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Rs 4cr for Presi roof & reputation

The state government has committed an infrastructure grant of Rs 4.1 crore to Presidency University, seemingly acknowledging that its crumbling facilities could drive away teachers who had joined in the hope of working in a world-class institution.

Most of the money would be spent on renovating the historic Baker Building, which wears ceilings so fragile that teachers and students risk grievous injury every day to teach and study there.

The promise of financial aid came through education minister Bratya Basu, whom vice-chancellor Malabika Sarkar met at Bikash Bhavan on Monday.

Sarkar said Basu suggested that the university request members of the mentor group, headed by Harvard professor Sugata Bose, to take “special classes” as and when they could spare some time.

Presidency has lost six teachers in two months, three of them because of the pay disparity with central institutes. None of them has yet cited crumbling or inadequate infrastructure for quitting but sources said the government was worried that it might prompt a few more to leave.

Harvard University professor Sugata Bose, who heads the Presidency mentor group, had highlighted the possibility on Sunday while speaking about what should be done to retain talent.

Bose first stressed the need to bring the salaries of teachers at Presidency on a par with that of central universities. “I would like to add that for faculty retention our academic infrastructure has to be improved too,” he said.

The disparity between a professor’s pay in a central and a state university stands at Rs 25,000 each month.

Several faculty members had left reputable institutes across the world to teach at Presidency, sold on the “exciting promises” made by the Mamata Banerjee government in the first flush of the transition from college to unitary university.

“We have teachers like Somak Raychaudhury, who had left the University of Birmingham last year to head Presidency’s physics department. They are certainly being paid much less than what they used to earn overseas. If we can’t provide them decent academic infrastructure, who’s to say they won’t leave?” an official of the higher education department said.

The buzz is that a grant of Rs 4.1 crore is not enough for the university to measure up to the dream woven by chief minister Banerjee.

“The government needs to fund generously to set up world-class infrastructure and research facilities. The bulk of the Rs 4.1 crore grant will be used up in repairing Baker Building,” the official said.

Metro had highlighted on January 29 how students engage in experiments in the dimly lit laboratories of the physics department at Baker Building with a wary eye on the crumbling ceilings.

There are damp patches across the ceilings and the walls, caused by water seeping through the concrete on the upper floors during monsoon.

The teachers’ room is also in need of renovation.

The physics lab for undergraduate students on the first floor isn’t any better. It has a net below the ceiling to keep chunks of concrete from falling on someone’s head. The floor has cracks all over.

Vice-chancellor Sarkar had requested a Rs 50 crore grant to renovate Baker Building during her previous meeting with education minister Basu last November.

After the meeting on Monday, she said the promised grant of Rs 4.1 crore would enable the university to start renovation.

“We worked out a detailed renovation plan and presented it to the government. We want to set up advanced physics and bio-science laboratories in Baker Building but the renovation needs to be done first,” Sarkar said.

Minister Basu said: “The university came up with a Rs 6-crore infrastructure overhaul plan, of which the government has decided to allocate Rs 4.1 crore.”

He denied that the government had been approached last year with a request for Rs 50 crore.

Chief mentor Bose said the promise of Rs 4.1 crore “shows the government’s commitment to Presidency”.

Physics head Raychaudhury hoped the long wait for Baker Building to be renovated would end once the government released the promised money.