Oxford University had launched an innovative oneyear MSc course in ‘Contemporary India’ in 2008. Today, it has gained in popularity and the course is aimed at increasing students’ knowledge about India’s signal achievements as well as its persistent challenges. Barbara Harriss who was instrumental in launching the course explains that the diversity of students that the course has been attracting is remarkable. There are students from India, UK and from several other countries around the world.
As far as India’s historic ties with Oxford are concerned, Fr Thomas Stephens, belonging to one of the Colleges in Oxford, was the first recorded Englishman to arrive in India, way back in 1579. His letters addressed from Goa and other places, evoked such enthusiasm among the English, that the establishment of East India Company in 1600 is generally linked to the euphoria generated by his correspondence on India. William Jones, the founder of the Asiatic Society in Kolkata in 1784 was a great Oriental Scholar and pioneer of comparative philosophy at Oxford. Friedrich Max Muller the famous German Scholar who popularised the Indian studies and comparative religion in the Western literate world, was Oxford’s first professor of comparative philosophy from 1868. Study of Indian history at the graduate level became popular with the starting of Asian Studies centre at St Anthony College in 1982. Sarvepalle Gopal was a professor who taught here for several years.
In March this year, the Bodleian Library held an exhibition ‘Indian traces in Oxford’ highlighting the contribution of Indians to Oxford from the beginning of the 19th Century. Today, there are nearly 80 Indian academics, lecturers, professors, and full-time researchers belonging to every discipline in Oxford. The presence of Indians in Oxford, both in numerical strength and qualitative work, is significant.
There are a few thousand Oxford graduates in India, who belong to every walk of life.
It is well known that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and even the former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, were products of Oxford. The admission records at Oxford speak about other prominent personalities like Amitav Ghosh, award winning novelist; Montek Singh Ahluwalia of the Planning Commission, Deepak Nayyar of the Knowledge Commission and even Soha Ali Khan, actress, as prominent alumni of Oxford. The relationship between India and Britain is deeply woven through the Oxford University link.