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Nov 04, 2013 07:01 AM EST

SOAS Receives $32 Million to Promote Understanding of Southeast Asian Art

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University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) has received $32 million in donation from a former Asian art student. The donation, considered to be one of the largest ever to a UK university, especially in the field of arts and humanities, was made by Fred Eychaner, founder of Alphawood Foundation in Chicago.

Describing the gift as, 'transformational,' the SOAS department said that the money will be used for building renovations ($8M), research projects ($24M) and 80 scholarships.

"SOAS has been studying and interpreting the development, languages, arts and cultures of Asia for nearly 100 years and this project will draw on that knowledge as well as further reinforce our position as a world-leading centre for the study and interpretation of South East Asian art," Prof Paul Webley, director of SOAS said in the official statement.

The gift will also be used to encourage post-graduate students from the South-East Asia to pursue studies in London; to introduce three new fully endowed academic posts, including professorships in Buddhist and Hindu art; establish ties with institutions in countries such as Burma, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand and Laos and develop an academic program to improve research into South East Asian art

"Alphawood Foundation seeks to stimulate and expand the study of South East Asian art at all levels - from an educated and interested public to museum professionals to new PhD-level scholars. We chose to advance this goal by making our largest gift to date to SOAS because this school creates a very special learning and research environment where West meets East," said the Chicago-born philanthropist in the statement.

Eychaner, a broadcasting tycoon who owns several radio stations, said that he wanted his money to promote the study and preservation of Buddhist and Hindu art in Southeast Asia.

"While SOAS is firmly rooted in London, it has always been outward looking and seeks to make an impact in the regions it studies," Eychaner said. "We intend our gift to have its greatest effect in Southeast Asia and over time, SOAS graduates from the programmes we create today will take their scholarship and talents to the museums, universities, galleries and other institutions of that region."

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