While we have highlighted the importance of introducing humanities and social sciences in the IITs, the roles that universities and colleges play in educating their youngsters need to be pointed out. During the British colonial rule, while on one hand they charged exorbitant amounts as taxes for their revenue, there were some academicians too, who set up colleges and universities in the Bombay, Madras and Bengal Presidencies. In Bombay, they set up a regular academic college, and medical and law colleges. In Madras, they set up the Madras Presidency College in 1840, and in Bengal the Calcutta Presidency College in 1817.
All these offered quality and contemporary education. In addition, Christian missionaries also started some colleges in Delhi, undivided Punjab, Madras and Assam. Notable among these is the Christian Medical College at Vellore, which continues to offer world-class clinical practice and research to this day.
Quite besides these are the schools and colleges started by the Maharajas and Princely State Kings across India, particularly in the South. They have been the bedrock of imparting knowledge and wisdom, history, geography, and religions, over the last century. They have produced scholars, historians, writers and poets, civil servants, judges, chief ministers, governors and Presidents of India, and also M.S. Swaminathan of the Green Revolution and M. Visvesvaraya, the famous dam builder, and also the Nobel Prize winners (C.V. Raman, S Chandrasekhar and most recently Venky Ramakrishnan who is an alumnus of the century-old M.S. University Vadodara).
One outstanding institution founded in 1909 at Bangalore through the joint efforts of J.N. Tata and the Maharaja of Mysore is the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), which has been spearheading research in science and technology from the very beginning. Outstanding research in genetics, molecular and cell biology, and protein structure and function has been going on from the very beginning. In recent times, IISc has become world-famous for its achievements in computer science and software technology. Thanks to the series of books on this subject by Dr. V. Rajaraman (which has been the Bible for thousands of students) and the investment by Shri. N.R. Narayanamurthy, who founded Infosys Foundation, India has become a world-leader in software. They have made many graduates from IITs and universities to turn to this area and flock to Silicon Valley in California for jobs, and do very well there.
Moving on to two Central Universities at Delhi, namely, Delhi University with its North and South campuses, and Jawaharlal Nehru University or JNU, we find quite notably that apart from their proven expertise in the areas of economics, humanities and social sciences, they have been doing remarkably well in science and biotechnology. The North Campus has been a forerunner in botany and plant sciences, and the South Campus in medical and biotechnology. And JNU, apart from its distinction in economics (Prof. Utsa Patnaik, who estimated how the British Empire impoverished India by 500 trillion dollars to become the richest Empire in the world), has also an active genetics and biotechnology group (Prof. Anand Ranganathan) that works on TB and Malaria, thus protecting us from these diseases.
But, alas, none of the 400+ State universities successfully stand out in their achievements – be it in language and literature, economics, technology and its use. The lone exception may be Punjab University which has come to the service of the community through its excellent rice production, successful fight against swarms of locusts, and also in the history of the Punjabi language. We have already referred to the work being done at the Jadavpur and Presidency Universities at Kolkata, and also the Osmania University at Hyderabad, in certain areas of science and technology, besides language, literature and economics should be mentioned.
Recently, several non-profit private universities have been started and are doing excellent service in software sciences (Azim Premji University), genetics, molecular biology and virology, sociology and history (Ashoka University), and SRM University in Chennai and Amaravati. May there be more such private and non-governmental universities!