Quite the most striking feature of the university rankings, announced last Thursday, must be that Jawaharlal Nehru University, which in recent years has been the nerve-centre of the turmoil powered by the Right-wing, retains its academic excellence as it has consistently done since the early 1970s when it was founded and was incidentally a Left bastion.
It has for the fourth consecutive year retained its position as India’s second best university, going by the rankings calibrated by the Centre’s National Institutional Ranking Framework. IIT Madras has been ranked first. That campus unrest doesn’t ipso facto impinge on performance in the examination hall has also been reaffirmed by Jamia Millia Islamia, which has risen two notches to the 12th rank.
JNU has been roiled since 2016 when slogans binned as “anti-national” by the Bharatiya Janata Party were raised during an event on the campus. Armed goons had entered the campus earlier this year and attacked students in the hostels… with little or no resistance from the police.
Equally sensitive has been the unrest at Jamia Millia, where the BJP-led NDA government has decided not to support its minority status, one that enables it to admit 50 per cent students from among Muslims. Having said that, the primary point of interest in West Bengal must be that Jadavpur and Calcutta Universities have respectively been ranked fifth and seventh.
Well might the teachers and the taught of both universities ~ the first often convulsed by student unrest ~ preen their feathers over the fact that they have made it to the top ten among the country’s universities. This can be contextualised with the JU Vice-Chancellor, Prof Suranjan Das’s contention that “it is a matter of pride that two state universities feature among the top 10”.
And then in a moment of candour comes the admission that “we have registered a mild slide in the engineering category”. This is doubtless a comedown not the least because the university had originally been conceived as a technological institution. Its English department is arguably the finest in the country. Ironically enough, those who spearhead unrest today are in the main students of engineering.
For all the lathicharge in darkness and the shabby treatment meted out to the present Governor/ Chancellor by the students, the functioning of Jadavpur has not dimmed its proud boast, pre-eminently that it is the best university in the state.
In the reckoning of Prof Sonali Chakraborty Banerjee, VC of Calcutta University, the improvement in the ranking of the campus underscores “our improvement overall and shows that we are doing very well in research and other parameters”.
At the end of the day, the chief cause of regret must be that the next door Presidency University is yet to make it to the list of the greats 10 years after its foundation. Kolkata is yet to boast three centres of excellence across the city. Presidency has the potential. Is something wrong somewhere? We wonder.