A lost era of academic endeavour

Higher Education in Bengal 1919-1947
April 2, 1999

This short but serious study, which focuses on British policies and management of education in India, also enters into a discussion of nationalist feelings concerning the right approaches towards the development of better education for the country. It describes indigenous experiments in education, namely Gandhi's Wardha scheme, Tagore's Visva-Bharati University and Bengal's National Council of Education. The problems discussed persist: economic stringency, politics and communalism.

On the other hand, there was then a firm commitment from the Indian academic community to take active responsibility for what it believed in. Today that community has left things to the government - or to state governments - and higher education has become largely a degree mill. The spirit is absent, as is the will, within both the student body and among academics.

It is good, therefore, to be reminded by this book of what was a different and exciting environment. Of particular interest is the period of Ashutosh Mookerjee's leadership of the University of Calcutta and the creation of its postgraduate departments of research. The basic educational degree courses at that time were in the arts, law, medicine and civil engineering. The Mookerjee phenomenon of "readership lectures" from 1907 onwards brought distinguished native and foreign scholars to conduct and nurture original work in these subjects. The book details the battle between the government and the academic leadership over this move into research and postgraduate studies.

The author consults archival sources such as government reports, Legislative Council and Part A proceedings and the private papers of Ashutosh Mookerjee, Gooroodas Banerjee and Shyamaprasad Mookerjee.

Scholars of Indian institutional history and of the history of education in India will find this book useful, though it could have been written in a more readable and nuanced style.

Uma Das Gupta is regional director (Eastern India), US Educational Foundation in India.

Higher Education in Bengal 1919-1947: A Study of its Administration and Management

Author - Rachana Chakraborty
ISBN - 81 85195 76 5
Publisher - Minerva
Price - Rs225
Pages - 182

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