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A Higher Order | Best Arts Colleges in India

Entering the gates of St Stephen’s College, Delhi, located in the university enclave, one realises everything is different here. The red brick walls of the college welcome you through the several arches on the ground floor. Open spaces abound on the campus. But then, they are not just open barren spaces, as Prof. John Varghese, principal of St Stephen’s College, points out, They are green spaces; they are there with a purpose, and that is to give the students a sense of freedom.

Prof. Varghese believes that every tree is known by the fruits it produces, and colleges are no different. Precisely, one of the ways by which St Stephen’s distinguishes itself from other institutions is through its students. Over the years, the college has built up a formidable reputation, drawing the best students from all corners of the country who have excelled in the field of academics, public policy, politics and sports. Not many know that St Stephen’s was among the three colleges that initially constituted the University of Delhi (DU). Started by a Christian mission as a high school, St Stephen’s became a college in 1881.

The principal pointed out three qualities which help Stephenians stand out among the restexcellence, service and commitment. When students come here, they are already good but we try to take them to a level where their skills and subject knowledge are enhanced. We bring to them certain value additions that become a distinguishing factor for those who graduate from here, he says. The teachers at Stephen’s play a vital role in tapping the uniqueness of each student by involving them in multiple activities throughout the year. For example, this year, an active set of students conducted project work in a small school in Spiti Valley high up in the Himalayas. The result was a great learning experience for both students as well as teachers.

But even with its peerless record, there are still a couple of key initiatives that the college is bidding for. It is increasingly taking an effort to go paperless and has now even developed an in-house e-filing facility for communication between the administration and students. The principal says, We are very keen that we go autonomous because that can help us introduce new courses, establish academic partnerships which can be taken to a level of extreme benefit for both the partnering institutions. And when we partner, we would like to translate the benefits not just to our students but also the country.

To find new ways to promote academic excellence and also support the government of India in strengthening ties with neighbours, the college has initiated a discussion with the ministry of external affairs (MEA) expressing its willingness to offer seats through the MEA and the ministry of human resource development to our neighbours in the ASEAN and SAARC countries as well as in the African continent.

At present, the college has six active partnerships with institutions within and outside India and is focused on increasing that number for future growth. In addition to academic excellence, Prof. Varghese stresses on all-round growth. We encourage independent thinking among students, he says. This extends to students who are creative also. Though it may not be immediately possible, we are looking at exploring ways in which creative students, even if they do not have the marks, can be accommodated in our college. I am hopeful that in a few years we will be able to do it.

The college has a very systematic campus placement cell as well. An online platform has been created to cater to the requirements of the placement procedure, which has been shared with the recruitment agencies as well as the students to smooth out the process.

Prof. John Varghese Principal, St Stephen’s College

What’s unique about St Stephen’s?
Our students make the difference. We have students who have gone and excelled in academics, public policy, politics and sports. When they come here, they are good but we try to take them to a level where their skills and subject knowledge are on superior plain. We encourage our students to go out and serve, make it their driving force. Commitment is the third force which influences the other two. Whatever the students do, they must put in their heart and soul.

What next?
We are trying to go paperless, not just to save the environment but also to make things easier by participatory digital initiatives. We are keen that we go autonomous because that will help us introduce new courses. At present, the college has six active partnerships with institutions within and outside India. I want to increase this number.

Avni Tyagi, First year, BA programme

What’s unique about campus life in the college?
A lot of prominent personalities come here, talk to us and inspire us to do a lot of good stuff. In the first year, we have morning assemblies where we read verses from the Holy Scriptures. It helps us imbibe a lot of good qualities, values and morals. The chapel is a very peaceful place in the college.

One advice to future students
You don’t have to change your identity to survive here. Just be more realistic and stick to your principles.

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