The two universities in two different parts of Kolkata have cogent reasons to preen their feathers. Calcutta University and Jadavpur University ~ for all the periodic campus unrest in the latter ~ have made it to the top ten of the country’s universities and are now in the internationally acclaimed league comprising the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Benaras Hindu University and the University of Hyderabad.

Calcutta University has been ranked fifth by the National Institutional Ranking Framework, while Jadavpur retains its sixth position, as per last year’s assessment. The rankings, as disclosed by the Union HRD ministry on Monday, reaffirm the general perception that gheraos, strikes, lathicharge, and the kerfuffle within the faculties of Jadavpur University over admission norms have scarcely impinged on academic excellence.

The university has come to showcase a lethal combination of campus violence and excellence, not to forget allegations of sexual harassment. More the pity, therefore, that Presidency University, close to a decade after its foundation, must still be groping for a foothold in the rarefied academic circuit. The tragedy is all the deeper as Presidency College, its precursor, was the country’s proud boast since the days of the Raj, until it graduated to a university in 2010.

An additional reason for the academic euphoria must be that two colleges of West Bengal ~ Kolkata’s St Xavier’s College and Ramakrishna Mission Vivekananda Centenary College, Rahara ~ have made it to India’s top ten under-graduate colleges. Overall, the institutions have fared impressively in terms of the parameters that influence rankings ~ teaching, learning and resources; research and “professional practice”; graduation results, “outreach, inclusivity and perception”.

The academic withers remain unwrung despite the occasional aberrations. As one of India’s oldest universities, Calcutta University, that was till 2015 helmed by the incumbent Vice-Chancellor of Jadavpur University, has been able to retain its past glory.

Going by the present Vice-Chancellor, Sonali Banerjee’s statement, its stellar performance is largely embedded in research and academic publications. That said, CU isn’t a unitary university as for instance Jadavpur, Presidency, and JNU. It becomes imperative, therefore, to improve and sustain standards within the network of the affiliated under-graduate colleges in different parts of Bengal.

Indeed, the mulitiplicity of universities in recent years has not been matched by a parallel quest for excellence in the colleges, many of them almost sub-standard. The success of St Xavier’s and RKM, Rahara must be tempered with the thought that the two colleges can at best play the role of oases in the midst of overwhelming decline.

Just as the parameters of excellence have been fulfilled by two universities and two colleges in the state, so too must the contretemps of faculty shortage and below-par students be addressed. To summon the proverbial numismatic analogy, excellence in a few and uneven standards in many are the two sides of Bengal’s academic coin.