As we look to the future, perhaps we should first turn back to the past because that is where we have come from. Back in the 50s and 60s, St Xavier’s was happy and content to be a college that stood quietly as a centre of unassuming excellence in academics, sports, theatre and music.
In the turbulent sixties and seventies, St Xavier’s, just down the road from the swinging nightlife of Park Street, also stood apart as an oasis of tranquillity surrounded but untouched by the passionate and sometimes violent ideologies of student movements.
Some things do not change. St Xavier’s is still a bastion of discipline, still an institution committed to academic quality and all-round excellence. But the college is no longer happy and content to stand quietly apart.
We hardly can, since we are bursting at the seams with the hum and bustle of life throbbing from 6 in the morning till 8 at night. That’s how much this quiet oasis has been transformed. And this transformation was driven by a dream to expand and excel. The dream began a long time ago, in 1978, when the college took the momentous decision to become co-educational. Enrolment almost immediately doubled. But it was in the 90s that the college began to push the limits of its ambition to grow and develop and strike ahead into the future.
This ambition continues to be grounded in the vision that St Xavier’s must find and make its place as a college ready for and equal to the challenges of the 21st Century. This vision encompasses the continuing improvement of its academic quality, achievements and reputation as a centre of outstanding excellence imparting education of international standard and merit so as to compete on a global platform and attract the best students and faculty from India and abroad.
This vision began to be implemented gradually. From the late 90’s new departments began to be added in the Arts and Sciences; an undergraduate management degree course was introduced; postgraduate departments followed in Commerce and Science; integrated MSc programmes were initiated; and the grand culmination of this academic drive was the start of doctoral courses in select departments.
From 2017, postgraduate departments were added in English, Bengali, Political Science, and Sociology. But if the college has to stay abreast with the times, we have to also strike out in new directions. So, while the college will upgrade traditional departments like Chemistry to a PG department, and introduce History Honours at the undergraduate level, we begin our foray into new territory by introducing an MSc course in Data Science. Such cutting-edge courses will attract a kind of student profile different from that of students who choose conventional courses.
Sooner rather than later, all departments of the college will be ready to offer PG and PhD courses to provide students with a seamless academic transition with varying points of exit according to the students’ needs.
Such growth and expansion requires constant upgradation of infrastructure. As a Heritage College, we cannot alter existing structures; yet the continuing expansion drive requires additional space for classrooms, laboratories, canteens, and other conveniences. So far with dexterous and judicious planning and management we have successfully managed.
Smart classrooms, a Wellness Centre, more toilets, a modern canteen with an extension outside the library, have all been part of the modernisation and improvement of infrastructure. Old labs have been upgraded; new labs like the Finance lab and the Central Research Facility, which is open to students and scholars from other colleges and institutes, have been set up to ensure research and development.
To accommodate the physical demands of further growth, the college has plans to create another campus on the EM Bypass property which is home to the EMMRC.
Embedded into this growth were dynamic triggers that acted as catalysts to change. The most important of these was the decision to apply for autonomy status. 2006, when the college was granted autonomy, can be considered as another momentous turning point. Since then St Xavier’s has been declared a Centre of Excellence; granted Heritage status.
The college has a different feel now commensurate with the times. It remembers where it came from and will continue to hold a candle to the past, knowing that it defines and strengthens us as we hold our direction boldly to the future, keeping pace with time and technology and market realities.
At the same time, it does not allow us to swerve from the humanistic essence of the Jesuit vision which is to take the benefits of education to the poor and marginalised and to bridge the rural-urban divide and offer higher education to deserving and meritorious students irrespective of caste and creed. For this reason, the college is continuing its investment and endowments in new buildings and infrastructure at the rural campus at Raghabpur for students from rural backgrounds many of whom are first generation learners. The success of the Raghabpur project is the affirmation and consecration of the Jesuit ideals which give force and structure to the overall vision for the future.
We have begun to ideate and plan the setting up of a School of Gender Studies, and a School of Social Sciences. This will enable us to be meaningfully involved in discussing and addressing pressing issues with a view to offering tangible solutions at a micro level of local communities and even on-campus student experience and training. Finally,to strengthen the impact of our contributions to knowledge and society, we have begun to place an absolute emphasis on research and development.
Nihil Ultra. There is indeed Nothing Beyond that we will not aspire to and attain.
Fr Dominic Savio is the principal of St Xavier’s College, Kolkata