Asian University for Women (AUW) was conceived by Kamal Ahmad when he was himself an undergraduate at Harvard College in the mid-1980s. However, it was the World Bank/UNESCO Task Force on Higher Education & Society that provided him with a springboard to launch the idea. An International Support Committee for the Asian University for Women was set up with Task Force Member and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh and First Lady of Denmark Lone Dybkjaer as Co-Chair. A meeting was arranged with the Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina in 2000 when First Lady Dybkjaer and Kamal presented the AUW idea to the Government of Bangladesh and the process of building support internationally was launched. Boston philanthropist Charles E. Merrill, Jr. provided an initial grant to help develop the concept further. Once the AUW Support Foundation was established, a series of studies were conducted to develop academic, organizational and financial plans for the University which ultimately culminated in the publication in 2005 of AUW’s Plan of Operations.

Among the key supporters of AUW at its earliest stage were Henry Rosovsky, Stephen J. Friedman, Jack Meyer, Kathy Matsui, Kenneth Prewitt, Anwarul Karim Chowdhury, Osman Farruk, Muhammad Yunus, F.H. Abed, Martha Nussbaum, Judy Moody-Stuart, Vivian Lowery Derryck, Bob Berg, Mark Malloch Brown, Bill Newton Smith, Dipu Moni, Rokiya Rahman, and a host of others from around the world. The first major grants to AUW came from the Open Society Institute and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. At the Gates Foundation, Sylvia Mathews provided key support.

Our Milestones


The World Bank/UN Task Force on Higher Education and Society publishes “Higher Education in Developing Countries: Peril and Promise” (2000). The idea of AUW is conceived.


AUW Support Foundation is incorporated as a non-profit institution under section 501(c)3 of the United States Internal Revenue Code. Fundraising and planning efforts for AUW officially begin. Click this link to view a draft of the original concept note from 2001.


The Government of Bangladesh grants more than 100 acres of land in the outskirts of Chittagong city for the AUW campus.


AUW Support Foundation publishes a Plan of Operations, which outlines the University’s mission and vision, leadership and governance structure, and sustainability plan. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation provides a challenge grant of US $15 million for AUW to begin operations.


The Parliament of Bangladesh ratifies the Charter of the Asian University for Women, which guarantees AUW’s status as an international, non-sectarian, and fully independent university with complete institutional autonomy, academic freedom, and exemption from taxes.


The first cohort of AUW students arrive on campus. The cohort consists of 130 young women from six countries: Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.


The first Board of Trustees is elected by the International Support Committee of AUW, chaired by the Honorable Prime Minister of Bangladesh and Lone Dybkjaer, the Former Minister of Environment in Denmark, in accordance with the provisions of the Charter of the Asian University for Women.


The Board of Trustees appoints Cherie Blair to serve as the inaugural Chancellor of Asian University for Women. AUW also holds a foundation stone-laying ceremony at the site of its permanent campus with Honorable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina as the Chief Guest. To date, the Government of Bangladesh has granted over 140 acres for the University’s campus, which is designed by Moshe Safdie and Associates.


AUW realizes its first full complement of classes — a total student body of 535, with cohorts in the Access Academy and each undergraduate year.


AUW graduates its first cohort of students.


AUW launches Pathways for Promise to extend its recruitment of students into particularly marginalized populations, including refugees and women working in ready-made garment factories.

Former Dean of Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Henry Rosovsky, is awarded Honorary Degree for his Counsel and Service to Educators and Academic Institutions of the World.


The Board of Trustees appoints Professor Nirmala Rao, OBE, FAcSS to serve as Vice Chancellor of Asian University for Women. In the spring, AUW graduates its fifth cohort of students, raising the number of AUW alumnae to nearly 540. In the autumn, the student body grows to a record-breaking 700+ students from 15 countries: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Palestine, Sri Lanka, Syria, and Vietnam.

AUW confers a Doctorate of Humanities, honoris causa, upon Rula Ghani, First Lady of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.

AUW confers a Doctorate of Law, honoris causa, upon Former Chief Secretary of Hong Kong the Honorable Anson Chan.

AUW confers a Doctorate of Humane Letters, honoris causa, upon the James Bryant Conant University Professor of Harvard University Danielle Allen.

AUW confers a Doctorate of Humane Letters, honoris causa, upon former Chief Operating Officer of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Leigh Morgan.


AUW celebrates the tenth anniversary of its opening in May.

AUW confers a Doctorate of Humanities, honoris causa, upon Nobel Peace Laureate Tawakkol Karman.

AUW confers a Doctorate of Humanities, honoris causa, upon Dr. Ismail Serageldin, Founding Director of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, the Library of Alexandria.


Click here to view a video of the 2019 Commencement. 

AUW celebrates its 7th Commencement Ceremony, graduating 100 students from 12 countries.

AUW Chancellor Cherie Blair delivers the Commencement address.

Mohammad Humayun Qayoumi of Afghanistan delivers a keynote address at Commencement.

Rezwana Choudhury Bannya delivers a keynote address at Commencement.

AUW confers a Doctorate of Laws, honoris causa, upon Mohammad Humayun Qayoumi of Afghanistan.

AUW confers a Doctorate of Arts, honoris causa, upon Rezwana Chowdhury Bannya.