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SOAS in search of partners
Bid to forge research bond

The School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London is looking to collaborate with institutes in Calcutta in teaching and research.

Any such agreement would mean students from this part of the world having access to the famed SOAS archives. In return, their counterparts in London would have the opportunity to train and do research in Calcutta.

Michael J. Hutt, director of the SOAS South Asia Institute that is set to take off in January, met the vice-chancellors of Presidency University, Calcutta University and the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences on Thursday to explore collaborative ventures.

“Maybe a student of Presidency or Calcutta University is doing a PhD on the history of Calcutta and discovers that there is some important research material archived in London, which he or she can’t access from Calcutta. Perhaps it will be useful for them to come to SOAS and attend one of our research method courses or gain access to the archives,” Hutt, professor of Nepalese and Himalayan Studies, said.

“There are materials and there is expertise at SOAS that may be of some use to students here, and there are materials here that certainly could be of use to students there. Some of the greatest scholars of south Asian studies are based in Calcutta, just access to their teaching would be beneficial,” he added.

Hutt, who will be in town till December 19, is scheduled to visit Presidency University on Friday to meet the sociology and political science faculty to find out common areas of interest.

“If appropriate funding is available and this collaboration works out, maybe our students can spend one semester at SOAS, use their archives and talk to experts there. That would really help them in their careers,” Malabika Sarkar, vice-chancellor of Presidency University, said.

According to Hutt, the possibilities of research “often get squeezed” and collaborations are meant to unlock opportunities that are not open to one as an individual institute.

“I am interested in genuine collaboration in research. For instance, there are areas of research interest we share in film, media, history and heritage studies, and we could perhaps join forces in applying to a third party for research funding for projects,” he said.

Citing an example, Hutt pointed out that many funding agencies such as the European Research Council would not fund applications for large research projects with one university. “They insist on collaboration and there have to be at least two European universities.”

Calcutta University already has a memorandum of understanding with SOAS, signed about 15 years ago, that gives its faculty access to the London institute’s libraries. “On the basis of our relationship with them, we have also applied for funding for joint research,” a CU official revealed.

Vice-chancellor Suranjan Das said: “We had a discussion today about the possibilities of collaboration in research with the SOAS South Asia Institute. We have shown interest in research possibilities in history, foreign policy and teacher education.”