Transformation of the College of Engineering

Survey School, which started with just eight students, became College of Engineering, Guindy

Survey School, which started with just eight students, became College of Engineering, Guindy

In 1794, the famous École Polytechnique was founded in Paris during the French Revolution. In the same year, about 8,000 kilometers away, the first technical school outside Europe was born in Madras (Chennai).

The institution, founded as the Survey School in Fort St. George by Michael Topping with just eight students hand-picked from the orphan asylum operating in the coastal town, has today grown into the prestigious College of Engineering, Guindy (CEG), a constituent campus of Anna University.

As its original name suggested, the school was established to meet the shortage of people to assist in the surveys conducted by the East India Company. “I have been very much delayed for lack of suitable draftsmen to make copies of my latest surveys and plans of the Kistna (the Krishna river),” said Topping, the astronomer and surveyor who set up the Madras observatory two years earlier, in his letter to Sir Charles Oakley, President and Governor of the Council of Fort St. George.

Madras rediscovered‘, written by S. Muthiah, remembers how many of the people trained by the school went on to play important roles in the Great Trigonometric Inquiry started by William Lambton in Madras.

With the exception of the nine years from 1810 to 1819 when it remained non-functional due to lack of funding, the institution grew from a school of investigation to a college in the 19th century and moved to several locations before relocating in 1920 in its current home, the iconic red and white building with Indo-Saracenic architecture. With several notable alumni in different fields and the countless engineers it has provided to government sectors, the CEG has contributed immensely to society and transformed the lives of its graduates.

RT Chari, managing director of the TAG Group of Companies, who left the college in 1961, said he owed everything he had achieved in his life to the institution. Recalling his humble upbringing and schooling in the Tamil language, he said it was the college ecosystem and training that changed his personality.

Eighty-four-year-old TR Jagadeesan, an alumnus who also served as principal and principal of the college, said a key milestone in the college’s journey was the transformation into Anna Unitary University in 1978 with three other colleges – Madras Institute of Technology, Alagappa College of Technology and School of Architecture and Planning – are part of it.

Mr. Jagadeesan recalled the healthy competition that existed at that time between the CEG and that across the road — IIT Madras, formed in 1959, which received significant funding.

“We didn’t want to compete in the same areas. We identified where they were lacking and started departments and laboratories in those areas. This is how the remote sensing laboratory and the water resources center were created, for example,” he said.

The college, during his tenure as principal, implemented systematic quality improvement measures, focusing on addressing challenges faced by students from rural areas and disadvantaged backgrounds.

Some scholars, including Mr. Jagadeesan, however, argue that it is the transformation of the institute into a university, especially as an affiliated university, that has prevented the CEG from reaching greater heights in recent years.

He said stalwarts like VC Kulandaiswamy and Mr Anandakrishnan had resisted the idea of ​​making Anna University an affiliated university when they were vice-chancellors. In 2001, it became an affiliated university by uniting all engineering colleges in Tamil Nadu under its responsibility. Since then, the university reverted to unitary status once in 2010 and became an affiliated university again a few years later by successive DMK and AIADMK governments.

V. Jayabalan, former controller of examinations of the university, points out that since the CEG is the main seat of the university, the majority of the time has been devoted to the management of the affiliated colleges which number a few hundred and have opened the lead to irregularities. In particular, he recalled the accusations of corruption and other irregularities that have plagued the university since the second half of the 2000s. He said that the university must become a unitary university to help it pursue academic excellence. (The former AIADMK government had, in a reversal of policy, enacted legislation in September 2020 to bifurcate the university and perhaps the DMK regime could convert the institution into a unitary university.)

Mr Chari, who funded an auditorium on campus with his brother, also an alumnus of the college, said the alumni network should be better leveraged as other institutions like IIT Madras are doing. “Like me, there are many who have achieved what they have achieved in life through CEG. They can do more for college,” he said.

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