University to empower Asian women opens

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 05 April, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 05 April, 2008, 12:00am

A private Asian university that aims to educate underprivileged women to become regional leaders officially opens today with 130 students attending a welcoming ceremony.

The Asian University for Women, in Chittagong, Bangladesh, is recruiting talented young women from diverse backgrounds, at least half of them underprivileged.

Asian University for Women Support Foundation president Kamal Ahmad said the concept was the result of the work by the Task Force on Higher Education and Society, convened by the World Bank and Unesco in 2000 to provide women with equal access to quality education.

'The university is unusually focused on making it possible for students from disadvantaged families to get a world-class undergraduate liberal arts education and a master's degree,' said Mr Ahmad, co-director of the taskforce. 'There is still an education gender gap in much of the world, as fewer girls have access to higher education.'

Coming from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Cambodia, all 131 students, bar one, are already studying an 18-month foundation course. One Myanmese refugee living in India is still on her way to the university.

The foundation course focuses on honing English and computer skills, and training in advanced maths before progressing to a full five-year degree.

Degrees will be taught in English and include a three-year undergraduate programme in natural sciences, social sciences and humanities, and a two-year master's programme.

University vice-chancellor Nancy Dye said it aimed become a top academic institution within the next decade. 'We believe the students will use these skills to improve the quality of life in their communities and commit themselves to work for a more just and humane world.'

It expects to enrol 3,000 students in the next 10 years.

The university will cost US$400 million, covering campus construction, operating costs and a US$150 million endowment fund to pay for education facilities and scholarships.

Although it has only US$25 million so far, Mr Ahmad said he hoped to raise another US$50 million by the end of the year.

The university is funded privately, with sources including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Goldman Sachs Foundation. The Bangladeshi government donated 104 hectares of land for the campus.