24 October 2010
The Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan is renowned for its untouched mountainous beauty. It is also known for its political innovation: its tobacco sales ban and its use of 'gross national happiness country' as a yardstick for development, for example. But could it soon become a higher education hub of Asia?
Its current plans are groundbreaking. Bhutan has a tradition of insularity that has only recently started to weaken. But its government - democratised only two years ago - is embarking on an ambitious plan to build a high-end US$1 billion education city to encourage prestigious universities and colleges worldwide to establish affiliated institutions in Bhutan.
The project aims to bring in the branches of about 30 top universities, including those from the US Ivy Leagues, and about 50,000 international students. The city would be spread over 1,000 acres (405 hectares), whose development was approved recently by the government, with a population of more than 100,000 people, including academics and support staff.
The city would have R&D (research and development) facilities, laboratories, hotels, healthcare services, sports centres, libraries, cultural and entertainment centres, and cafes. It would be located in one of the most picturesque spots in Bhutan, between the capital Thimphu and the country's only paved airport, Paro International Airport, around 20 miles (32 kilometres) away.
"World class international schools, general education colleges and specialised colleges in the fields of ICT (information and communication technologies), architecture, engineering, medicine, law, management, and design will be encouraged to open franchises/campuses ..." says the country's 'economic development policy' (EDP), unveiled in April this year. "Education in the fields of maths and science shall be the priority."