Asian University for Women

A Brief Description

Asian University for Women Support Foundation
P.O. Box 1945
The Rockefeller Center Station
New York, New York 10185, USA
Telephone: (212) 475-4419
Fax: (212) 353-9214

February , 2001

The Asia University for Women ("AUW") is slated to open in September 2005 in Bangladesh. It is expected to be a world class, liberal arts college that will attract and prepare intelligent and talented young women from diverse backgrounds in Asia, with a special emphasis on poor, rural women, for positions of political, financial, cultural and social leadership and influence in the decision-making processes of their respective countries. By bringing women together in a supportive, intellectually rich and rigorous academic environment, the university will spawn a network of professional women across Asia who will be critical to the development and enrichment of their countries and the region. As such, the AUW will serve as a model of excellence that will raise regional expectations for access to, and quality of, higher education for women; consequently helping to improve the status of women as active participants in their societies.

The underlying premises for the university is the belief that discrimination and the general disadvantaged status of women in Asia and the world can be ameliorated and removed only with the participation of women in the political, economic, social and cultural decision-making processes in their countries. Although women's issues are not isolated from national agendas, too often they remain neglected. These issues must be addressed if our societies are to develop into full-fledged modern democracies with equal participation of men and women in all spheres of economic and political life of a country.

Higher education plays a crucial role in the modern world in which socio-economic development is becoming more knowledge-intensive and is relying increasingly on professional and managerial staff with advanced training. Developing countries in particular need to bridge the gap separating them from the industrially developed world - and thereby reduce their dependence on external technical and scientific assistance - by developing their own institutions and programs of advanced studies and research. Throughout Asia, the disparities between rich and poor and men and women are far greater in access to higher education than to primary or secondary education.

Institutions of higher education also are critical for developing far-sighted leadership. Without the participation of women in these networks of influence, Asian societies will not be able to fully advance and improve the quality of life and engender national prosperity. Since women in Asia traditionally have had less, if any, access to institutions of higher learning, the AUW expects to provide a select and diverse group of women technical, innovative, entrepreneurial and leadership skills to become the catalysts for change and gender-mainstreaming in their local communities and nationally in their countries.

The rationale for establishing a single sex institution is two-fold. First, for logistical reasons, many women would simply not be allowed to live away from home if it were co-educational. Often for women from such backgrounds, education is foregone entirely if opportunities for education are not found in an all women contexts. Second, and more importantly, the university will be able to offer a safe and supportive space for women of all backgrounds to explore and develop analytical and critical skills. It will be a place to develop confidence and nurture a commitment to tackle major obstacles to women's full political and economic participation. The university will provide a setting for women to reflect on their individual and collective roles in influencing and reshaping the underlying values and structures that dominate their societies.

Historically, attempts to address the need for excellent, higher education for women in Asia have not always met with success. The best of the women's institutions have fallen short either in their ability to attract students from the poorest sectors or in their ability to generate resources to sustain high quality education. And the co-educational institutions that have tried to address the educational needs of women, have had limited appeal to women from culturally conservative sectors. Additionally, unlike many of the higher education institutions for women that simply inform and thus, replicate and mimic traditional and dominant norms and practices, the AUW will be committed to exploring and challenging the social, political, cultural and economic structures that have excluded women form actively participating in their societies.

In its attempt to reach a wide range of women with diverse experiences, the university will focus on attracting poor, rural women who traditionally have been the most excluded and thus disempowered group. Bringing together talented women across economic and geographic and religious and linguistic and cultural divides will enrich the students' education and root their experience as women in the Asian context.

The AUW will strive to identify talented women, assist them in the preparation for university entrance (it will offer remediation programs for women from disadvantaged backgrounds) and then recruit them for an extraordinary four-year education on campus, in a challenging environment and supported by a growing network of similarly minded individuals.

At its peak, the university will have only 2,000 students. Its focus will be on the power of example, inspiration to lead, rigor and quality rather than on numbers. Nevertheless, the network of students will inevitably grow rapidly. Moreover, through the application of information communication technologies the innovations in teaching and learning developed at the AUW could be accessed by possibly tens of thousands of others in other universities and colleges as well as people in their own homes.


The establishment of the AUW will be based on a broad partnership between international and national governmental and non-governmental organizations as well as private philanthropy.

The AUW will create an educational environment that will be financially, culturally and logistically accessible to the most talented students from a diversity of backgrounds. The creation of an endowment is integral to this strategy.

Student recruitment will involve outreach feeder secondary schools, particularly in rural areas across Asia.

It will provide a sensitive environment to issues of security and religious practice and tolerance.

Execution and Implementation

The Government of Bangladesh has committed to provide the land for the university and enacting laws that will guarantee its institutional independence and academic freedom.

The AUW will enter into one or more partnerships with outstanding institutions of higher education for women to ensure high quality for the AUW and also offer opportunities for educational exchange programs among internationally recognized "sister" schools.

Private donations will provide the basis for an endowment that will help ensure the creation and perpetuation of the institution as well as its ability to subsidize poor students. The endowment will be based in the United States and will be managed under the direction of the Board of Trustees of the Asian University for Women Support Foundation, a tax-exempt organization formed in New York to advance the establishment and development of the Asian University for Women.

Faculty members will be recruited locally, regionally and to a lesser extent, globally. The faculty and staff will be of both sexes.

The university will offer a four-year curriculum; the first two years will combine development studies and more traditional liberal arts and basic science courses. The second two years will focus on a specialization from a select group of disciplines that are relevant to the Asian context. English will be the language of instruction. There will be a strong emphasis on developing skills that enable graduates to negotiate a decent livelihood in the market place.


It is estimated that more than $100 million will be required to sufficiently finance an endowment that serves as a sustainable source of scholarships as well as the costs of building the needed campus infrastructure. The Government of Bangladesh has agreed to contribute the required land.

A three-pronged funding strategy is envisaged: First, contributions from individual philanthropists and foundations will be mobilized for an endowment to finance scholarships to needy students; second, an attempt will be made to persuade a coalition of bilateral and multi-lateral agencies and other government entities to finance the infrastructure development of the university; and third, resources will be sought from private foundations and others to help defray the operational costs of the initial years of the university's operation.

Organizational Management Structure

Overall responsibility for the AUW's establishment rests with the International Support Committee (to be succeeded by the AUW Board of Trustees). It will be responsible for recruiting leadership, overseeing the design and construction of facilities, hiring faculty and staff, designing the curriculum, recruiting students and managing the resources and operations of the university. The International Support Committee is co-chaired by Madame Lone Dybkjaer, Member of the European Parliament (where she serves as First Vice Chair of the Development Cooperation Committee) and former Danish Minister of Environment and Madame Khaleda Zia, Prime Minister of the People's Republic of Bangladesh. Other members of the Committee are:

Stephen J. Friedman is senior partner at the New York law firm of Debevoise & Plimpton. Mr. Friedman, a U.S. national, has served as Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Overseas Development Council.

Mark Malloch Brown is Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme. Mr. Malloch Brown, a British national, has previously served as Vice President of the World Bank.

Koichiro Matsuura is Director-General of the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Mr. Matsuura, a Japanese national, has previously served as the Ambassador of Japan to France and in other high positions in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan.

Thoraya Obaid is Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). Ms. Obaid is a national of Saudi Arabia.

Mamphela Ramphele is Managing Director for Human Development at the World Bank. A South African national, Dr. Ramphele was Vice Chancellor of the University of Cape Town in South Africa prior to joining the World Bank.

Mary Robinson is United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. An Irish national, she served as the President of her country.

The Asian University for Women (AUW) Support Foundation has been established as a New York not-for-profit corporation to assist mobilize organizational, financial and intellectual resources for the university. The AUW Support Foundation will also be responsible for establishing and maintaining the university's endowment. The Board of Directors of the AUW Support Foundation consists of the following:

Kamal Ahmad is Corporate Attorney at Mayer, Brown & Platt in London. He has previously worked with the World Bank, the Rockefeller Foundation and UNICEF.

Robert Campbell is Chairman of the Board of Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and former Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Fordham University.

Juju Chang is Correspondent with ABC News.

Lone Dybkjaer is a Member of the European Parliament. She has served as Minister of Environment in Denmark.

Stephen J. Friedman is Senior Partner at Debevoise & Plimpton in New York. He has served as Chairman of the Board of the Overseas Development Council in Washington, D.C.

Vivian Lowery Derryck is Senior Vice President of the Academy for Educational Development & former Assistant Administrator for Africa at the US Agency for International Development.

Alice Ilchman is Director of the Watson Fellows Program. President Emeritus of Sarah Lawrence College, Ms. Ilchman has also served as Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Rockefeller Foundation.

Jack R. Meyer is President of Harvard Management Company, responsible for managing the endowment of Harvard University. Mr. Meyer was previously the Treasurer of the Rockefeller Foundation.

Muneer Satter is Managing Director of Goldman, Sachs & Co.

Diana Chapman Walsh is President of Wellesley College.

BRAC, a Bangladeshi non-governmental development agency serves as the Asian Secretariat. It coordinates local planning activities, oversee day-to-day operations, and facilitate links with local donors and grassroots associations.

The Association of Commonwealth Universities in London serves as the International Secretariat for developing the plan of operations. It provides administrative support for recruiting consultants, international fundraising and other general requirements.