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Special status for JU, slight for CU

Jadavpur University is set to become the second higher education address after Presidency to wear the “special status” badge but Calcutta University has no chance of being the third.

The government has chosen the fledgling Sidho Kanho Birsha University, set up in Purulia in 2010, over the 155-year-old CU to bestow the privilege of more funds for research, higher pay for teachers and special allocations to create posts of chair professors.

“The government has decided to grant special status to JU and another university in the district: Sidho Kanho Birsha University,” higher education minister Bratya Basu confirmed to Metro on Thursday.

Based on the Presidency model where Harvard professor Sugata Bose heads a mentor group, both institutions will have a panel of experts each to mentor them along the journey to excellence.

“Jadavpur University has been demanding special status for a long time. As for Sidho Kanho Birsha University, the government decided to grant it special status for the benefit of students from the rural hinterland of Purulia and the neighbouring districts,” a senior official of the higher education department said.

But isn’t Calcutta University losing out in the bargain? “There is no plan to include a fourth university in the list as of now,” was all that the official would say.

Teachers and officials at CU said the state’s oldest university deserved special status as much as Presidency and Jadavpur University, which were once its affiliates.

“I have no information about the government’s plan to award special status to JU and Sidho Kanho Birsha University. But I will be surprised if we are deprived. Our institution does not lag behind any other university in Bengal in any respect,” CU vice-chancellor Suranjan Das said. “We have proven our excellence several times not just in academics but also in extracurricular activities.”

The CU faculty had been optimistic about their institution’s upgrade to special status after governor and chancellor M.K. Narayanan’s endorsement of its credentials during his convocation speech last March.

The governor had said CU should “justifiably” be proud of its run of achievements over several decades. “I hence venture to suggest there is no reason whatsoever why Calcutta University should not be treated on the same footing as Presidency University in all matters,” Narayanan declared.

If a section of CU was upset when the state government had granted special status to Presidency ahead of it, many of them were shocked to hear on Thursday that even Sidho Kanho Birsha University had beaten it to the title.

“Even if the university already has a pool of brilliant teachers and departments that have achieved excellence over a long period, we need that ‘special status’ to compete with other reputable institutes in the country. We are not against upgrade of Presidency, JU or Sidho Kanho Birsha. But the government’s decision could trigger frustration among our teachers,” a professor in one of the science departments said.

Some said the government granting special status to more universities might prove to be counter-productive.

“Everyone will clamour for special status and finally everyone will have to be called special. There will be nothing special about universities with special status,” a teacher at Presidency warned.

Those batting for JU, of course, couldn’t be happier. The Anandakrishnan Committee appointed by Delhi had said JU’s engineering wing had the potential to become an IIT.