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West Bengal – Unexpected bonanza

EducationWorld November 2019 | Education News

West Bengal - Unexpected bonanzaPublic education (and health), widely accepted as the prerequisite of economic growth and development, was grossly neglected during the 34-years of uninterrupted rule (1977-2011) over West Bengal of the CPM-led Left Front government. The outcome is that West Bengal (pop. 91 million), which right until the mid-1970s was a major industry and manufacturing hub of the country, transformed into one of the most educationally and industrially backward states of the Indian Union following massive — and continuing — flight of capital and professionals from the state.

In 2011, the Trinamool Congress led by Mamata Banerjee routed the CPM-led Left Front alliance in the assembly election of 2011 and again in 2016. However, rampant campus violence, mass copying and recruitment test scandals — the legacy of massive infiltration of campus West Bengal by CPM ideologues and cadres — have continued to debilitate the state’s once-reputed education institutions that have produced some of India’s best known academics, particularly economists.

Against this dismal backdrop, the high rank awarded to two state government-funded universities — Calcutta and Jadavpur — in several national and international rankings has provided much-needed relief to the TMC government. The latest National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF) 2019 published by the Union HRD ministry, which ranks India’s Top 100 universities, engineering institutes, undergrad colleges, B-schools, law colleges etc, ranks the University of Calcutta (UoC, estb.1857) #5 (cf. #14 in 2018) and Jadavpur University (JU, estb.1955) #6 (6).

Better still, in its second QS India University Rankings 2020, the London-based Quacquarelli Symonds (QS), which publishes its widely respected annual QS World University Rankings (WUR), has ranked UoC and JU #1 and #2 among the country’s state government-run varsities. Both universities have also been creditably ranked among all Indian universities weighing in at #11 and #12. IIT-Bombay tops the QS India Rankings 2020 followed by IISc, Bangalore and IIT-Delhi. IIT-Kharagpur (West Bengal) is ranked #5.

“Calcutta and Jadavpur universities are islands of higher education excellence in West Bengal. Although in the WUR, they need to do better, there’s no doubt that in India, UoC and JU have a good reputation for which they are ranked among the Top 10,” says Ashwin Fernandes, QS’ regional director of South-East Asia, South Asia and Middle East.
The two Kolkata-based universities’ high national ratings in the QS India Rankings, which rate and rank universities and higher education institutions worldwide on the parameters of academic reputation, employer reputation, faculty-student ratio, number of PhDs, papers per faculty, citations per paper, percentage of international faculty and students, has generated considerable pride and euphoria in West Bengal which has been getting more than its share of negative media coverage. Among those who have sent congratulatory messages are chief minister Mamata Banerjee, governor Jagdeep Dhankhar and state education minister Partha Chatterjee.

“UoC is top-ranked in India among all state government universities. All the institutions ranked above us in the QS India Rankings 2020, including Delhi and Hyderabad universities, are Central government funded institutions with the majority being technical education institutes. We have made considerable progress in research with several papers of our faculty cited in globally reputed journals. We are delighted with our position in the QS India Rankings. It will help us to contract collaborations with reputable universities abroad. Moreover, it will help us get funding for our research projects,” says Sonali Charkravarti Banerjee, vice-chancellor, UoC.

Jadavpur University’s top brass is equally satisfied. “We have maintained our QS ranking of 2019. That’s not a small achievement,” adds Suranjan Das, vice chancellor of JU.

Quick to derive political advantage, the TMC government is also claiming credit for IIT-Kharagpur’s high rank in the QS India Rankings 2020. On October 25, IIT-Kharagpur announced the rollout of an ambitious MBBS programme with an initial intake of 50 students from the start of the academic year 2021-2022.

With the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) having won an unprecedented 18 of West Bengal’s 42 seats in the Lok Sabha in General Election 2019 while the ruling TMC’s seats tally has dropped from 34 to 23, the general perception was that the ground is slipping under chief minister Banerjee’s feet. But news of UoC and JU’s high rankings has buoyed the morale of party cadres. With the state’s highly influential bhadralok (refined middle class) which highly values good quality education reportedly elated, the dimming star of Banerjee — who has the superhuman task of persuading the electorate to vote her to power in Writers Building, Kolkata for the third consecutive term next summer — may be in the ascendant again.

Baishali Mukherjee (Kolkata)

Also read: Can Jadavpur University Be Saved?

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