No compromises in excellence and service

Interview/ Prof John Varghese, principal, St. Stephen’s College, Delhi

93-Prof-John-Varghese Prof John Varghese | Arvind Jain

St Stephen's College, Delhi is one of the most prestigious colleges in the country. It has maintained its number one position in the field of Arts and Science consecutively for many years altogether. As per THE WEEK-Hansa Research survey, the college was ranked number one in the country in the field of Arts and Science. 

Prof John Varghese, Principal, St Stephen's College, Delhi in an interview with THE WEEK, talks about why the college is special and why it has always managed to maintain the topmost position among the best colleges of the country.

How has your institute managed to maintain an edge over all the other colleges of the country in the field of Arts and Science? 

St Stephen’s College is one of a kind. We started our vocation of service in education 140 years ago and we have been honing that skill all through these years. The founding fathers of the college were missionary scholars who were all fired up in the cause of education. They faced challenges and overcame each one of those challenges. At college we don’t boast of a fancy building or a tech-savvy campus—our pride is our young men and women. In Arts and Science, they learn the fundamentals and they learn it the hard way—without compromises. Perhaps that is why our students fare so well; that is perhaps why they win accolades all the way. Be that the Rhodes Scholarships that our students have been qualifying for regularly, or the high pay packages they command or the fantastic NGO work that they do; they excel everywhere because they’ve got their fundamentals right. Excellence and service. No compromises.

What’s special about St Stephen's?

Well just about everything. The campus, the Residence (with a capital R), the classrooms, the Library, the Archives, the College Hall, the Café (yes, not the canteen), the Junior Combination Room, the Ladies Common Room, the Staff Room, the Principals office…all of those exude “character”. However, what makes the college really special are the people and the spirit which drives these folks – the teachers, the students and the non-teaching staff. They are a driven lot; driven by passion and by zest.

What innovations did you bring in during the pandemic?

Online classes are a requirement, but we try to do that “little more”—it could be through the availability of a teacher for her students, or the college counsellor giving a few tips to a desperate student. That spirit of innovation is reflected in a sensitive associate dean of residence, urging students to brighten up the lives of fellow resident students during the second wave by caring for each other. The lockdown [also] gave us an opportunity to get some maintenance and infrastructural work done. Innovations are there for the asking, you just need to think smart.

Any kind of new hybrid courses or new subject streams you are planning to introduce this year?

In January 2020 we launched the Public Policy programme. In March, we made it online to beat Covid-19. We have been running this programme with a whole set of niche specializations with the best in the field as resource persons—the very creators and implementers of Public Policy themselves! Now you may think that you just can't do better than that! But wrong! College went ahead and made it even better. We have now got an international fellowship programme going with the support of the Ministry of External Affairs—The first of its kind from any college in India! We want to support the government in its neighbourhood-first policy by helping create dynamic leaders. And we hope to launch this programme as soon as international flights are cleared; this year itself, if that is possible.

We have got much more and we are waiting eagerly for the NEP (New Education Policy) to grant us autonomy. We have got a list of close to twenty new courses lined up (and believe me, one of them is a unique, first of a kind in India). We are keen on the aspirational parts of the NEP because, with un-stinted support from the government, we can make big things happen.

Going forward, what will the class of 2021-2022 be like for the students and teachers this year? 

This new academic year is going to be another challenge. Covid is very much around, complicating the lives of our teachers and students; but we shall overcome each of those challenges with the characteristic Stephanian qualities: A determination to excel and a strong urge to serve. Stephanians are good at transforming challenges into opportunities and we will continue that tradition.

Anything new planned for this academic year?

Yes, the fellowship programme is one. If the NEP is implemented in spirit and word, then autonomy for college will give us the freedom to be creative and push the boundaries of our staid education system. We have got quite a few ideas that, with the government’s support, will prove that the NEP is not just an aspirational document but the harbinger of a much-awaited change in education. The wish is there, but the government needs to make that wish a reality.