A UNIVERSITY OF THE PEOPLE, BY THE PEOPLE, FOR THE PEOPLE

The Hindoo College was established by citizens of Kolkata. There were Indians, and there were the British. But it was not a government initiative, nor was it an institution promoted by a religious sect. It was planned as an institution that would impart Western education to the ‘respectable class of Hindus’. But the curriculum was secular and non-denominational: there was no attempt at teaching theology or religious texts. In 1855, the Government took over the College, renamed it Presidency College, separated its junior section, and threw its doors open to learners from all communities. This was the institution that was to become one of the great centres of learning in South Asia.

Hindoo College may have been formally instituted in 1816, but classes did not begin before 20 January 1817 in a rented house in the Garanhata area in Chitpur. This date has been traditionally observed as Founders’ Day. In 2010, the College was awarded the status of a university by an Act passed in the West Bengal Legislative Assembly. Hence, a new university that is also an old College would be inaugurating its 200th anniversary of the beginning of classes on the 6th of January at Prinsep Ghat.

The year 2017 will be a very important year in the history of higher education in Bengal. There will be yearlong events that Presidency University has in store. Along with a two new campuses, one at Rajarhat and the other at Kurseong, the University is also adding new departments and programmes to its academic curriculum.

The Vice-Chancellor of Presidency University announced that the ceremonial inauguration of the bicentenary celebrations would be held on the 6th of January at Prinsep Ghat. Prinsep Ghat is an iconic landmark in the city of Kolkata. It is named after James Prinsep, an English scholar, antiquary and a civilian who, among other things, was in charge of the Mint.

Prinsep Ghat was built along the bank of the river Bhagirathi. The magnificent Palladian porch was constructed in the memory of James Prinsep in the year 1843. The pleasantness of the ghat along with the mighty river it leads one to makes the site a favourite recreational spot for visitors.

Prinsep Ghat as venue would ensure the involvement of the people of West Bengal in the institution’s fortunes. An open public space was needed for the purpose, away from the congestion of College Street where parking is difficult even on regular working days.

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee will be inaugurating the event at Prinsep Ghat. Nobel laureates, eminent personalities and speakers will be present. Most importantly, the formal inauguration will be a public event, and all are invited on the 6th of January 2017 at 5.30 pm.

A LOT IS IN STORE

Presidency University was established in the year 1817. It was then known as the Hindoo College and later in 1855, it became Presidency College. At the inception, Hindoo College consisted of two parts, the school (Pathshala) and the college (Mahapathshala). The subjects taught at the school were English, Bengali, Grammar and Arithmetic. The college taught subjects like History, Geography, Astronomy, Mathematics, Chemistry and other sciences.During the first two years of the Hindoo College, classes were held at the house belonging to Gorachand Bysack in Chitpore Road. After that, classes shifted to Bowbazar in 1819. There, the classes continued for another seven years until the campus was shifted to College Street to a wing in the newly constructed Sanskrit College.Soon the college had four separate branches: the General Branch, the Medical Branch, the Legal Branch and the Engineering Branch. Finally, in 1874, Presidency College was shifted to the building where it is presently situated. More than 140 years have passed since the present building was constructed and sadly, it hasn’t been renovated much since then.

The Heritage Commission, that had been set up to preserve the heritage of the College Street of Presidency University, has already started renovating and restoring the heritage campus. Major infrastructural changes are expected to be seen. The work has started a year ago and the State Government has sanctioned a sum of around 50 Crores for it. The work of renovating and making infrastructural changes to the Baker Laboratories, the Main Building, the Derozio Building, the Netaji Subhash Building and other common spaces has been initiated and 90% of the work is expected to be over by the end of 2017.

While the bicentenary will be celebrated in 2017 and there will be events throughout the year, the authorities are already involved in improving the infrastructure of the university. Along with the renovation, some assets are also being added to the university campus. A museum is being constructed which shall house the history of the university in parallel to the history of Bengal and India. An exhibition space and several small auditoriums are also under construction. The space in Netaji Subhas Building has been doubled. The laboratories are being modernised too as the importance of research has in increased manifold in the recent years. This shows the university’s interest to make research as an integral part of their academic curriculum not just for the post-graduate students, but right from the undergraduate level. Individual laboratory spaces for the faculty is also being allotted, which is a great step towards facilitating the university as a ground for serious research. The plan to construct an open-air amphitheatre for student activities is also in the pipeline. The library space has been tripled by means of renovating the internal structures. There are plans to increase the space for the Central Library too.

Interestingly, the university has decided to create an institutional archive, containing valuable documents written by eminent personalities and the lustrous alumni of the university, which will be put online so that scholars from all over the globe will be able to access them on the internet. This work has progressed considerably and for the time being, the National Digital Library has agreed to host it. In the long run, the university will have these digitized versions in their own server. The university has also undertaken an ambitious plan with the rare books. It involves not just restoring the rare books, but also digitizing the same.

The university has already started the department of Performing Arts last year and is planning to add some more like the School of Public Policies, School of Design, School of Biotechnology, School of Astrophysics and School of Big Data Analytics in the new campus at Rajarhat. There is a plan to establish 13-14 such schools with time. For now, the Rajarhat Campus will be solely dedicated to advanced studies as per the plans of the authorities, while retaining the heritage of the College Street campus.

The bicentenary year will be a very special year in the history of Presidency University due to the improvements and the renovations, which will be the lasting assets to the university. It is being done in a brilliant fashion and there is no doubt that this will enable the institute to shine for another 200 years.

A JOURNEY SPANNING TWO CENTURIES

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.

PRESIDENCY UNIVERSITY’S BICENTENARY CELEBRATION WILL GO BEYOND BOUNDARIES

“When you take the free will out of education, that turns it into schooling.” – John Taylor Gatto

An institution that privileges free will is one that survives. Presidency University is one such institution. From Nobel laureates, scientists, writers and filmmakers to successful entrepreneurs and philanthropists, the Presidency University’s list of alumni and alumnae is astonishing in range. Former students of Hindoo College, Presidency College and Presidency University have firmly put their alma mater on the international map.

The Vice-Chancellor of Presidency University announced on 19 October 2016 the plans for celebrating the bicentenary near that starts in January 2017. With the legacy of Presidency University dating back to 1817, 2017 will be the 200th birthday of the beginning of classes in Hindoo College at Chitpore Road, Kolkata. The rest is a strong and unbroken history of exceptional academic achievements and reputation.

Eminent citizens founded Hindu College to impart modern—largely, though not entirely, Western—education to Indian Hindus, although the curriculum was secular. The College soon produced liberals and free thinkers trained by such teachers as Henry Louis Vivian Derozio and David Lester Richardson. In 1855, the College was turned into a government college for the Presidency of Bengal, and was re-named Presidency College. Open to all religions and communities, it was separated from the Junior Section, which now survives as Hindu School.
Great men and women such as Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, Debendranath Tagore, Satyendranath Tagore, Jyotirindranath Tagore, Anandaram Barua, Swami Vivekananda, Chittaranjan Das, Rajendra Prasad, Asutosh Mukherjee, Meghnad Saha, Satyendranath Bose, Shyamaprasad Mukherjee, Fazlul Haq, Humayun Kabir, Suniti Kumar Chatterjee, Pramathesh Barua, Ashok Kumar, Manik Bandyopadhyay, Jibanananda Das, Sukumar Ray, Satyajit Ray, Sankha Ghosh, Sakti Chattopadhyay, Amal Raychaudhuri, Taraknath Sen, Amartya Sen and Gayatri Spivak once attended classes at Presidency College. Apart from these few, there are countless other students of the institution, who have contributed to international learning and public life.

For the Global Education Summit, the University invited scholars, scientists, authors and academic administrators from all over the world to come and join the event. Intellectual leaders such as Jean Tirole, Amartya Sen, Muhammad Yunus, Charles Bailyn, Pranab Bardhan, Abhijit Vinayak Banerjee, Amit Bhaduri, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Sugata Bose, Mammen Chandy, Dorairajan Balasubramanian, H Shivaprakash, Valerie Amos Baroness Amos, and Amitav Ghosh will be at the summit. Cultural performances will feature acclaimed artistes Vaiyu Naidu, Navtej Singh Johar, and Indian Ocean. Presidency alumni groups across the world will celebrate the anniversary. It is going to be a rich experience and a year of promise for students, members of the faculty and the administrators of the University.

GLOBAL EDUCATIONAL SUMMIT AT PRESIDENCY UNIVERSITY

Four years after the State Government passed the Presidency University Bill in 2010, the Hon’ble Chief Minister of West Bengal Mamata Banerjee visited Presidency University. However, the visit took place 9 miles away from the College Street campus. It was at the 10-acre plot allotted to the University by the State Government in New Town, Rajarhat. While unveiling the foundation stone of the second campus, the Chief Minister proposed the idea of a ‘Global Educational Summit’ to co-incide with the bicentenary of the institution that started life in 2017 as Hindu College. The purpose was to showcase the prospects of West Bengal as a destination for higher education and to reflect on the direction higher education might take in India. Two years hence, we are witnessing the fruition of the idea.

The Summit, perhaps the biggest of its kind in India in recent memory, will start with the Dipak Banerjee Memorial Lecture, to be delivered by the Nobel Laureate in Economics, Jean Tirole, at Derozio Hall at 10.30 am on 5 January 2017 at Derozio Hall. Amartya Sen will chair the session. For two weeks, more than 40 eminent scholars from various disciplines, academic administrators and policy-makers will be attending the Summit and speaking on topics ranging from Biology, Earth Sciences, Economics, and Physics to History, Languages, Literature, Philosophy, Politics and the Performing Arts. The broad theme of the conference is the future of higher education in the sciences and the humanities, and the possible convergence of the two.

There will be exhibitions and cultural events, concerts, stand-up comedy show, a heritage walk organised by the Alumni Association, an economics festival put together by students named Arthatantra, an international debate featuring debaters from the London School of Economics, Harvard University, Emory University, Cambridge University and Presidency that Calcutta Debating Circle will be collaborating on.

Presidency University will be celebrating its bicentenary throughout 2017, and many such events are planned.