as China, Japan, Vietnam, Korea, Laos, Myanmar, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Nigeria and Brazil,” he said.
“With students and faculty from many countries, modern day Nalanda is a novel institution pioneering a new model of learning. Its vision is to “be universalist in its outlook, open to currents of thought and practice from around the globe, and respond to the needs of a world.” It is a matter of satisfaction that within a short period of time, Nalanda has established linkages of various kinds with many leading educational institutions around the world,” he added.
The President said he personally witnessed the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Nalanda University and Peking University during his visit to China in May this year.
The new Nalanda University is envisioned as a non-state, non-profit, secular, and self-governing international institution. “Our goal is to bring together the brightest and the most dedicated students from all over the world, especially Asia - irrespective of gender, caste, creed, different abilities, ethnicity or social-economic background and enable them acquire a liberal education,” he added.
“I am particularly happy to see the first batch of students from this University graduate today. I have often spoken of the time when India played a dominant role in the higher education system of the world. Renowned seats of learning like Nalanda, Takshashila, Vikramashila, Valabhi, Somapura and Odantapuri were magnets which attracted scholars from all over the world. They stood at the crossroads of many civilizations and spread knowledge far and wide. Sadly, India’s modern day universities are yet to reach the top position in world rankings. We must work towards regaining that glory of the past,” he added.
The President said, as a result of his persistent efforts, Indian institutions for the first time secured ranks within the top 200 universities in the world in the QS world university rakings 2015. IISc, Bangalore at 147th and IIT, Delhi at 179th position have done exceedingly well, with IIT, Bombay close on the heels at the 202nd rank.
Three other IITs were within the top 300 institutions and they can come within the top 200 in the next one or two years. In the QS university rankings 2015 for the BRICS region, five Indian institutions came in the top 20, including IISc, Bangalore which was ranked fifth.
In the list of top 20 small universities (criteria: less than 5,000 students) by the Times Higher Education, there were two Indian institutions – IIT, Guwahati at 14th and Savitribai Phule, Pune University at the 18th position. Recently, in a ranking amongst Asian institutions, five Indian institutions are placed in the top fifty, he added.