The history of the Patna University is in a sense the history of modern Bihar. In 1917 half the population of Bihar belonging to the fair sex was deprived of the advantage of higher education. There was not a single girl student in any of the colleges of Bihar, not to speak of any separate institution of higher education for women in the state. The hold of conservatism was so strong on the young men that boarders could not be found to reside in the college hostel constructed by the Government in the last quarter of the 19th century. The few young men who came forward to accept the benefit of western education in the Patna College apprehended that they would lose their caste if they resided in the hostel along with other communities. The eminent historian, Jadunath Sarkar, said in his presidential address at the Biharee Students’ Conference held at Darbhanga in 1916, “Bihar has been fifty years behind the other Provinces in taking to English education and must make more strenuous exertion than others to come to the front line and take her legitimate place in the march of national progress”.
Just one hundred years ago, i.e. in 1867, the number of students studying in the Patna College which was the premier and pioneer institution of higher education in the State was so low that there were only seventeen students in the First Year, sixteen in the Second, six in the Third and four in the Fourth Year Class. In March 1875, the number of students in the College rose to ninety seven indeed, but there were only forty Biharees amongst them, others belonging to communities from other Provinces. It must be said, however, to the credit of the handful of teachers who were then in charge of imparting higher education to students in the Patna College that they discharged their duties in a highly satisfactory way. Some of the students fared remarkably well at the B.A. examination of the Calcutta University in 1868; for example, Kailash Chandra Banerjee stood sixth and Shiva Chandra Banerjee thirteenth at the B.A. examination. In 1879, Digambar Chatterjee stood first at the same examination. Between 1885 and 1891, the number of students securing Honours in different subjects was twenty eight.
If students studying Honours were few, those who proceeded up to the M.A. stage were fewer still. During a comparatively long period of forty years from 1865 to 1903, only thirteen students passed the M.A. examination from the Patna College.
When we consider the number and qualifications of the teaching staff in the Patna College at the turn of the century, we feel surprised not at the paucity of students passing the B.A. Honours or M.A. examinations but at the fact that so many could come out successful with so few teachers in the College. For example, in the years 1899-1900 the staff in the Patna College consisted of seven teachers of whom four only were M.A.s. In 1903, the number of the teaching staff rose to nine. Of these, Principal A. MacDonell taught Philosophy as well as Mathematics. James and Jadunath Sarkar taught both English and History; N. C. Mitra was in charge of Philosophy. D. N. Mullick taught Physical Science (Physics). Harilal Chandra and Narendra Nath Bose used to teach Chemistry and Mathematics. Besides these, there were a Pandit and a Moulavi for teaching Sanskrit and Persian respectively. There was a Law Department attached to the Patna College but a single teacher used to impart instructions in all the diverse branches of Law.
The Library and Laboratory facilities were utterly inadequate before the starting of the Patna University. The Calcutta University Committee appointed by the Senate to inspect the College in the first decade of the 20th century found that the Patna College Library contained only 5125 volumes of books and the annual grant for the purchase of books was only Rs. 300/-. Higher education could hardly make any advance in the State in such circumstances.
The number of students in Bihar and Orissa who received degrees in Arts and Science in 1911-12 was only eighty nine. There was no provision for post-graduate teaching in any subject excepting History in that year. Off all the colleges in the Province, the Patna College (founded in 1863) alone had the privilege of teaching up to the Honours standard in Physics and Chemistry and also in usual Arts subjects. The Bihar National College (a school converted into a college in 1889) was affiliated up to the B.A. Pass standard in 1892 in general Arts subjects and up to the I.Sc. standard in Physics and Chemistry. The Greer Bhumihar Brahmin College at Muzaffarpur, (affiliated to the Calcutta University as a second grade College in 1899), the Tej Narayan Jubilee College at Bhagalpur (established in 1887) and the St. Columba’s College at Hazaribagh were the only other first grade colleges in Bihar. The Diamond Jubilee College at Monghyr (opened in 1898 to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee of the Queen Victoria) was affiliated up to the I.A. standard only and had very few students. The idea of a Bihar School of Engineering originated with a fund raised by Bihar to commemorate the visit of the Prince of Wales to Patna in 1876; it was formally opened in 1896.
Some effective steps were taken to make greater provision for imparting higher education to the people of Bihar, when Bihar and Orissa became a separate province. In 1912, the cadre of the Indian Educational Service included thirteen officers, namely, two Principals of Government Arts Colleges; four Professors in Government Arts Colleges; one Headmaster of a Government High School; four Inspectors of Schools; one Inspectress of Schools and one Lady Principal of the Training College for Women. In 1917, the cadre was exactly doubled. The cadre of the Provincial Educational Service on the 1st of April 1912, had thirty-three members while on 31st March 1917, it rose to fifty eight.
The quinquennial Report on the progress of Education (1912-1917) reveals that a few bureaucrats conceived the idea of locating a University in the newly created province in a secluded area of Chhota-Nagpur which was then undeveloped. They advanced the reason that such a place would be healthier than Patna. Presumably what lurked in their mind was the idea that the Chhota-Nagpur site would be safer from political agitation. But ultimately, good sense prevailed and Patna was selected as the Headquarters of the proposed University.