On Sunday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will lay the foundation stone of a national institute of science education and research at Salt Lake.
Riding an investment of Rs 500 crore, it will be the single largest education project in Bengal since the Indian Institute of Management, Joka, opened in 1961.
Yet, two years ago, when a group of Pune-based scientists first mooted the idea of a new-age centre for science education and research to stem the brain drain to disciplines like management, Calcutta featured nowhere on their radar screens. Pune was the preferred location.
The University Grants Commission (UGC) later recommended setting up four national centres in Allahabad, Chennai, Pune and Bhubaneswar.
Calcutta became a contender after chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee mounted a campaign early this year. Backed by the Prime Minister, Bhattacharjee submitted a detailed proposal to the Centre.
'Delhi agreed to include Calcutta and in March 2005, asked the state government to prepare the groundwork for setting up the institute,' education department sources said.
In July 2005, the Planning Commission, after examining the ministry for human resource development proposal, recommended that instead of five cities, only Calcutta and Pune should house the centre.
'Buddhababu's achievement lies in the fact that he could place Calcutta above all other locations,' said Satyasadhan Chakraborty, state higher education minister.
'The institute is going to fetch us accolades in the field of education after many decades,' he added.
The Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, which got the final clearance of the Union cabinet on Thursday, will function as a counterpoint to the IITs and IIMs. Expected to be commissioned on a small scale next year, the institute will offer advanced, inter-disciplinary studies in science.
'The institute represents an absolutely new vision of science education,' said D.J. Chattopadhyay, dean of science, Calcutta University. 'The concept is new, as students will be exposed to research-based education from a very young age. The model on which it will function is operational only in the US.'
After passing Class XII, students can study under an integrated programme at the proposed institute. ' It will be compulsory to study all areas of basic science ' physics, chemistry, mathematics and biology,' said an education department official.