Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Presidency College Kolkata to tap corporate houses

Kolkata's Presidency College, now University, plans to tap big corporate houses and private funds to make it one of Asia's best graduate studies institute. "We want to tap top corporate houses who have philanthropic exposure to higher education. However, donation will be accepted without any strings attached. We are building a database of prospective donors," said Sugata Bose, Gardiner Professor of History at Harvard University.

Prof. Bose, appointed recently by West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee as Chairman of the Presidency University mentor group to revive the fortunes of this institution, is a grand-nephew of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. In an hour long freewheeling interview with ET in Netaji's ancestral home, Bose's eyes lit up as he wondered aloud on his dream of taking his alma mater, Presidency, to the world stage. "And to do that, we need big funds," said Bose. He cited the example of Harvard itself, which has endowments to the tune of $27 billion!

Bose has set a deadline of 2017-18 to make Presidency a world famous institution, when it will complete 200 years. He has formed an eight member mentor group comprising academics and administrators to come up with the turnaround plan, and will also take the help of fellow alumni and Nobel laureate Amartya Sen. The mentor group will also look at possibilities to seek funds from the Centre and to make Presidency a part of the 14 world-class universities which the union Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) is planning to build across the country.

"The infrastructure at Presidency University is in dire straits. We have to look at various sources of funding to upgrade infrastructure since the West Bengal government's fiscal health may not permit it to provide all the funds the institution would require to turn its fortunes," said Bose. The first meeting of the mentor group is scheduled to take place around July 22-23, with the group suggesting turnaround measures for the next two years.

The mentor group will also evaluate possibilities to turn Presidency into a central university from a state one. "Central university status will enable it to tap central funds. It will also help us increase the salary of the teachers to attract better faculty, since the pay scale in central university is much more than a state university," said Bose. Be that as it may, Bose's email inbox is flooded with more than 1,000 job applications from teachers across the world. There's a lot of enthusiasm. "But we need to provide the faculty an enabling environment," he says.

Also on the cards, are plans to tie up with top universities in Japan, China and the Southeast Asia for faculty and student exchange. At the same time, the mentor group wants Presidency to start inter-disciplinary studies like the American universities. Bose wants to follow the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) model whereby the institution will focus on its core areas as centres of excellence, but also open up newer disciplines.

"Presidency will not be another IIT or IIM. It will continue its focus on liberal arts and science. But we want to bring newer subjects like applied science and IT which will ensure student placements. Plus, one full semester will dedicated for internship. We want to make Presidency an institute so that students choose to come here and not the IITs," said Bose. Presidency in the last few years has been facing a lot of criticism about its falling standards due to alleged politics in teacher recruitment and frequent student unrest led by political parties.

Bose admits of "the steep decline in academic standards and infrastructure over the last 30 years when the institution lost its talented faculty", but he sincerely hopes student politics will not hamper the turnaround process. "Student union is there in most of the top academic institutions, but those are not linked to party politics. Interest in politics is healthy but students should develop a new outlook when some real new things are going to take place," he says. "For instance, the institution needs to raise academic fees but we will ensure that there are sufficient financial aid and scholarship for meritorious students who cannot afford such fees. Similarly, the chief minister has promised me there will be no political interference," says Bose.

Originally called Hindu College that cradled the Bengal renaissance in the 19th century, Presidency boasts of thousands of noted alumni. This includes Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, Rajendra Prasad, Jyoti Basu, B.C. Roy, R.P. Goenka, Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose and Satyajit Ray.

Bose is confident Presidency will again produce and expand its famous alumni network. "We are confident Presidency will not get burnt out," says Bose, who has started to burn midnight oil to bring back this 194-years-old goliath institution to its pink of health.

Source: The Economic Times, July 6, 2011
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