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A Shift from College to University

Fr. J. Felix Raj Fr. J. Felix Raj
20 Dec 2021

With a world population of 7.80 billion and Indian population of 1.38 billion people (2020), we – as individuals and societies – are called to live together sustainably and harmoniously. We need to act responsibly because what we do today can have implications on the lives of people and the planet tomorrow. We understand well how the educational mission and network, in which we are engaged, empowers people to change the ways they think and work towards a sustainable and harmonious future. In this context, educational involvement has been synonymous with the Christian mission of announcing God’s Kingdom and preaching the Good News in India, right from its inception in the first century. 

With the unfolding of Independence in 1947, the Christian Churches took over responsibility for an educational system in full vigour as nowhere else in the world. India holds first place in the world in the number of Christian educational institutions.

Christian education has revolutionised the academic scenario of India, tempering the system of imparting education with values that have become significant in human history. Thus, Christian education has produced leaders in every occupation, and these leaders have furthered and fostered the Christian principles.

Every major town or city in India has either a Christian School or College. Other religious and secular societies and institutions have adopted Christian educational methods. Many teach, but few inspire, and Christian institutions believe that they need to form, not merely inform. This motive dominates the mission.

The Christian population in India is only 25.6 million (about 2.3%). The Christian Churches administer around 562 Higher Education Institutions of various types. Universities and colleges alone make up to 196 of which nine are universities. (The Church situation is so varied that we do not have accurate data for its numerical and institutional presence).

 Christian Higher Education Institutions in India

 Christian Degree Colleges: 187                                                                       Universities: 09

Although the Christian population is 2.3% and the number of Christian HEIs form just 1.6% of the total number of HEIs in India, no one can deny that Christian contribution to education in India is significant. That is why, the former President of India, late Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, applauded the Christian missionaries for their great contribution to the development of education in India. ‘Being a Jesuit alumnus myself, I am aware of the great contribution of missionary education not only in India, but around the world,’ he said while speaking at the inauguration of a global conference of the alumni of Jesuit institutions at SXCK in January 2003.

Former Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, during his visit to St. Xavier’s College, Kolkata on its 150th anniversary in January 2010, applauded the work of the Christian community. He said, ‘…the Christian missionaries who came to this country chose the path of education to reach out to the hearts and minds of the Indian people … Institutions like St. Xavier’s provide progressive all-round education to the rich and the poor, privileged and under-privileged and to the children of all faiths and all religions … We owe these Fathers a deep debt of gratitude and I salute them for their immense contribution to the intellectual enrichment of the people of our country and to the nation at large…’

The Christian Churches have been pioneers and vanguards in providing education to the rural poor, Dalits, tribals and girls. Sixty percent of the Christian educational institutions are in the rural areas. The Christian educators are the makers and markers of a future filled with hope and harmony for the India.

In the existing global and regional contexts today and particularly in the context of Indian educational scenario, the Christian community is called to promote regional, national and apostolic networks, while strengthening the existing educational networks and expanding it to meet the growing needs.

Christian Universities

Christian initiatives in higher education have been only in terms of colleges since 1543 when St. Francis Xavier started the first Jesuit College in Goa. The idea of establishing universities is a recent phenomenon among Christians. Today there are nine Christian Private Universities in India. 

(i) Christ University, Bangalore; 
(ii) XIM University, Bhubaneswar; 
(iii) St. Joseph’s University, Kohima;
(iv) St. Xavier’s University, Kolkata;
(v) Sam Higginbottom University of Agriculture, Technologies & Science, Allahabad; 
(vi) Karunya Institute of Technology, Coimbatore; 
(vii) Spicer Adventist University, Pune; 
(viii) Hindustan Institute of Technology and Science, Chennai; and 
(ix) Assam Don Bosco University, Guwahati

Higher Education Scenario 

The education system in India is the third largest in the world, next to the United States and China. Knowledge is power. The more knowledge we promote, the more empowered we are as individuals and as a nation. Even after 76 years of independence, India has only 96 million graduates (7 % of the total population).

There are 1019 Universities as on November 30, 2021 and around 49,800 Colleges of all types (including stand-alone institutions) with 39 million students. Of the total number of colleges, 12,870 are under 2(f) and 381 are under 12(B) of the UGC Act. We should take note of the enormous quantum increase in the number of universities in recent years, particularly state and private universities.

India is one of the youngest countries in the world: 65% of India’s population is within the working age group of 18 to 59 and around 50% below 25 years of age. The young people are the pride and future of this country as the average age is 29. Dr. Kalam used to rightly aspire that ‘our young people must become ignited minds of India, unleashing the power within them’.

The 12th Plan (2012-2017) Document had fixed targets of 30 % Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) by 2020-21.  As per All India Survey on Higher Education (AISHE) 2017-18, the GER in higher education is 25.6 %. The NEP 2020 envisages increase of GER to at least 50 % by 2035.

Number of Higher Education Institutions in India as on November 30, 2021

Colleges of all types (2019)

Around 49,480 (including stand-alone Institutions)

Autonomous Colleges: 

 832 (As on October 2021)


39 million


1.75 million

Teacher/Student ratio


Central Universities


State Universities


Deemed to be Universities


Private Universities


Total Universities



Private Universities

Universities in India, whether central/state/private, are established by different state/central Acts and adhere to the provisions laid down in the UGC ACT 1956. According to the laws, state universities may provide affiliations while private ones are unitary (single entity) and cannot affiliate. Private universities operate as per the State Act within the territorial boundaries of the state where it is established. 

The private sector is strong and potent in higher education. This has been partly due to the Government’s decision to encourage private investment and participation. Different state governments took advantage of this initiative and passed private university Bills. Only universities established by the Central and State Acts, and higher education institutions empowered by the Parliament are entitled to award degrees.

In 2005, there were only 20 private universities. However, as of November 2021, there are 397 private universities. Seventy-eight percent of colleges in India are private colleges; of which 64% are unaided ones.

It is a fact that there has been a quantum leap in the number of universities. There is high scope for the role of private universities as India has huge potential in terms of opportunities in higher education. Private universities can meet the challenge of a huge demand for quality learning with a wider choice of subjects and assured placements.

There is a felt need for independence and autonomy for Indian Higher Education Institutions to emerge as world-class centres of knowledge. As public expenditure is insufficient and public institutions suffer from political interference and government control, private participation becomes necessary.

Role of Private Universities in NEP

The National Education Policy 2020 says that as India moves towards becoming a knowledge economy and society, more and younger Indians are likely to aspire for higher education.

The aspiration is to move towards a higher educational system consisting of large, multidisciplinary universities and colleges, with at least one in or near every district.

It envisages that growth will be both in public and private institutions, with a strong emphasis on developing a large number of outstanding institutions. It encourages private institutions with a public-spirited commitment to high-quality equitable education. 

It recommends a complete overhaul in the regulatory system of higher education that has been too heavy-handed for decades, in order to re-energise the higher education sector and enable it to thrive.

It has announced that all HEIs – public and private – shall be treated at par within this regulatory regime. This regulatory regime shall encourage private philanthropic efforts in education. There shall be common national guidelines for all legislative Acts forming private

HEIs thus enabling common standards for private and public HEIs. These common guidelines shall cover areas of governance, financial stability and security, educational outcomes, and transparency.

Kolkata Experience

The Jesuits in Kolkata responded to an invitation from the Chief Minister of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee, and started the St. Xavier’s University, Kolkata. In the beginning we weighed quite a few options: 

(a) To upgrade the existing St. Xavier’s College (Autonomous), Kolkata (SXCK) to a university but because of some technical problems relating to minority status and State aid, we had to give up this option. 

(b) Then, we proposed a public-private partnership (PPP) model. This model was found to be unworkable.  

(c) St. Xavier’s College, Kolkata had been selected as one of the 35 colleges for upgradation under RUSA scheme. However, even after two meetings between Ministry of Human Resource Development, Govt. of India (MHRD) and (SXCK), the proposal did not come through. 

d) Finally, we decided to go private and submitted our proposal (LoI) to the State Government.

The state government was very cooperative and did all it could. The Chief Minister herself took keen interest in the establishment of the Jesuit University. The Government gave us 17 acres of land at New Town. 

The State Assembly passed the St. Xavier’s University, Kolkata Act 2016 in December 2016 and the Governor gave his consent in January 2017, paving the way for the university to come into existence. The Government notification was announced on February 8, 2017. Our alumni joined hands and pledged their full support. We prepared a road map – Vision 2020 -- and began our journey.

Our dream came true when the Chief Minister inaugurated St. Xavier’s University, Kolkata in July 2017. In four years’ time, we have 3,100 students on the rolls now. Our focus is on Vision 2025: 
    Developing SXUK into a world-class Jesuit University – a centre of excellence in teaching-learning, research, consultancy and innovation – with strong global networking for the greater glory of God in the spirit of Magis;
    Fulfilling the aspirations of people like Mamata Banerjee, who said at the inauguration ceremony, ‘I want St. Xavier's University to become one of the best universities of the world like Harvard and Oxford. I am confident that this university will achieve this goal,’
    ‘A Quality University with a new and forward looking vision’ as envisaged by the NEP 2020;
    A University with a multidisciplinary environment and liberal approach.

The Jesuits of SXUK believe that with the Divine providence and the wholehearted support of their stakeholders, they shall be able to achieve their ‘Vision 2025’.

The Road Ahead

The Christian HEIs impart the best-known education in India. Almost all of them are reputed and highly regarded for their quality, discipline, environment, relationship and research.

According to the NIRF Rankings, announced by the Ministry of Human Resources Development, for all higher educational institutions in June 2020 and September 2021, there are 34 and 32 Christian Colleges respectively in the lists of 100 best colleges in the country. 

Many premier Christian colleges seal the status of being the best in their states or in the country in NAAC accreditation. Christian institutions are large in number as well as high in NAAC grading. The Higher Education policies and proposals of the Government are, I can confidently say, the reflections of what is going on in our premier institutions.

The concept of a college has undergone many significant changes in India since independence. Governments have repeatedly announced policies that have effected changes in the education system over the decades. There are now different categories of colleges. To mention a few: undergraduate, postgraduate, aided, unaided, autonomous, degree-awarding and so on.

When Malcolm Adiseshiah introduced the concept of ‘autonomous college’ in 1970s, he chose some of the outstanding Christian Colleges to introduce the new scheme. The project was highly successful and was introduced by the UGC across the country. As a result, today we have 832 autonomous colleges.

The time is not far from now when the Central and the State Governments will stop their aids to colleges. Privatisation in Higher Education has come in a big way. For example, as of November 2021 there are 521 private universities (including Deemed-to-be) out of 1019 in India (51.38%). There are only nine full-fledged universities in India which are fully administered by the Christian churches.

Christian Churches need to prepare themselves and be ready for the future challenges with perspective plans for the next 10 to 20 years. I do not want to discuss the pros and cons of a college or a university here. All that I should suggest is that there are clear signs of a paradigm shift and they need to respond to the changing times before it is too late and they are left behind in the lurch.

Their next steps are: (i) To upgrade their premier colleges to the status of state private universities; and (ii) To upgrade other eligible colleges to degree-awarding colleges.

State-level private universities could be set up with the provisions of constituent colleges within the territories of the respective states. Christian Churches need to set up a strong network and negotiate with state governments on this matter.

(The writer is Vice-Chancellor of St. Xavier’s University, Kolkata)

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