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A tradition of excellence

Set up 129 years ago, St Stephen’s is now a brand other colleges find hard to emulate report Vimal Chander Joshi

education Updated: Oct 27, 2010 11:25 IST
Vimal Chander Joshi

My three years at St Stephen’s marked me for all the years to follow,” Shashi Tharoor, writer, Member of Parliament and former United Nations diplomat, once wrote.

He is not alone. Many former boys (girls were allowed admission since 1975) attribute a large part of their success to their alma mater.

An alumnus of 2008, Manas Rathore (name changed), understood the importance of the Stephen’s tag when he got a job with a top multinational just after completing his BA programme. “I was selected in every job interview I appeared for. The moment I mentioned I was from this college, people started taking me seriously. The college not only changes the way you carry yourself but also broadens your outlook,” says Rathore, who now works in a multinational consulting firm in Gurgaon as an analyst.

Such is the weight of a Stephen’s degree that many students have opted for a plain graduate degree from here after giving the go-by to offers from engineering/ medical/top law colleges in the country.

Sample this. Rishi Sood, a first year economics student at Stephen’s, got selected to New York and Warwick universities, but chose to remain in India once he made the BA (Hons) economics cut at Stephen’s. Sanjay Raj Singh, a BA (economics) final year student had offers from professional colleges, including a known engineering college in Rajasthan and two national law universities, but he also chose Stephen’s for the reputation the college has built, earned and sustained in its 129 years of existence.

Famous for:
Its selection process is completely different from that of Delhi University. One has to qualify an interview even after making the cut-offs.

Many people from the college have made it big in all walks of life, including Shashi Tharoor, shooter Jaspal Rana, economic policymaker Montek Singh Ahluwalia, journalist Barkha Dutt, writers Amitav Ghosh and Ramachandra Guha.

Such is the strong alumni base of this college that one eminent journalist was once asked by Natwar Singh, former cabinet minister (who is also an old boy of Stephen’s) about his graduation years in the college. “People tend to assume that if you are successful you must be from Stephen’s. It’s a different thing that I didn’t go to Stephen’s,” said the journalist, who is the editor-in-chief of a popular national daily in Delhi.

Pictures of virtually all of India’s who’s who are on the college notice board, inspiring current students. Surprisingly, not all want to emulate them. “Just because Montek Singh Ahluwalia’s picture is there doesn’t mean I want to be like him. We don’t want to ape anyone. We do what we want to do,” says Rathore.

Such confidence and spunk to challenge the conventional paradigms at every step of life, is, probably the outcome of the Stephanian culture.

Programmes:
BA Honours in economics/ English/ history/ philosophy, BA programme, BSc honours in mathematics/ physics/ chemistry/ physics, BSc programme, MA in economics/ English/ history/ Sanskrit/ philosophy, MSc in maths/ operational research/ chemistry/ physics.

Extracurricular:
The 37 societies include Shakespeare society, and music, debating, literary, photographic, philosophical and wildlife societies. “We have a group called Social Service League which reaches out to the community in times of crises. When Bihar was ravaged by floods two years ago, we pooled in R55,000 and went there to help them build houses and distributed blankets and grocery,” says Sanjay Raj Singh, League president.

Infrastructure:
The college has a colonial style red building, much like other DU colleges, but the greenery and cleanliness make it stand out. The hostels can accommodate 250 men and 108 women. There is a library with 90,000 books. The playing grounds are located near Kashmere Gate but the tennis and basketball courts and the soccer arena is within the college premises.

Found on campus:
“The assemblies, compulsory for first year students, are enriching. Moreover, the entire Stephen’s experience — the college has a range of societies — makes the college distinct,” says Devika Bhalla, a first year student of BA (economics) honours.

Factfile
St Stephen’s College was founded on February 1, 1881, by the Cambridge Mission to Delhi and was meant to be an extension of a St Stephen’s School, which existed in Delhi at that time. Some professors from Cambridge University were invited to Delhi in 1877 to reinforce the teaching strength of this school and one of them, Samuel Scott Allnutt, was made the Principal of both the College and the school. The government had meanwhile, in 1879 closed its Delhi College here, thus depriving the city of the benefits of higher education. St Stephen’s, at that crucial hour, made its foray into higher education.

Both the school and the college occupied rented premises in two mansions built in the bylanes off Chandni Chowk, opposite the present Central Bank Building.

On December 8, 1891, it moved into its own buildings close to the historic St James’ Church. On October 1, 1941, the college occupied its present home in the Delhi University Enclave

Wishlist
“The infrastructure needs to be improved. Last year we had to face a lot of trouble owing to power cuts. The menu list of the café also needs to be expanded,” says a second year student of BA (economics) honours who doesn’t wish to be named