The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. – Lao Tzu
The greatest achievements have humble beginnings. Presidency University is an excellent example of such a beginning. Started as Hindoo College in 1817 (classes began on 20 January 1817, although the Committee institute the College in 1816) to impart Western training in the sciences and the liberal arts. Presidency today is a 200-year-old institution, which has consistently maintained its reputation as a premier centre of learning in India.
Until the eighteenth century, education in Bengal was restricted mainly to the traditional Sanskrit tols, madrassas and inadequate primary schools. There was no training that would enable students to learn the sciences, the arts and technologies of the world. Men such as Rammohan Ray, Edward Hyde East, Gopimohan Thakur, David Hare, Tejchand Bahadur, and Badyinath Mukherjee, Radhakanta Deb and Joseph Baretto raised funds through public subscription to establish a College that would provide quality education to boys from ‘respectable Hindu’ families, although the curriculum was secular. From 1824, the College started receiving financial support from the government.
Hindoo College formally started in a rented house at Chitpur Road on 20 January 1817. It was divided into two sections – the school and the college. English, Bengali and Persian were the primary languages of instruction at the College. Within three months of the beginning of classes, the number of students rose from 20 to 69. In 1819, the college shifted from the rented house at Chitpur to a new home at Bowbazar.
The popularity of the Hindu College soon started spreading across Bengal. From the 1820s onward, the administrators appointed teachers such as Henry Louis Vivian Derozio, D. Ross and Robert Tytler. In 1831, the first batch of students, the so-called ‘Young Bengal’ radicals inspired by Derozio, graduated from the College.
Hindoo College, though was established as a College to educate Hindu children in the main, was steadfast in its resolve to impart secular and non-denominational education. Rammohan Ray and David Hare were staunch believers in the cultivation of English literature and European sciences. Finally, in 1852, the government proposed that the College be opened to all communities. When Hindoo College was taken over by the government in 1855, impediments to admission of communities other than the Hindus were removed.
New subjects were added to the curriculum at various points in time—Law, Drawing, Engineering, Sanitary Science, Commerce, and, briefly, Music. In 1855, the government took over the management and separated the junior section from the senior College. The authorities planned four branches for the College, namely, the General Branch, the Medical Branch, the Legal Branch and the Engineering Branch. This was the seed that never came to fruition when Calcutta University was established in 1857, and undertook postgraduate teaching in phases through the second decade of the twentieth century.
The First B.A. examinations of Calcutta Univerrsity took place in the year 1858. Among the first two graduates, Bankim Chandra Chatterjee was one. Presidency College entered a new era in the 1890s with the publication of stellar research by Indian scientists such as Jagadish Chandra Bose and Prafulla Chandra Ray. Between the swadesi era and 1916, the College nurtured the nationalist fervour of leaders such as Ullaskar Datta, Chitta Ranjann Das, and Subhas Chandra Bose. Great names such as Meghnad Saha, Satyendra Nath Bose and Prashanta Chandra Mahalanobis put Presidency on the international scientific map. Institutions such as the Indian Statistical Institute and Bose Institute grew out of Presidency. At the same time, the College produced civilians, writers, entrepreneurs, jurists and social reformers of stature.
Independence was followed by the founding of the University Grants Commission in 1956. In 1972, the UGC Centre for Economic Studies was opened in the Economics Department at Presidency. It was also in this year that the College was recognized as a Centre of Excellence in the fifth-year plan.
In 1992, Presidency College turned 175 year old. A grand celebration was planned for the occasion, which had to be postponed because of disturbances that followed the demolition of Babri Masjid.
The year 2010 was yet another milestone in the 200-year-old history of the institute. The then state government passed the Presidency University Bill on 19 March. Presidency College turned into Presidency University with the Governor consenting to the Act on 7 July. In 2011, the Presidency Mentor Group was formed with Professor Amartya Sen as the Advisor to the Chair. A year later, in December, UGC recognized Presidency University as an ‘Institute of National Eminence’.
The first Convocation of the University took place in the year 2013. In 2014 Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee laid the Foundation Stone for the 10-acre Rajarat campus. A year later she gifted the University a third campus at Dow Hill, Kurseong. In 2016, Professor Amartya Sen was awarded D. Lit. (HonorisCausa) at a Special Convocation held on 20 January.
The College that started in a small rented house on Upper Chitpur Road two hundred years back is now a seven-year old University, already assessed by NAAC as a University worthy of an ‘A’. During the bicentenary celebrations, the Global Education Summit will be hosted by Presidency University. Scholars, economists, artists, writers, academic administrators and alumni from all over the world will be joining the summit.