Asian University for Women is the first of its kind: an independent, regional institution dedicated to excellence, women’s education and leadership development – global in outlook, but rooted in the contexts and aspirations of the people of Asia.
Located in Chittagong, Bangladesh, AUW exists to educate and empower a rising network of women leaders through the transformative power of an American-style liberal arts and sciences education. Open to women from all walks of life, AUW particularly encourages women who are the first in their family to get a university education.
1000+ Students (2021)
1000+ Alumnae (2021)
1 Global Community
Afghanistan | Class of 2018
In 1994, when she was only a few months old, Shekeba and her family moved to Pakistan to escape turmoil in her home country, Afghanistan. While in Pakistan, Shekeba fought to stay in school, and she is now the first child in her family to graduate from secondary school and enter university. After graduation, Shekeba aims to promote education and social change in Afghanistan.
“AUW [is] an amazing community,” she says, “where I will not only earn a degree, but also learn to think beyond borders and work for a better world.”
Mowmita Basak Mow
Bangladesh | Class of 2013
As an AUW student, Mowmita founded the Centre for Leadership Assistance & Promotion, which mobilizes Bangladeshi youths to promote the civil rights and financial autonomy of transgender communities in Bangladesh. After graduation, she helped launch Pathways for Promise, an AUW program that provides a tailored pre-university bridge program and undergraduate degree to garment factory workers. In 2017, Mowmita earned her Master’s of Public Policy from Oxford with full scholarship support from the Weidenfeld-Hoffmann Trust. She is now pursuing a career in public policy to address the rights of women and refugees.
Frequently Asked Questions
Theory of Change
Why Focus on Women?
Throughout much of the developing world, girls and women are often subject to unequal treatment and have limited access to education compared to boys and men; the disparity increases significantly at higher levels of education, reaching its largest divide at tertiary education. Women from rural and poor populations are particularly disadvantaged in their educational opportunities. AUW aims to address these disparities: to respond to the lack of sufficient opportunities for higher education for women across the region.
An institution devoted to women can offer its students a safe and supportive environment for learning, in which no doors are closed and the most ambitious endeavors are encouraged. It is also important to note that in communities that do not permit young women to live away from home in coeducational institutions, the unavailability of women’s-only options could mean entirely foregoing the education of these women. AUW provides an alternative option as an all-women’s institution.
Effective leadership by women is essential for establishing equality of the sexes in terms of status and opportunity, and in redressing the social, political and institutional barriers to the advancement of women. A university that helps its students become critically aware of women’s issues can produce graduates who use their understanding, self-esteem, and leadership skills towards women’s empowerment in all aspects of society. Moreover, ample evidence has shown that women who attend single-sex institutions are likely to be uniquely successful: they occupy positions of leadership in their chosen fields in far higher proportions than women graduating from similarly ranked coeducational institutions.
While the key mission of AUW is not to provide “women’s education” but to educate women, it is important to recognize that promoting women’s education and focusing on increasing women’s access to the larger academic system are not mutually exclusive goals.
Why Focus on Higher Education?
The importance of primary and secondary education is undeniable. Thanks to the efforts of governments, organizations, and other agencies, enormous progress has been made in this sector in the last few decades. In fact, most of the countries targeted by AUW now have very substantial enrollment of girls in primary and secondary schools.
A neglect of higher education, however, can in many ways impair the otherwise forceful drive toward universal enrollment of girls in primary and secondary schools. Where parents see that their children have no option but, for example, to return to the farm after schooling, they lose the incentive to send children to primary schools in the first place. Higher education serves as an aspirational magnet for parents to send their children to primary and secondary schools. Moreover, in the absence of robust higher education, the quality of primary and secondary education suffers for lack of good teachers, as well as inability to reform curriculum and other educational practices.
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What makes AUW Unique?
AUW stands out in its explicit mission to graduate leaders and change agents. The University seeks to foster in its students a sense of social tolerance, the ability to frame and develop debates on the basis of critical thinking, and the inspiration to envision large-scale change. AUW’s distinctive curriculum ensures that alumnae will have the knowledge and skills to have an immediate positive impact on their respective societies.
What are AUW’s strategic priorities in the coming years?
Expansion of Student Enrollment
Fundamental to the mission of AUW is to create a widening network of emerging women leaders from across Asia and the Middle East. The expansion of student enrollment and graduation is necessary for achieving a significant critical mass of AUW graduates who are working on social and economic change in the region.
AUW currently has more than 1000 students enrolled. It is expected that the student population will grow by 100 additional students in each of the successive coming years. Additional students will be accommodated through rental of new spaces adjacent to the current campus. When AUW successfully relocates to its permanent campus and is able to build out its facilities, it will be able to host over 3000 students. In addition, AUW will be able to significantly bolster its academic programs, introducing graduate professional schools in due course.
AUW has already demonstrated that its model of education for women’s empowerment and leadership development works. The challenge remains on how to make AUW economically sustainable. We believe AUW can be made sustainable through progress in four critical areas:
- Construction of a permanent campus
The absence of a permanent campus hobbles AUW’s progress by constraining its ability to offer the best academic programs to a larger group of students. It also drains AUW’s finances as rental of facilities costs nearly US$1 million annually. AUW’s ability to build its permanent campus will lead it to actualize its vision. The cost of Phase I for construction is estimated to be US$60 million.
- Creation of an endowment
AUW is wholly dependent on annual contributions to support its operations. There is little margin for variations in its collection of contributions. An endowment will help stabilize the operations of the University. Currently it has a limited endowment that AUWSF aims to grow to US$50 million over the next few years, which in turn, will produce an annual income of US$2.25 million, significantly reducing our need for annual contributions.
- Increased enrollment of fee-paying students
AUW is seeking to significantly increase enrollment of qualified fee-paying students. Fee-paying students support the diversity of the student body and contribute to the economic viability of the University.
- Expansion of AUW Friends Networks
AUW depends on active supporters in the U.S., Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore and the UK. It is our hope to expand our networks in each of these jurisdictions as well as introduce new support groups in new jurisdictions. Volunteer support is essential for continuing the successful operation of AUW. Our annual fundraising target for non-capital items is US$7.5 million.
What academic programs does AUW offer, and what is the duration of study at AUW?
AUW offers three distinct but integrated academic programs.
- An undergraduate program in the liberal arts and sciences with majors in Bioinformatics; Economics; Environmental Sciences; Politics, Philosophy & Economics; and Public Health.
- Access Academy: A foundation year of courses focused on English communication skills, critical thinking, and strategies for life-long learning. Students take courses in Language and Composition, Reading across Disciplines, World Civilizations, Geography, Computer Literacy, Calculus, Leadership Seminars and Karate. These courses prepare students to succeed in AUW’s rigorous liberal arts and sciences undergraduate program.
- Pathways for Promise: A foundation year of courses focused on English communication skills and mathematics for students who are invited to enroll under a sponsored program.
An AUW student can enter directly into the undergraduate program or through Access Academy. A student entering through Pathways for Promise will ordinarily require five years to graduate. Those entering through Access Academy will require four years of study in addition to at least two summers of coursework. Those entering directly into the undergraduate program can complete course requirements in three academic years plus two summers of course work.
Why does AUW teach a Liberal Arts and Sciences Curriculum?
AUW’s liberal arts and sciences program encourages students to apply the analytical tools they acquire in the classroom to the problems and concerns of their own communities and countries, as well as the region at large. The liberal learning curriculum intends to link education with professional training, and learning with action in the real world.
AUW does not seek to be an “ivory tower.” Rather, it takes the best of the liberal arts tradition and integrates it with professional training for careers and leadership. This combination, reinforced by a bachelor’s degree, is relevant to the region because it emphasizes both the history and contemporary context of South and Southeast Asia, as well as pertinent development issues. Students leave AUW prepared to become active and committed participants in furthering the social and economic development of their societies.
What language are lessons taught in?
All lessons are taught in English.
What are the options for non-English language speakers?
AUW will provide students with ongoing support throughout their time at AUW, including flexible pre-university preparatory programs in English and math, and academic advising and mentorship opportunities. Students who lack adequate secondary school preparation will enter the university through Pathways for Promise or Access Academy, designed to bring their English, mathematics and computer skills to a level commensurate with meeting the demands at AUW. Pathways for Promise will emphasize English language acquisition while the Access Academy will introduce students to the kind of academic curriculum that they will experience at AUW, including participatory, project-based learning with a heavy emphasis on writing, speaking and group work.
When was AUW established?
AUW was established in September 2005, when the Parliament of Bangladesh ratified the Charter of the Asian University for Women. AUW opened its doors to students in March 2008. Women from six countries comprised the inaugural cohort of students.
How many students have graduated from AUW thus far?
AUW has graduated nearly 1000 students from 18 countries: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, East Timor, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Palestine, Sri Lanka, Syria, Vietnam and Yemen.
How many students are currently enrolled?
There are more than 1000 students currently enrolled at AUW. They represent 18 countries: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, East Timor, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Palestine, Sri Lanka, Syria, Vietnam and Yemen.
Does AUW have a campus?
AUW currently operates in temporary facilities located in the commercial center of Chittagong. AUW is actively pursuing relocation seven kilometers away from its current site to a permanent campus that will sit on a 140-acre plot of land given to it by the Government of Bangladesh.
The Master Plan for the permanent campus was completed by Moshe Safdie & Associates. The site of the Campus Center, which will house all academic and administrative facilities, has been prepared and is ready for construction.