Vol. 5 Num 1141 Tue. August 14, 2007  

Asian University for Women
'The students will be trained to face the world'
Located on a stunning campus of 100-plus acres in Chittagong, Asian University for Women (AUW) will begin offering an international quality education for women from all cultural, religious, ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds across South and South East Asia next March. AUW's vice-president for academic planning, Dr. Hoon Eng Khoo, and head of admissions, Dr. Regina Papa, took the time to speak to The Daily Star's Saushan Rahman about the university's mission to provide a first-rate education and training for the next generation of woman leaders in the region.

The Daily Star: Tell me a little bit about the Asian University for Women.
Hoon: The university is going to follow a liberal arts curriculum, with a three year honours and a two year masters program. Apart from that we will also offer a pre-SSC program where the students will be taught English and IT.

Papa: 25 per cent of the students will be from Bangladesh and the rest would be from other countries, especially South and South East Asia. But we do welcome young women from all around the globe.

In Bangladesh there are two streams of education, both Bangla and English medium. Is there any particular stream you prefer?
Hoon: Not at all. We do not wish to discriminate. They students will be judged based on their merit, capability, aptitude, and potential.

Papa: Here the students will be given training in maths, English, critical thinking, and IT. We wish to help them to develop their leadership qualities so that in the future they can become leaders. In this case we look beyond the medium in which they have been educated. Girls from both Bangla and English medium schools are invited here.

Since it is an all women's school, aren't you afraid that this might only attract girls from a conservative background?
Hoon: I do not think so. We have an innovative curriculum. It is not a classroom oriented or textbook oriented, but an action oriented curriculum. We the faculty will help them to develop certain qualities such as leadership, the ability to solve problems, etc. Here they will learn that they are capable of doing anything. They have the ability to change things and be good leaders. Besides there will be cultural diversity and student will be able to meet people from around the globe.

Papa: I believe that any girl would be interested to come to this university because of its unique features. Since there will be students from other countries, so there will be a fellow feeling among them.

Who are going to be the faculty?
Hoon: Well we are looking for experts with good experience in their fields and interest in this part of the world.

Papa: At the same time we welcome Asian expatriates. They can come and teach in the university and contribute in the process of development. Though we are looking for Asian faculty, teachers from the Western countries are also welcome.

Will there be any visiting faculty or part-time teachers?
Hoon: No, we will have permanent faculty for the university. I do not know about the other private university of Bangladesh, but Asian University for Women does not have such facility.

Why did you chose Bangladesh as your venue?
Hoon: First and foremost, Bangladesh is a democracy. And it is secular Muslim country. Besides, the government of Bangladesh has been very helpful to us. There was no problem from the UGC. We have full liberty to make any changes in the curriculum.

Papa: The UGC has given us full autonomy.

What courses will you be offering to the students (on top of the basics)?
Hoon: IT and sustainable development, environmental engineering, education, public policy, and business management.

How much will it cost a year?
Per year it will cost $10,000 [Tk 700,000 approximately]. But the students will given scholarship based on need. We hope to provide 50% of the students with scholarship.

What about the merit-based scholarship?
Hoon: We do not have any merit-based scholarship. Whether the students are meritorious or not will be proven when they go for the admission exam and the access program.

Why an all women's university?
Papa: In a co-ed school the girls are always the back-benchers, and they are forced to be the back-benchers. It is difficult for them to fight and come to the front. Here they will not face such problems. They will be the front-benchers all the time.

What are your plans for expansion?
Hoon: We hope to have at least 500 students per year. We are starting with 100 students. There will be students from Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Nepal, Afghanistan, Cambodia and some other countries.

Is it necessary for the Bangladeshi students to stay in the dorm? Or can they stay at home and come to class?

Hoon: No, the students will have to stay in the dorms. It is a fully residential university. The reason for this is because the education does not end in the classroom. There are a lot of outdoor activities where the students' participation is needed.

Where do you see AUW 10 years from now?
Hoon: We hope that by then at least three batches will have graduated. We hope to increase in terms of the number of students and campus. We wish to have a vibrant open-to-all institution.

Why did you choose Chittagong?
Papa: The government has granted us with a 100 acres of beautiful land. And the campus overlooks the Foy's Lake. The reason why we chose this place is because then the students will be close to nature.

What extra-curricular facilities do you have?
Papa: Extra-curricular activities are important. We will have a gym, athletic facility, centre for performing arts, places for meditation, computer centre, etc. Other than that, the students can also take karate lessons for self-defence.

What made you join the university?
Hoon: I have been a social activist for a long time. I grew up in a small town in Malaysia. It had a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, and multi-religious environment. This gave me the chance to work with people of different strata. And I hope to build the same kind of environment at AUW.

Papa: I have been a social activist from an early age. I was a leader and nothing stopped me from being a leader. I always loved to play with innovation. I had the opportunity to work with different people. Though I did my masters in English literature, later I moved towards women's development.

What is the philosophy of the university?
Hoon: We want the students to realise their potential. There might be few who have the potential, but that few people can bring a vast change. The students will be trained to face the world. Gradually they will grow confidence.

What other plans do you have for the students?
Hoon: We wish to bring in role models. We want our students to meet other women who are established in different fields. Besides we have an internship program for them. And that is not only in this country, but in other countries as well.

Photo: Moshe Safdie