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National Education Hub: Bengal’s Road to Economic Resurgence

Bengal has a storied past of nurturing intellectual giants who have left an indelible mark of their own in various fields. Stalwart social reformers like Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar laid the first groundwork of the “Bengal Renaissance” that spread the light of intellectual awakening and excellence, producing unmatched talent in every sphere imaginable.

From the literary prowess of Rabindranath Tagore, Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay and Kazi Nazrul Islam to the scientific brilliance of Jagadish Chandra Bose, Satyendra Nath Bose and Meghnad Saha; from Jamini Roy, Nandalal Bose and Abanindranath Tagore’s paintings to the music of Ravi Shankar, Kishore Kumar, SD Burman, Hemanta Mukherjee and Manna Dey and the cinematic brilliance of Satyajit Ray and Ritwik Ghatak — the cultural and academic tapestry of Bengal is woven with threads of excellence in almost every known sphere of knowledge. This spirit of inculcation of knowledge and free thought also produced some of the most revered freedom fighters like Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose who was a bright student and cleared the ICS exams before he changed his mind and vowed to fight against the British!

No wonder then that Bengal has provided India with four Nobel Laureates. With the exception of Mother Teresa, all the other three — Rabindranath Tagore, Amartya Sen and Abhijit Banerjee — have been lauded for their academic pursuits. If we include Sir Ronald Ross and CV Raman, who did most of their groundbreaking work in Kolkata, the list grows even longer. Satyajit Ray’s Honorary Academy Award for his lifetime contribution to cinema, Kaushik Basu’s Humboldt Prize and Gayatri Chakraborty Spivak’s Kyoto Prize in Arts & Philosophy are testament to the intellectual brilliance of Bengal’s thought leaders and their global recognition.

However, many now feel that the state has failed to leverage the substantial natural advantage that it had enjoyed for so long. Bengal’s rich legacy of intellectual brilliance has been eroded and frittered over time due to political instability, economic setbacks and governance issues, resulting in a very significant brain drain with talented individuals seeking opportunities elsewhere, further weakening the local intellectual pool.

While basking in past glory may help rekindle our pride, we must take concrete steps to arrest and reverse this decline — and urgently. Despite setbacks, Bengal can reclaim its intellectual prowess through strategic planning, investments, and policy reforms aimed at fostering a conducive environment for learning and innovation — thereby emerging as a national hub for higher education and research.

Bengal’s ambitious journey towards becoming a national education hub needs to be anchored in its distinct advantages. Bengal is still home to multiple higher education institutions of national importance and repute as well as several advanced research institutes. A rich historical legacy and a deep-rooted tradition of valuing education provide a cultural ethos that appeals to scholars. The state’s substantial national and global diaspora of intellectuals opens up avenues for collaboration and resource mobilisation. Bengal’s assimilative culture fosters inclusivity, making it an attractive destination for students from diverse ethnicities.

Its competitive cost of living along with a strategic geographical location near major regional economies positions Bengal as an ideal hub for regional-international collaborations while the state’s political stability provides further assurance of growth.

The state’s human capital is a key resource, forming a delicate blend of inherent cultural progressiveness and the quest to achieve. Drawing some crucial lessons from how cities like Boston or Oxford are cashing in on their historical advantage in terms of the co-location of multiple institutes of hallowed heritage to implementing the bottom-up approach and freedom of innovation and research of Switzerland alongside the more structured top-down approach of Singapore, Bengal can easily come up with a fruitful blueprint to be replicated in letter and spirit.

Dubai, on the other hand, has unparalleled infrastructure, a safe society and a growing school market — all of which prove advantageous in its efforts to become a leading provider.

Bengal has some focal cities like Durgapur and Siliguri ready where such leads may be manifested, also facilitating the internationalisation of education and global advancement of the knowledge economy, capable of attracting national and international students at large.

Implementing a strategic roadmap for Bengal’s ascent as an education hub involves multifaceted initiatives. The state government should enact and implement a robust forward-thinking higher education policy to attract reputed private sector educational institutions, both national and global, by taking full advantage of the provisions of NEP 2020 as well as the UGC guidelines in regard to the Operation of Campuses of Foreign Higher Educational Institutions in India Regulations, 2023. Identifying and incentivising accomplished individuals, particularly of Bengali origin, to return to the state for academic pursuits while aligning research areas with developmental priorities, shall act as a nucleus for a reverse brain drain. Also, providing long-term leases on land for educational institutes shall incentivise campus branches in the state. The Government of West Bengal needs to urgently constitute an empowered group comprising top officials, academicians and industry leaders to serve as a think tank for strategic interventions with full autonomy and strong government commitment.

While incentives for establishing large manufacturing units are welcome and need to be pursued, the author is of the firm belief that a concerted effort in developing the education industry in Bengal will most definitely have a pronounced multiplier effect in attracting new-age knowledge-based industries to the state due to the ready supply of quality human resources, which form the very nucleus of all such industries. A high concentration of research and innovation shall naturally position Bengal as a leader in the global knowledge-based economy — significantly augmenting the state’s global visibility and prestige.

This transformative journey shall not just be a revival of heritage but usher in the rightful reclaiming of Bengal’s destiny!