Mamata Banerjee with interim vice-chancellor Malabika Sarkar and mentor group chairman Sugata Bose at the foundation ceremony of Presidency’s second campus in Rajarhat on Thursday. Picture by Sanjoy Ghosh
Mamata Banerjee has set 2017 as the deadline for Presidency University to become “No. 1”, assuring the institute that funds won’t be a hurdle in achieving that goal.
“Harvard, Cambridge and the London School of Economics are among the best institutes in the world. Why can’t we upgrade Presidency to the level of these top institutes?” the chief minister said, laying the foundation of its second campus on a 10-acre plot near DPS New Town in Rajarhat’s Action Area I on Thursday.
“Let us all hope Presidency becomes the destination of the best brains from across the world,” she said, invoking the tone and tenor of 2011 when she had set up the mentor group chaired by Harvard professor Sugata Bose to turn Presidency into a world-class institute.
Mamata admitted Presidency could do with more financial backing and promised to provide everything within her government’s means to help it complete its projects, including the Rajarhat campus, by 2017.
Presidency turns 200 that year, albeit only seven as a university.
Apart from land, the government has sanctioned Rs 10 crore for the second campus. More money will come in phases, Mamata said.
To those doubting if the grant of land would be of any use without a healthy flow of funds to build the campus, the chief minister said she wasn’t one to break a promise. “ I have promised you all support and I will keep my word,” she told the audience of mostly students, teachers, officials and alumni.
But sources said it was beyond the cash-strapped government to allot the quantum of funds required to realise the chief minister’s dream of seeing Presidency as “the No. 1 institute by 2017.
“The challenges before Presidency are many at present,” a teacher said. “To compete with eminent institutes, we need to set up modern science laboratories and advanced IT facilities, which we are still some way from doing.”
Somak Raychaudhury, who left the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Birmingham to head Presidency’s physics department, said there were no shortcuts in the journey to excellence. “We are in the process of upgrading our bioscience and physics laboratories. But a lot more needs to be done, such as strengthening our research and PhD programmes,” he told Metro.
The other challenges include getting rated by top-class institutes and ensuring better placements for its students. “We wonder whether all this can be achieved in three years’ time,” a teacher said.
For Mamata, it boils down to finding a way to fund Presidency’s projects despite her government’s debt burden. “The government is in a financial crisis. But you don’t worry. Remember, where there is will there is a way. Since we want Presidency to become a world-class institute, funds can’t be a hurdle,” the chief minister said.
The 10-acre plot for a second campus came Presidency’s way after the mentor group highlighted, in a report submitted last year, the lack of space to expand the College Street campus.
Mamata asked the university authorities to draft an action plan for Mission 2017 and the mentor group to prepare a vision document. “ You should start the preparations immediately to achieve your target,” she said.
The chief minister said Presidency had already signalled its intent by recruiting teachers from some of the better institutes in India and abroad.
“The university has done an excellent job of recruiting some of the best academicians as faculty members,” she told the gathering.
Presidency has hired 133 teachers since becoming a university, some of them from institutes in Europe, North America and Japan.
Mamata urged the Presidency authorities to organise a world education festival in 2017 so that “the brightest minds from across the world can exchange ideas”. Her 20-minute speech was peppered with reminders of what Presidency should strive to achieve.
“What should be the status of Presidency in future?” the chief minister asked, giving the answer herself. “No. 1, No. 1 and No. 1!”
Later in the evening, she posted on Facebook: “I am proud to have laid the foundation stone today for the 2nd Campus of the Presidency University at New Town, Rajarhat…”
foundation of rajarhat campus
What she promised
• Funds won’t be a hurdle in Presidency’s quest to become the No. 1 institute by 2017
• Government will provide all assistance to complete second campus in three years
What she sought
• Concerted effort to achieve goal of becoming No. 1
• A world education festival for best brains to exchange ideas