Fear of losing eminence - Chennai-over-Calcutta choice for maritime varsity has campus in shock

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  • Published 14.03.07

A pall of shock and apprehension hangs over the 33-acre campus of the country’s oldest marine engineering college as it is on the verge of losing its pre- eminence and become a mere appendage to a central university.

With the central government deciding to set up a statutory Central Maritime University headquartered in Chennai, the mood at the Marine Engineering and Research Institute (MERI) in Calcutta is sombre.

“Given the history, infrastructure and faculty strength of MERI, it should have been the logical choice,” says Shyamal Mukhopadhyay, director, MERI, reacting to the decision of choosing Chennai over Calcutta.

The choice was formally announced in Parliament on Tuesday, amid protests from the floor of the House.

MERI — through a tie-up with Jadavpur University — is the only institute in the country to offer a bachelor’s degree in marine engineering.

Because of its contribution to the field of marine engineering, the Taratala campus of the 58-year-old institute — an autonomous outfit under the ministry of shipping and transport — has always been the favourite to host the university.

In the early ’90s, it was considered for a deemed university tag. Later, in 2004, a University Grants Commission (UGC) team recommended the setting up of a full-fledged university on the sprawling south Calcutta campus.

“Our infrastructure conforms to all the AICTE and UGC norms… It is really disappointing that the headquarters of the university will be in Chennai, which is far behind in terms of infrastructure and faculty strength,” says an official of the institute.

Besides running a four-year degree course on marine engineering, the institute also offers a number of shorter-duration courses.

According to the plan, the central university will monitor MERI Calcutta, three government-run maritime institutes in Mumbai — TS Chanakya and Lal Bahadur Shastri College of Advanced Maritime Studies and Research and MERI Mumbai — and 100-odd private institutes.

The central university will not immediately affect academics or students at MERI Calcutta, but the officials are worried about the long-term impact of the move.

“New courses will naturally be launched at the headquarters, which will attract the best brains. So, a centre of excellence will be phased out of Calcutta,” said another senior MERI official, ruing the decision.

The institute, which has churned out over 6,000 marine engineers to date, has an enviable hundred per cent placement record, as local and global shipping companies lap up the MERI pass outs.

While the students and officials at MERI have lost hope, the state government is still trying to pull strings in Delhi.

“I’ve already written to shipping minister T.R. Baalu and human resource development minister Arjun Singh. The state government had been, from the outset, insisting that headquarters be set up in MERI and we are sticking to our demand,” said state higher education minister Sudarshan Ray Chaudhuri.