The emergence of new supra-national movements with respect to higher education and research continue apace. From the European Higher Education Area (EHEA), through to international consortia of universities, through to bits of universities embedded in others within distant territories (e.g., Georgia Tech’s unit within the National University of Singapore), the higher education landscape is in the process of being reconfigured and globalized. Yet, is it really that novel in an historical sense?
Today’s call at the East Asian Summit for the revival of Nalanda University (see below) draws upon development outcomes in higher education that took place well before the establishment of medieval universities like Oxford, Bologna, or Lund. As Sashi Tahroor notes:
Founded in 427 A.D. by Buddhist monks at the time of Kumaragupta I (415-455 A.D.), Nalanda was an extraordinary centre of learning for seven centuries. The name probably comes from a combination of nalam (lotus, the symbol of knowledge) and da, meaning “to give”, so Nalanda means “Giver of Knowledge”. And that is exactly what the university did, attracting prize students from all over India, as well as from China, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Persia, Sri Lanka, Tibet and Turkey. At its peak, Nalanda played host to more than 10,000 students — not just Buddhists, but of various religious traditions — and its education, provided in its heyday by 2,000 world-renowned professors, was completely free.
The establishment of new types of universities in like Nalanda University, Øresund University, or the recently opened Universidade Federal da Integração Latino-Americana (UNILA), remind us that there is an emerging desire for novel spaces of knowledge production that think and act beyond the nation. A related question, then, is how effective will these new configurations be, and can supporting stakeholders (including nation-states) really act beyond the nation?