In 1598, about 50 years after St Francis Xavier landed in Goa, four Jesuits came to Bandel. There they opened a college, St Paul’s College. A century later, a group of English Jesuits landed in Kolkata and opened St Xavier’s College at an address most likely near the present Indian Museum. They did not stay long.
Sixteen years after they departed, in 1859 to be exact, seven European Jesuits arrived in Kolkata. They were true pioneers and they stayed to set up the Bengal Mission. A month and a half later, on January 16, 1860, they founded St Xavier’s College where it stands today. And with this, they opened a new chapter in the history of education in Bengal.
Many chapters have since been written, with January 16, the College Foundation Day, serving as a kind of periodic marker of the history, growth and development of St Xavier’s College.
The college has come a long way since those early days. Driven by the vision of successive principals, St Xavier’s began a steady and determined march into the future. Recognising the importance of equal opportunity, the college opened its doors to women in 1978. It was a momentous turning point in the history of the college.
After a decade of consolidation, St Xavier’s began to revitalise itself in the early 2000s, pushing the boundaries of its academic quest for excellence. A slew of new courses in the Arts, Sciences and Management were introduced. Postgraduate departments were set up. And PhD programs in select departments were soon to follow.
From 2017, there has been a continuous calibrated expansion culminating in the introduction of a PG course in data science. St Xavier’s is the only college that offers this cutting-edge course. The college’s Vision 2025 envisages all departments to be upgraded to PG and PhD levels, offering students a seamless transition from undergraduate to doctoral studies with varying points of exit.
This expansion is based on the principle that even as St Xavier’s rests on the pillars of its past, it must be prepared for radical changes in the academic curriculum and pedagogy.
With the very real possibility of foreign universities setting up campuses in India, the college has recognised the immediate importance of establishing the most rigorous standards of quality education, achievement and success so as to enhance its reputation as a centre of outstanding excellence. By offering education of international quality at the most competitive cost, the college will be able to compete in time on a global platform and attract the best students and faculty from India and abroad.
Consequently, Vision 2025 propagates the idea of St Xavier’s College as a research-oriented institution. The college has begun to place greater emphasis on research at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels. Students are encouraged to go beyond rote learning and the accumulation of information to develop self-study to hone their capacity for original thought and critical writing.
The college has been receiving an increasing number of research grants and is also applying for patents based on research projects with significant applications in industry and commerce.
To further accelerate and accommodate research and patenting activity, the college is actively promoting interdisciplinary studies and research. Such courses have been introduced in postgraduate departments to provide students a holistic approach to their subjects. Interdisciplinary research is taking off in a big way with collaborations between the political science and statistics departments, and between the departments of microbiology, physics, chemistry, mathematics, commerce and biotechnology.
Further to this, learning from its online experiences during the pandemic, the college has also recognised the importance of offering online degree and professional courses, which is in keeping with the National Education Policy for higher educational institutions. These courses are in the planning stage and their implementation is part of Vision 2025.
The expansion of the college has required continuous and judicious handling of infrastructure, upgrading of existing laboratories, creation of new ones for new courses, and creation of new facilities, including smart classrooms, a wellness centre, and a modernised canteen.
But the nerve centre of the academic life of the college is the library, which has been modernised to offer innumerable online sources for all disciplines. However, there are limits to the manipulation of resources and infrastructure as St Xavier’s is a Heritage College.
For this reason, the college is in the process of setting up another campus on its EM Bypass property. Now home to the Educational Multimedia Research Centre, this campus will become a Media Hub for the mass communication and multimedia departments. Research-based science departments and some PG departments will be shifted to another wing on this campus to free up space on the Park Street campus. This campus will also host an Incubation Centre for innovation-linked entrepreneurship and a community radio station, which will cater to the information needs of local people.
So, January 16, 2023, is a Foundation Day which celebrates our past and all the landmarks that have brought us to the present: obtaining autonomy, being declared a Centre of Excellence; qualifying for heritage status; and ISO certification of the quality of education, infrastructure and opportunity that we offer all our students.
January 16, 2023, also heralds the future as we keep pace with radical changes in education systems, technology and market realities.
Yet, in the midst of expansion, St Xavier’s remains a college with a conscience whose mission is to reach the benefits of quality education to the underprivileged, the marginalised, and students from the rural hinterland. This mission is indeed the essence of the Jesuit creed.
The campus at Raghabpur has brought about significant changes in the rural areas it serves. Its success is an affirmation of the Jesuit principles upon which the college has been built. They continue to direct and give meaning to the overall vision for the future. And that is what the college celebrates on its 163rd Foundation Day.
Author is principal, St Xavier’s College, Kolkata