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Higher Edu at BESU with Historical Perspective - Thursday, March 16, 2006 at 09:16

Higher Education in Bengal Engineering and Science University with Historical Perspective

Gautam Biswas, 79BE(ME), BEC

Dean, Academic Affairs, IIT Kanpur

Department of Mechanical Engineering

Indian Institute of Technology

Kanpur-208016, India



1 Early Days of Scientific and Technical Education of India


In the early period of nineteenth century, Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Dr. Mahendralal Sarkar and a few others initiated the efforts towards establishing institutions for promulgating higher education in basic and applied sciences in India.


      Sir Ashutosh Mukherjee put in highest efforts to plant the modern science through encouraging innovations in science. Acharya Jagadish Chandra (Sir J.C.) Bose and Acharya Prafulya Chandra Ray paved the ways for the major discoveries in physical and chemical sciences. In the year of 1888, H. Hertz in the University of Karlsruhe generated and received electromagnetic waves of wavelength 660 mm and established Maxwell’s theory. Sometime later, Sir J. C. Bose developed a system for wave transmission at 5 mm wavelength. Sir J.C. Bose developed the millimeter wave transmission system with amazing perfection and accuracy. In 1886, Sir J. C Bose demonstrated his work on Hertzian wave radiation at the Royal Institute, Landon. Sir J.C. Bose also developed point contact Galena detector for the reception of millimeter waves. His revolutionary experiment on the electrical response of living and nonliving entities was another paramount contribution to the modern science.


      Acharya Prafulya Chandra Ray was among the most prominent researchers in Chemistry. In some quarters, he is considered as the father of Indian Chemistry. In the year 1901, he established The Bengal Chemical and Pharmaceuticals Works. He had a superb skill of promoting entrepreneurship. Dr. Mahendralal Sarkar created a unique environment for research in the Indian Association for Cultivation of Science. Sir C.V. Raman and his student Dr. K. S. Krishnan were the prominent researchers at the Association, who conducted their marvelous experiments on Optics. Dr. S Bhagavantam enriched the research culture of the Institute too. The contribution of the Institute was further illuminated by the pioneering work of Dr. S.K. Mitra in Radio Astronomy. In 1946 the Association embarked upon a new development plan under the dynamic leadership of Dr. Meghnad Saha envisaging the creation of an active research school for investigation on the fundamental studies in X-rays, Optics, Magnetism, and Raman effect and it is needless to say that the Association had occupied a very special position in research in the global arena.


      Sir C. V. Raman moved as a Professor of Physics to the Calcutta University in 1917. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1930 for his earlier discovery of ‘Raman Effect’. Raman acknowledged the pioneering contribution of Dr. Mahendralal Sarkar in promoting research in his historical speech after receiving the Nobel Prize. The period between 1890-1900 was a great time for Indian Science. A number of genius researchers, such as, Sir C. V. Raman, Satyendra Nath Bose, Meghnadh Saha, Sir J. C. Ghosh, P. C. Mahalanobish, Sisir Kumar Mitra and Homi Jehangir Bhabha were born during this period. They created history through their outstanding contribution in Physical, Chemical and Mathematical sciences.


      These were the early days of modern science in the country. Amidst such excellent ambience for science, the British Government started the engineering education in India during 1850’s. The outlook was to get trained manpower to handle the construction and maintenance of a large number of projects that they had undertaken across the country.


1.1 Thomason Engineering College, Roorkee

      Bombay, Calcutta and Madras were striving to start engineering education in some of their major colleges; Roorkee, a relatively less vibrant place in scientific activities, was bestowed with pride to have the country’s first Engineering Institution. Lieutenant Governor James Thomason selected Roorkee as a venue where seed of Engineering Education was sowed in 1847. The British Government started the Ganges canal Project. A need was felt for the advanced knowledge of surveying. Full-scale workshops were needed for the irrigation and associated construction work. Road construction was a priority area for the Lieutenant Governor of the North-Western Provinces. Gradually, a full-fledged college in Civil Engineering came into existence. The blue print of the college had a vision of printing press, with binding facilities, for the publication of scientific work. In November 1949, the College was elevated to the first Engineering University of independent India. After having played a long glorious innings, the University of Roorkee became the Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee since 2001.


1.2 Bengal Engineering College

      In March 1854, the Council of Education recommended the inclusion of a school of Engineering as a separate department of the Presidency College. In May, 1854, Lieut. Col. H. Goodwyn, Chief Engineer of Bengal advocated the constitution of a College of Engineering. The College was started as Civil Engineering School on November 1856 with 33 students, -3 Europeans and 30 Indians. Most of the boys were from the Government colleges (mainly from Presidency). With the establishment of the Calcutta University in January 1857, the College was affiliated to the University. In 1880, the College was shifted from the Presidency College to new premises of Bishop’s college at Sibpur, Howrah. From the year 1889, the college became a residential Institution. In 1921, the name of the College was changed to Bengal Engineering College. The Calcutta University approved new regulation for the degree of Master of Engineering in Civil, Mechanical, Electrical and Metallurgical Engineering in April 1953. The College was given the status of an autonomous university since 1993. The Bengal Engineering College became a deemed university run by the state government of West Bengal. On October 1, 2004, Bengal Engineering College was elevated to the status of a University with its present name, Bengal Engineering and Science University, Shibpur


1.3 Poona Engineering College

      Even before the University of Bombay was founded, a Civil Engineering school was established in Poona around 1854. Initially it started as the Poona Civil & Mechanical Engineering school to train subordinate officers for carrying out public work. This was later developed into a Civil Engineering College. Subsequently in the year 1911 the name was changed to the College of Engineering, Poona popularly known as COEP. The first batch of degree course in Civil Engineering turned out in 1912. Degree courses in Mechanical Engineering and Electrical Engineering were introduced in 1914 and 1932. The College is known for its excellence in many spheres of Engineering.


1.4 Civil Engineering College in Madras

      In 1858 a Civil Engineering School was established in Fort St. George in Madras. The next year, when it moved from Fort St. George to Chepauk Palace, it was re-named the Civil Engineering College and affiliated in 1861 to the University of Madras. In the early days, the Civil Engineering School specialized in civil and military engineering. Some people believe that the Civil Engineering College of Madras has claims to be older than Roorkee. In 1894, when the Madras College was the first in India to introduce a degree course in Mechanical Engineering, it became known as the College of Engineering. The College of Engineering moved into its own campus in Guindy in 1920. It became the Anna University of Technology in 1977.


2. Bengal Engineering and Science University (BESU), Shibpur and Its Role in Future

Like other contemporary Engineering Institutes, B.E. College (BESU) has fulfilled a premier role in modern India in imparting successful undergraduate training in Engineering. Due to the professional attainments of a large number of graduates, B.E. College is a respected name in the country. However, the large body of Alumnus wants to view B.E. College (BESU) as a global leader. In order to achieve this, BESU should try to be a global player in Postgraduate Education and Research. The Institute should have a roadmap to achieve excellence in its endeavor.


2.1 The Postgraduate Education: Vision, Mission and Road Map

The Postgraduate Education must be committed to the following values

  • Integrity in all operations
  • Developing leadership to focus on key pedagogic issues
  • Quality and Excellence in work
  • Communications that are open and transparent

2.1.1 Goals

The entire nation looks up to the Institutes of Higher Learning for leadership in education and research. In fulfilling the expectations and aspirations of the country, the Institutes of Higher Learning should move towards a knowledge society. The Institutes should promote the spirit of creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship among students and researchers with a view to encourage collaborative research and development that can significantly contribute to the economic and social development of the country.


2.2 Focus of PG Education should be in the following frontier areas

  1. Biological Science and Bioengineering
  2. Communication Technology
  3. Embedded Systems
  4. Computational Mechanics (Fluid and Solid)
  5. Energy Engineering
  6. Environmental Engineering
  7. Materials Science
  8. MEMS
  9. Transportation Engineering
  10. Engineering Science (Electrical and Mechanical)
  11. Computer Security
  12. Nano-Technology
  13. Computer Aided Design
  14. Genetic Algorithms and Neural Network

2.3 Issues of Human Resources in the Institutes of Higher Learning

  • Recruiting world-class faculty and staff

Human Resources policies (recruitment, career advancement, local ambiance, etc.) must be such that the Institute is able to attract and retain high quality human resources at various levels. Faculty recruitment and the growth of the faculty should be given top-most priority. Faculty development should be the issue of highest importance.

  • Training of Employees

In order to remain vibrant in experimental research, the employees must have state-of-the-art knowledge. The Institute must focus on training and improving quality through imparting advanced lessons. It should commit a small part of its salary budget for training the manpower. Efforts must enable the employees to perform multiple tasks with a high level of expertise.


2.4 Governance at the Institutes of Higher Learning

  • The organization should be open; structure should be hierarchy free and horizontal.

In order to achieve and sustain the growth and the activities, the administrative structure must be organized to become more horizontal. In managing the increasingly complex affairs of such Institutes, the Vice Chancellor should be supported by the Deans. The support services (Works Departments, Finance, Health Care etc.) should be strengthened with professional expertise.

  • Forming strategic alliances

The Institute must form strategic alliances with academic, research and industrial organizations for harvesting the crop that would accrue from establishing long-term partnerships. The alliances should complement the activities of the partners.


2.5 Setting up a Science and Technology Entrepreneurship Park in collaboration with Alumni and Industry


The idea of an Institute-promoted Science and Technology Entrepreneurship Park extends opportunity to the fresh graduates. The Institute and industry will benefit through the creative inputs of the former and the professional expertise of the latter. This effort has a great importance in our rapidly changing society.


3. Strengthening Financial Resources

  • Review the existing funding system and its ability to cover the needs of the Institute.
  • Recommend a roadmap for resource generation.
  • The resource-generation strategy should be integrated with the need of newly formed states snd districts.
  • Develop Outreach Programs that are attractive to the neighboring districts and states.

3.1 Develop Centers of Engineering Science

      Such Centers should deal with Studies in Science, the Scientific Methods, Philosophy of Science, Growth of Scientific Knowledge, Scientific Revolutions, and Applications of Science in the Creation of Technology and Wealth.

      Tremendous scientific effort is going on in the country. Even then, appreciation or understanding of the distributed team effort is yet to evolve.

      Modern India should target on having a control over the material universe through knowledge acquired by the use of organized scientific research for the benefit of mankind. Many talented people contributed to the advent of the Industrial Revolution in Europe. The knowledge industry and the actual industry flourished side by side.


3.2 Need Driven Knowledge Society

It appears that the push given by a scientific discovery towards innovation in industry is less effective than the pull exercised by a need felt by the customer or management in industry.

      Every Institute of Higher Learning has an obligation to render service to the country in a crisis. For example, a trained manpower development programme for flood and cyclonic risk mitigation is required to be instituted in the Institutions in Eastern India. The technology related to Arsenic removal from ground water is required to be nurtured in BESU.


3.3 Enhance Interaction with and Society the Industry


The Institute may devote a good deal of effort to carry out industrial problem-based research. Emphasis on Internship Programs must get priority in order to give the students exposure to the engineering profession. The challenge to the Institutes is to identify the optimum teaching ambiance, teaching experience and teaching methods. Instructions using capabilities offered by advances in technology and the information revolution must be adopted.

      The lack of esteem given to skills in doing, making, designing, developing, manufacturing, compared with the high esteem given to academic study, has created a gap in the continuous development in the society. The gap has to be bridged.


4. Conclusion


Let me start with the excerpts of the Convocation Address (The Convocation of IIT Kanpur in 1981) delivered by the founder Director of IIT Kanpur, Professor P.K. Kelkar. Professor Kelkar attended the Convocation of 1981 as the chief guest.


“There is so much to be proud of in our Ancient Civilization. It is a storehouse of perennial values, which are valid even today for the entire mankind. The originality of thought, creativity, deep mystical insights, superb power of abstraction shown by our ancient seers and handed down to us as our priceless treasure have no parallel. All this has been of no avail in stemming the inexorable tide of forces of history wanting to give birth to a new civilization.

      Let us, then, look forward to the birth of a New Civilization in India giving full play to our intellect, originality, creativity, reasoning power, along with compassion, so that we succeed in making life much more agreeable to millions of human beings who have their roots in this country. Once the New Civilization gets hold of us we can certainly look forward to yet another Glorious Period in this ancient land.”


      Following the spirit of Prof. Kelkar’s speech, it can be said that B.E. College has given so much to pre-independent and modern India, yet the College has not been able to become the Centre of Excellence. The College has been converted into a University but it has not been able to make use of the opportunities to grow into a bigger dimension, to enter in to the next orbit of excellence, become a global player like the IITs. Time has come to think big. Bengal Engineering & Science University has to grow beyond the known boundaries; it has to become the destination of excellent academics across the world.


Comments by Prof Gautam Biswas from India on Sunday, March 19, 2006 at 06:49

The following are my modest submission.


Before laying down my office (Dean Academic) in the recent past, I did some survey on the current trend in Engineering Education in the country. My impression about the quality of education at BEC is impressive. I am of the opinion that it is looking up. This is quite clear from the 2005 ranking of India Today. BESU has to make an inroad in research. The number of PhD s produced by BESU is small, but quality of work is indeed at per with any IIT. This is the opinion of one of the most respected academics of the country, Prof. A.K. Mallik (BEC Alumni, 67ME) of IIT Kanpur. Prof. Mallik is a legend in teaching in IIT Kanpur, one of the finest researchers (across the globe) in non-linear dynamics and he is a member of all three major ACADEMIES of the country.


In this note, I would like to express my opinion in response to some of our esteemed Alumnus / Alumna at a later stage. At the first place, let me take up the discipline related issues inside the college. Even though academically, the BESU students are good, there exist the serious issues of unrest and indiscipline. I do not think that the college administration can do much about it. The desire of the political parties plays the crucial role in such matters! The alumni have to make appeal to the mentors of the political parties to refrain from interfering in the internal matters of the universities. In today's world, the net impact of student unrest on the society is one of bitterness, pessimism and loss of confidence in the system (even on the State). The culture of strike is an anathema to academics, retrograde in spirit and not befitting any premier institute of the country. Can the Academics in BESU remain uninfluenced by the local politics?


Perhaps you know that all other states are ready to do anything and everything in order to get an IIT. It is pity that people in our State do not fully appreciate the impact of getting an IIT in Calcutta! The interactions with the leading research laboratories all around the globe will change the culture of the place. The exchange of students with different well-known Universities (including MIT, CALTECH etc.) will change the perception of Education! Just imagine the massive contribution of IISc in building up Bangalore. Besides the perception of "Silicon Valley of India", today Bangalore is also considered as the "Science Capital" of the country!


The IIT name today is cynosure of all eyes all over the globe. The research culture in IITs keeps every faculty on the toes in order to keep himself/ herself abreast of the latest in his/ her field in the world. I am trying to address the concern of continuing education issues raised by our esteemed alumnus Tarunda (Mr. Tarun Basu, 67 CE, 70 ME).

Leaving aside teachers, there are many initiatives in IIT parlance to draw the attention of the bright undergraduates in serious research and to motivate them for higher learning. I can readily cite an example. During my tenure as a Dean, I introduced a new academic activity, which is known as the Winter Academy. The undergraduate students from IIT s (Kanpur, Kharagpur and Guwahati) and the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg (Germany) take part in the Winter Academy. In the year 2005, we could add IIT Bombay and IIT Delhi in this drive. Let me explain the novelty of this initiative. The participants of the Winter Academy are chosen from the bright undergraduates. About 45 students are selected from the applicants and then each selected student is asked to prepare a lecture on a fairly advanced research topic. The research topics are usually within the broad area of some chosen subject topics.

After about three months, the selected students and three/ four Professors from each participating Institutes assemble in a nice place, where the Winter Academy is scheduled (usually held during the Winter Break). The students and the professors stay there for about seven days and hold the seminar talks. Each student gives lecture on his own topic that was assigned to him some three months back. Other students and the Professors interact with the speaker in an intense manner and address all the relevant issues starting from the basic theoretical aspects to the final application. The seminars are conducted amidst a free ambiance where "not knowing" is not a discredit. The interactions educate and excite the dormant capacity of each individual. Even the participating faculty members benefit a lot from the questions from the almost uninitiated students!

The Winter Academy 2005 took place in TATA STEEL, Jamshedpur. TATA STEEL and the Aditya Birla group sponsored the Academy. The German Government sponsored the visit of the German Professors. After having informed about the success of the Winter Academy, the vice-provost of Rensselaer (RPI) has recently approached me with the idea of a Summer Academy with RPI from 2007.

I shall reply to others and write more in my next posting.


Comments by Prof. Gautam Biswas from India on Sunday, March 19, 2006 at 08:48

I am sorry, in my last posting I actually replied to the comments of Tarunda (Tarun K Basu, 54 CE, 59 ME). The comments of Tarunda (Tarun K Basu, 67 CE, 70 ME) are also deeply appreciated. Comments of Molay (I do not know whether I should address him as Molay/ Molayda, since he did not mention the year of passing) are very important. Something like STEP would have flourished even better, if it were nurtured by BESU (again, because of its location). The comments of PK (Bandyopadhyay, 88 ME) are interesting and I am thankful for your kind words.

What all I wanted to say through my earlier posting is that IIT/ IISc provides a different ambience of learning. It will be a big paradigm shift (in the positive direction), if BESU becomes IIT/ INI. The people in our state should be convinced about it. BESU, by any means, should not miss the opportunity of becoming an IIT/ INI.


The people of the state should appreciate the fact that it is also possible to generate resources and employment through the sponsored research activities of the IIT system. Just imagine the amount of sponsored research handled by IIT Bombay! It is about Rs. 140 crores per year. IIT Kanpur, despite having terrific faculty strength, is unable to reach that figure because of the disadvantage of its location. BESU will be able to reach a very respectable mark in sponsored research, in course of time (if it becomes IIT/ INI) simply because of its location! The people in the state should not be worried about the future of the post-secondary students of West Bengal. As you know, a massive new IISc (the name is IISER) is coming up in Kalyani (Prof. CNR Rao, Chief Advisor of PM's Scientific Council, decided to acknowledge the colossal contribution of Calcutta and West Bengal in the modern science of India through this Institute). The new Institute will have integrated Master's program in all the disciplines of science (including Biological Sciences, which is one of the most attractive branches all over the world today). In addition, the State Government can increase the funding (since they will not have to fund BESU, if it becomes IIT/ INI) and number of seats in the Government Engineering Colleges at Jalpaiguri and Kalyani by two folds in order to take care of the quality post-secondary students of the state. It is also possible to start a new Government Engineering College using the funds earmarked for BESU.


Dear Saibal, you are right, Packer (Sudipto Chakraborty) was a very close friend of mine. My dear Sujan, you must have seen me frequently in Hostel 14/ 15 since I used to visit Gopinath Chattopadhyay (H-14) and Pradip Roy (H-15) often. I do admire your views of keeping politics away from the academic ambiance and create a student body much similar to that of the IIT system. In the IIT system, students have their representatives even in the Academic Senate, but they are guided by principles (not by politics and slogan shouting). Let me express my compliments to all of you for your kind words.

Comments by Readers
Comments by Sujan Bhattacharya from United States on Tuesday, March 21, 2006 at 21:56 - IP Logged
Thank you Gautamda, for responding promptly to my comment. One thing you said was very similar to what one of our batchmates, Soumitro Banerjee (1981, EE) who used to teach in IIT-Kharagpur said, while I asked him couple of years ago, how the students in IIT remain completely indifferent to national and/or state politics. Soumitro said, they do care about the state and/or country politics, but not at the cost of academics. It kind of surmised the goal of student activities on our campus. Also, I can remember both Pradipda and Gopida.
Comments by Molay Halder EE 2003 from India on Monday, March 20, 2006 at 10:54 - IP Logged
Regarding the Winter and Summer Academy proposals, it maybe possible to follow the famous MIT UROP(Undergraduate Opportunties in Research) programme to boost reserach and get undergrads ineterested in it. The UROP programme works by identifying current research projects taking place in the university and getting lecturers and professors involved in it to invite undergraduates to work with them , usually over summer, fully residentially, on these projects. The programmes are advertised on the university website and applications are made directly to the professors involved. There is also some door knocking involved. Other famous institutes such as London's Imperial College have followed suite and implemented the programme themselves.We have an inherent advantage in running such a programme as we are a residential institute and our competetior is not and so would not be able to run such a programme as easily as us.
Comments by Molay from India on Friday, March 17, 2006 at 04:25 - IP Logged
Th easiest implementable project on the list would be the Institute-promoted Science and Technology Entrepreneurship Park. This sort of idea has been mentioned before but nothing has come of it. The IIT's nearly all have such a park such as the STEP park at IIT Kharagpur. Possibly land restraints have hindered us in devdloping such a park, but now with the aquisition of 100 acres of land(40 acres and another 60 acres in Shibpur)we should easily be able to set up such a park. we could invite SIDBI to form a joint entrepreneurship cell as they have done with IIT Kanpur and BIT Mesra. Not every BESU graduate will go on to become Amrit K.Das and create another NetGuru , but we need to encourage more of our graduates to do exactly that and strike out on their own.Thee benefits of having entrepreneurs from the institute to BESU is obvious and has already been seen as the IT department would not even exist if it was not for Amrit Das building it.
Comments by P. K. Bandyopadhyay (1988,M.E. from India on Friday, March 17, 2006 at 01:38 - IP Logged
It is really an excellent article! We should consider the blueprint provided by Goutamda.
Comments by Tarun K Basu from India on Thursday, March 16, 2006 at 23:55 - IP Logged
Excellent article by Gautam.It is yet to be seen whether even this wakes up the"kumbhakarnas" of GOWB and MHRD of GOI.I am not sure if I missed one aspect which should be an essential component of the proposed IIT/INI.I have seen during my several visits to
the USA and the UK that primarily the teaching faculty members but also the non-teaching staff members are routinely sent for "Refreshers' courses"to keep them abreast of the latest technologies andpractices.These courses may be in different institutions in India or abroad.In the alternative special courses can be designed and run by the proposed IIT/INI.
Tarun K Basu,CE 1954, ME 1959
Comments by Sujan Bhattacharya from United States on Thursday, March 16, 2006 at 22:23 - IP Logged
Thank you Gautamda for this fine article. One of the most challenging issues, it seems to me, is the creation of an ambiance of higher education and research as reflected in section 3.2 of your article. I do not know how long will it take to create this research ambiance as it is found in IITs and ISIs or IISC. However, I believe, it is possible to attain this condition, as it is in IIT Kharagpur which is another institution of higher learning within West Bengal. The question is how the petty politics can be kept out of the campus?
By the way, you seem very familiar-did you stay in Hostel 15 during 1978-79?
Sujan Bhttacharya
Civil, 1981
H-13, 15 and Sengupta Hall.
Comments by Saibal K. Ghosal, from United States on Thursday, March 16, 2006 at 13:43 - IP Logged
This is indeed a very thoughtful and well articulated blueprint which should
serve the purpose of a mission statement in part or whole to take BESU to the next level, although IMO this "next level" is very loosely defined for now and sounds like a big leap from where at least I have seen off the college almost twenty years back.
The abstract elements of this vision should be further decomposed into fine-grained tasks which can then be implemented, measured and monitored to assess our short-term goals in line with the big picture. I will appreciate if GautamDa can pick a thread of this blueprint, emphasize and recommend some concrete steps as "task lists" which can then be validated for implementation. The administration of BESU should function as the executor of such tasks with due credibility and pragmatism.
On a different note, GautamDa, I can connect you to your batchmate, "Packer" (Sudipto Chakraborty, '79 Mech. E.). I am one of those like Packer who spent most of the college days in lush green Oval which will always have a special place in my heart.
Wish you all the best.
'88 CST
Atlanta, USA
Comments by Tarun Basu ('67CE, '70ME) from United States on Thursday, March 16, 2006 at 09:49 - IP Logged
It is an excellent article! I hope BESUS administration follows the blueprint provided by you to take our Alma Mater to the next level. You have completed the difficult task by giving the directions for transforming BESUS from a provincial institution to a national one. If the administration just follows your guidelines, I am sure, our BEC will be able to reach its full potential. Thanks for your great efforts.


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