edInbox.com is publishing a series of articles on private universities in India. Each article will focus on one such university and seek to review six different aspects of the concerned university. These aspects are: innovation and subject diversity, market outreach and student acquisition, placements and corporate linkages, IPRs and global linkages, infrastructure and amenities, and campus life and student satisfaction. In this article, Arjun Sen of Edinbox.com probes into the newly opened St. Xavier’s University, Kolkata.
Every day, she travels some 80 kilometers up and down from Joka at the southern tip of the city to the St. Xavier’s University campus at New Town at the northern end of this sprawling megapolis. Fatherless, her only parent, her mother, does not mind the long commute despite all the safety and security issues involved. After all, her daughter, Shreya Chakraborty, 22, is living a dream – the dream to be a Xaverian.
The spanking new buildings and facilities on the St. Xavier’s University campus are located almost in the boondocks, but not quite. It’s in New Town at Rajarhat, the rapidly developing Gurugram of Kolkata.
“There are several villages all around,” says Father Dr. J. Felix Raj, Vice Chancellor of the university explaining where his students of the Master of Social Work (MSW) programme spend time on doing field work. As yours truly tried to settle down to what was going to be a long conversation, Father Raj cut out the frills to get down to brass tacks straight away. He started talking about our first aspect – innovation and subject diversity.
Innovation & Subject Diversity
The alma mater of global steel tycoon Laxmi Mittal or former India cricket captain Sourav Ganguly or a whole galaxy of Indian and international stars, St. Xavier’s Collegiate School on Park Street, Kolkata is a 157-year-old institution. Including both a school and a college, it is an iconic city institution in every sense of the term.
“We Jesuits have a 500-year-old history of providing education. We have universities in the US, Europe and elsewhere. Here in Kolkata, we wanted to be free to implement our innovative pedagogy and move ahead from just running schools and colleges. We wanted to run our own courses. Hence, this step forward to setting up a university,” Father Raj explained.
The Master of Social Work (MSW) programme is an expression of this desire. “The social work programme is quite popular in south India but not very common in north India,” he said. “We want to produce students who will take up careers in NGOs because our first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru once said if universities are the temples of wisdom, the rural areas are the temples of prosperity and we want our students to help develop rural areas and work with the poor and deprived,” he explained.
Right now, only three other universities in West Bengal – Visva Bharati, ISWBM (to become a university shortly) and Vidyasagar University – offer social work programmes.
St. Xavier’s University, which began operations only from July, 2017, currently offers two undergraduate programmes – Bachelor of Management Studies (BMS) and B. Com – and four post graduate programmes – MA English, MA Mass Communication, MSW and M. Com.
“We will also introduce both undergraduate and post-graduate programmes in Economics with some new thinking,” Father Raj said. “From the next academic year (2018-19), we will have programmes in International Economics, Developmental Economics and Applied Economics because there is a big demand for such subjects,” he explained. Most other universities in the state do not offer post-graduate programmes in these areas of specialization.
“Also, as an institution, we have our own innovative brand of pedagogy and methods of teaching and learning,” he said.
Elaborating on this theme, Prof. Ashish Mitra, the Registrar said “St. Xavier’s, as an institution, follows the philosophy of recognizing the individuality of the individual. In all our meetings among senior faculty members, nobody talks of good or bad students. We believe everyone has potential and our job is to help develop that potential,” he said.
“For this reason, we conduct all kinds of co-curricular events – debates, seminar presentations, business quiz etc. where all students, regardless of the programmes they are pursuing, participate. This helps us to identify potential and nurture students accordingly,” he said.
“Our pedagogy is a combination of several modes. While classroom lectures constitute the main method, we offer several self-learning modes through co-curricular activities such as seminars, case studies, assignments, projects presentations etc. as mandatory requirements,” explained Dr. Soma Sur, Dean, Commerce and Management Studies.
“We strictly follow the UGC-mandated Choice Based Credit System syllabi but we innovate by going beyond the syllabi by bringing in experts to cover relevant and topical issues that are not there in the syllabi such as GST,” she explained.
Market Outreach and Student Acquisition
“We do not believe in advertising or other such commercial forms of market outreach. We are not a commodity and such commercial-type marketing is cheap. Our students and faculty are our advertisements,” Father Raj said bluntly.
The very name St. Xavier’s is already a very well established education brand and the new university, without any kind of media campaigns apart from small advertisements inviting admissions, began its first academic session with 400 students for its six programmes selected from more than 5,000 applicants.
“However, outreach has always been a part of Jesuit education,” said Father Raj. “Destiny of India is being shaped in the country’s classrooms. So, it is important for students to be in touch with the society. Students from urban India and coming from fairly well-to-do families have no idea of what rural India is like or how poor people live and struggle for existence. So we have outreach programmes for all our students. This is mainly for transformation and not to sell ourselves.”
Placements and Corporate Linkage
“Just like the rural sector, the corporate sector is also important. Many corporate leaders in Kolkata such as Sanjay Budhia, Sanjiv Goenka (both alumni) and others are on our Board of Governors. Corporate linkage is a must for us and we have many alumni who are corporate leaders and recruit our students for internships and regular jobs,” Father Raj said.
“Our first post graduate batch will complete their programmes only in 2019 but we have already started the processes required to facilitate placements,” said Placement Officer Mario Martin Louis. “For example, we are organizing an orientation programme in January next year where we will bring in experts from the industry to interact with our students and our first round of internships will start in May, 2019,” he said.
“Internally, we are imparting soft skills to our students through various co-curricular activities,” he added.
IPRs and Global Linkages
St. Xavier’s does not have any Ph.D. or research programmes yet. Nor has it started any incubation centre for start-ups so far. However, it is now in the midst of forging global linkages. “We are in talks with one or two universities from Australia, two from the US and one from Italy, However, St. Xavier’s college already has 12-15 MoUs and once the college comes under the university in about three years’ time, these MoUs will continue,” Father Raj said.
“Foreign universities come to India to get students. They don’t have enough. We have enough students. Our outlook is to simply give our students global exposure,” he said.
Infrastructure and Facilities
The spanking new facility at the 17-acre campus of St. Xavier’s University is still very much a work in progress. All classrooms are air-conditioned. The entire campus is Wi-Fi enabled. While administrative and classrooms blocks and living quarters for the Jesuit Fathers have come up already, the hostel and a library building is under construction and should be ready by June, 2018, Father Raj said.
“At present, the library and other facilities for the mass communication programme are in the administrative and classroom block but once the library building is ready, it will house not only the library but also all recording and audio-visual studios, shooting studios etc.,” he said.
There is a basketball court and football field. “We are thinking of a swimming pool as well,” Father Raj said.
Campus Life and Student Satisfaction
This correspondent met a bunch of exuberant students of the Mass Communication and English post-graduate programmes at the student canteen on the fifth floor.
While Shreya, a student of MA English spoke about her dream to be a Xaverian, a thought echoed by Snigdha Jaiswal, a MA Mass Communication student, more stories unfolded over coffee and sandwiches. It was lunch time anyway.
“The library is fantastic, there are so many books”, gushed Dikshita Shah, a Mass Communication Student. “The staff is very cooperative and accessible,” Siddharth Tripathi, another Mass Communication student informed yours truly, a point that Prof. Mitra confirmed later. “We never make students wait. Even if I am in a meeting and a student wants to meet me, I meet the student before continuing with the meeting. Even the VC is always accessible,” he claimed.
There were also stories about such cooperation. Once, a student reported ill. Her father was informed and he came rushing to the university and in the process he met with an accident and needed medical attention. While the university has a 24X7 infirmary with a nurse always in attendance it also has an informal tie-up with Ohio Hospital, which is just about a kilometer away. The university also has an ambulance standing ready to meet with any emergency.
Once the father reached the university, both father and daughter were rushed to the hospital, Mitra and Louis told this correspondent.
In a similar example of cooperation, Louis, who Father Raj had delegated to be my official guide to take me around the campus and was present during the interaction with the students, spoke about how he struck a great friendship with Anushka Guha Biswas of MA Mass Communication, one of the students present during the interaction.
Apparently, just a few days back, a calf met with an accident on the main road just outside the campus where Anushka was present. She was in tears and wanted the calf to be helped. Louis came forward to provide emergency treatment to get the calf back on its feet.
Dikshita and Jyoti Chakraborty, students of MA English, spoke of how they enjoy the various inter-departmental competitions in debate, speech, business quiz and other competitions. “Next year, we may also go for intercollege competitions,” Chakraborty said.
The parting shot came from Vatsal Chirimar, a MA Mass Communication Student. “What I like most is the value system – strict discipline about attendance and behaviour despite tremendous teacher-student relationship. We can be very frank with teachers and they give time to us whenever we need it,” he said.
As I came out of the campus feeling quite a bit rejuvenated and kind of “young” after my interaction with a bunch of happy young souls, I was pleasantly surprised when I met Shreya and Anushka at the bus stop. I had little idea about which was the best bus to take.
They not only offered me a cup of tea from a nearby tea stall crossing a muddy patch thanks to unseasonal rains in Kolkata at that time but also helped me to take the right bus, which happened to be the same one they were taking.
I certainly felt that not only student satisfaction at St Xavier’s was high but even an outsider like me felt an exciting high knowing that in this private university at least, higher education and the concomitant process of building the future destiny of India are in the right hands.
Arjun Sen Special Correspondent, Kolkata