Dialogue  April-June 2007 , Volume 8 No. 4

Some Facets of University Education in Bihartc

Kumar Vimal

The commencement of Oxbridge type of university education in India coincides with the first outbreak of violent uprising against East India Company. It was in 1857- the year of bloodiest upheaval in India during British colonial empire that three port universities in Calcutta, Bombay and Madras were established to strengthen the fabrics of English education system in a land famous for its ‘gonth’, ‘Kalari’, ‘Pathashala’ and ‘Ashram’ as centres for imparting education from ancient period till the first half of the medieval period. India was known also for its ‘Madarsa’, ‘Maqtab’ and ‘Khanqah in later mediavel period. Though the intention of the foreign mentors of universities in India was centred latently on acculturation, yet nationalist young men like Bankim Chandra Chatterji, the immortal composer of ‘Vande Matram’, emerged as the first batch graduate from the Calcutta University. It was difficult for the ruling East India Company to efface the Indian identity through the allurement of university education as a prop to secure employment under the Company Raj.

The University of Calcutta was incorporated by Act II of 1857. The preamble of the Act stated its aims and objectives as given below:

“For the better encouragement of her majesty’s subjects in the pursuit of a regular and liberal course of education it had been determined to establish a university in Calcutta for the purpose of ascertaining, by means of examination, the persons who have acquired proficiency in different branches of literature, science and art, and of rewarding them by academical degrees as evidence of their respective attainments and marks of honour proportioned thereunto.”

By this enactment the University of Calcutta was shaped as an examining and affiliating university. These steps were taken mainly in the light of the suggestions, solutions and recommendations made by Lord Macaulay and Lord Auckland, incorporated in the Education Dispatch of 1857. There are many informative and interesting snippets related with this period in the ‘Selections from Educational Records’, published by the Bureau of Education, Govt. of India with an intention to make available to the scholarly public select documents on educational developments in Modern India. No doubt, this was a period of multi-faceted educational activities in India during which provincial systems of education were gradually evolved. Since Ancient period India possesses a rich educational heritage Dr. A.L. Mudaliar, a distinguished educationist, has rightly observed, “India is a country with a rich tradition of educational progress dating back to years when many of the so-called modern, developed countries were still passing through the ignorance of the dark ages and when the denizens of some of these countries were still springing from branch to bough,”1

Inspite of this background India did not hesitate in adopting University Education with all sincerity, because University is a place of concourse, whither students come from every quarter for every kind of knowledge and develop their intellect to range and speculate. Hence the universities are seats of learning and wisdom, ministers of fructifying faith and alma maters of the rising generations as well as of its alumni and alumna.

However, over the years, university after university sprang up in the three presidencies of British India overlooking the regional imbalances. Similar to delayed laying of railway lines in the province of Bihar, the first university in Bihar was established in Patna in 1913-almost 56 years after the establishment of the universities in the port cities of Calcutta, Bombay and Madras. This protracted subsequence badly affected the growth of higher education in Bihar, which was already slow in pace during the company Raj. There was no Medical College or Engineering College in Bihar- the most ‘Cosmopolitan province of India, in the words of Sister Nivedita. The Patna College was established as late as in 1863 with five students only. The Head Master of the Patna Collegiate School Mr. J.K. Rogers was put in charge of the College. It was in 1867 that Mr. J.W. Mc Crindle was appointed as the first Principal of the Patna College. Latter on in 1887 and 1889, T.N.J. College, Bhagalpur and B.N. College, Patna respectively were established. After a passage of time, the Patna University came into existence consequent upon a series of continued efforts made by the enlightened citizens of Bihar. Great leaders like Dr. Rajendra Prasad, the first President of independent India and Maulana Mazahrul Haq, a senior contemporary of Mahatma Gandhi, graced the first Senate and Syndicate of the Patna University. In due course of time the Patna University earned such an enviable prestige because of its distingished faculty members and brilliant products that people rated it as Cambridge and Oxford (not in the sense of ^xksoyhonZ* & a sarcasm annexed by Max Muller) of Bihar Province.

Among the universities in India, the Patna University comes next to the Allahabad University in the chronological seriatim. The functioning of the university started with a humble beginning. Just after its inception, the university was housed in the newly constructed magnificent building of the Patna High Court, which could not start its working immediately because of delayed issuance of Letter of Content from the parent High Court id est the Hon’able Calcutta High Court.

It is on record that the Patna University is the first among all the Indian Universities to institute Supplementary Examinations, which began to be held from 1922. It is noteworthy that the Auxiliary Committee appointed by the Simon Commission in 1929 made this significant observation on the university life and academic ambience of the Patna University: “In Patna a considerable advance has been made possible by the concentration of the University and College buildings in the university area and by the construction of new buildings and laboratories. All the teaching work in the city is given by the college staffs, and the university regards its main functions at this centre to be the encouragement of a strong corporate life among the students and the provision of an organisation by which the colleges are enabled to formulate plans of cooperation among themselves. The university spirit is fostered by a University Training Corps and by the establishment of University Societies and Athletic Tournaments. We were impressed by the happy relations between the colleges and the university and between the colleges themselves at this centre.” It was not easy at that time to win such an appreciation from Simon Commission which had to face tumultuous protests in India. The succession list of the Chancellors and Vice-Chancellors of Patna University also reflects the academic excellence of the university, which includes stalwarts like Sir Edward Albert Gait, Sir Henry Wheeler, Mr. J.G. Jennings, Mr. V.H. Jackson and Sir Stewart Macpherson. Thus Patna University became the harbinger of university education in Bihar and played an yeoman’s role in disseminating higher education in the State.

Then in the second phase i.e. in the post independence era, the transformation of the Patna University began in phases. Bifurcation, trifurcation and multi-furcation of universities occurred in accordance with the decision taken by the State Govt. at times. But Patna University, even in this era, continued to be the prime hub of all educational activities in Bihar. Presently there are about 15 universities in Bihar and Jharkhand.

There is murmuring since last three decades that the standard of University Education has been lowered and that the products of the universities today are inferior to the products of previous generation. However university education has now become a ‘must’ for an upward social mobility of young persons coming from the deprived sectors of our society. We should not equate university education with elite education. Besides, we should keep it in mind that in contrasting societies, tension between continuity and change within educational systems and paradigms is inevitable. Let us march towards comprehensive education and experiential learning for switching over smoothly to a Knowledge Society.

Besides we will have to resolve our perennial educational problems and contradictions inherent in our policies and trajectiories along with an extension of effective higher education to the deprived and dispossessed groups. There are certain newer problems also challenging Indian educators such as effective and equitable use of satellite communications for educational purposes, reconceptualization of methods of research in comparative education, dissemination of educational innovations and the specification of life-long learning. But I would like to caution on this count that for the sake of innovation and new experiments our commitment to social justice and equal educational opportunity, as enshrined in our constitution, should not be frustrated.

It would be within the context to mention that the universities in Bihar do not get their due share in U.G.C. grants. This phenomenon leads ultimately to regional imbalance. The universities located in Delhi or nearer to Delhi as well as the universities located in metro cities take the lion’s share in the allocation of maintenance grant, development grant, deficit grant, building grant, grant for major and minor research projects, unassigned grants, Jubilee grant, grant for sports, grant for SAP, COSIST and USIC etc. The major reason for this uneven distribution and lapse is assigned to non-availability of timely matching grant to be extended by the Sate Govt. It is also complained that the universities in Bihar do not produce utilization certificate on time. Hence they are bound to suffer. But in recent years there is marked improvement in the timely production of utilization certificates. The Chancellory is very particular in this matter and the universities are reminded repeatedly for the same. Now it is the turn of the U.G.C. to provide funds, keeping in view the necessity to maintain regional balance, as per norms suggested by Justice Dr. K. Punnayya Committee in 1992-93.

The State Govt., under the guidance of the Chancellor, is also alive to the problem of streamlining the activities of the universities. Different Committees – to name a few, like The University Reforms Committee (1973), Dr. V.S. Jha Committee (1983), The Chancellors’ Committee on the Problems of the Universities in Bihar (1986), Krishna Bahadur Committee (1989) etc. –set up by the State Govt. from time to time amply reflect the concern of the Chancellor and the State Govt. regarding the betterment of the universities. Endeavours are visible to follow earnestly the main recommendations of Prof. Gnanam Committee report (1990) related to financial administration in the universities. It is encouraging to note that effective steps are being taken under the guidance and direction of the present Chancellor to ameliorate the functioning of the universities expeditiously.

When Nalanda Open University was established in 1987 with its camp office at Patna, I was appointed the founder Vice-Chancellor of this newly set up university. I continued here for two terms with a small clientele and I tried my best to widen the wings of distance education in the state. It was a new experiment on bidding goodbye to the time-honoured hydraulic theory of education. This was an attempt to impact through a university without walls. It is needless to say that the open university system is a very powerful medium for propagating higher learning through distance education.

Though India is recognised as a country of ‘Gurukul Educational System’, which emphasized on the direct relationship between the teacher and the taught, India, in my opinion, should make a departure from the conventional ‘atavism’ to avail of the achievements of neo-communication technology through open university system as an alternative strategy in the field of higher education. More over, we should expatiate the area of access to higher education and update its societal relevance by promoting Open University System keeping in view our large target groups in a Welfare State like India.

It does not deem fit to assess always the pace and progress of higher education in terms of per capita G.N.P. in relation with literacy level. This functional-technical theory of education is not very relevant to India. It would not be out of context to comment that in the guise of according educational assistance, the developed countries are exploiting the skilled man-power of the developing countries through brain-drain and immigration. The job-hoppers and the techno-collies in this era of globalization and outsourcing are like the agreemented labourers of the colonial period to a certain extent, because the end product of their labour and fruition of skill benefit only the foreigners & the entrepreneurs.

Hence to broaden the scope of higher education in our democratic and welfare-oriented nation, the promotion of distance education through open university system is quite imperative. To soften our present social tension, to catch the momentum for upward social mobility of the deprived section and to inculcate communicative ability in the less advantaged and under advanced segments, this is the demand of the present age to expand the frontiers of higher education without lowering down its standards.

There are other facets also, which I would like to pen on another suitable occasion, because I was associated, in the capacity of Chairman, Bihar Inter University Board, with many worthy and pivotal moments in the history of University Education in Bihar such as preparing the Status Report and the Statutes to launch Vocational Courses, Women’s Studies and Environmental sciences. In addition, I had the privilege to act as the convenor of the Committee appointed by the then Chancellor to draw in detail the academic map and the basic tenets of the proposed Maulana Mazahrul Haq Arabic & Persian University, Patna. But the limited space in this Journal of renown compels me for abruption.