A Danish university in India? Yes, and not only that. Founded in 1818 by British missionaries from the Baptist church, Serampore College is one of Asia’s very first institutions of modern higher education. In 1827, the university was granted the authority to confer academic degrees by the Danish King Frederik VI. Serampore College became the third Danish university and was given the same rights as the universities in Copenhagen and Kiel, which was part of Denmark at the time. The missionaries came to Serampore because the British colonial rule in India prohibited all missionary activities within their territories. The British were afraid that missionary work would cause public unrest among the Indians and jeopardize their trade in valuable Indian goods.
From Mission to Science
In 1799, Ole Bie, who was the Danish head of Serampore, gave the British Baptists permission to live in Serampore. The aim of the missionaries was not only to convert the Indians to Christianity, they also wished to introduce education to Indians from all levels of society. The missionaries collaborated with Indian translators, educators and craftsmen. They built schools that were open to both rich and poor, Hindus, Muslims and Christians. They laid out a large botanical garden and founded a printing house where many of the Indian and other Asian languages were printed for the first time. The printing house published everything from the Bible to old Hindu texts, modern Indian literature as well as newspapers in the local languages. Serampore College offered a wide range of courses, including Christian theology, natural sciences, geography and literature.
A Modern University with a Long History
The botanical garden no longer exists but Serampore College still has more than 3000 students studying all kinds of different courses. Serampore College is a modern Indian centre of education in Christian theology. Approximately 300 theology students from all over India live at the college during their entire education. The old main building and other historical buildings are still here. There is also a small museum. Students use the area for sports, relaxation, concerts and parties. Locals who do not attend the university come here to enjoy walks between the tall trees while children play football on the lawn overlooking the river. Serampore College is very conscious of its history and still refers to the authority to confer academic degrees granted by King Frederik VI.