ASSAM: From selling home-grown vegetables in village markets so he could fund his studies to founding as many as eight institutions, the life of education entrepreneur Mahbubul Hoque, who is fondly known as Northeast’s Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, has come a full circle.
With his unwearying efforts, Hoque, in nearly two decades, has gifted his state Assam and Meghalaya several educational institutes such as University of Science and Technology, Meghalaya (USTM), carving a niche for itself by offering courses hitherto little known to the region.
Born in 1973 in the remote and nondescript Barcharra village in Patharkandi area of Assam’s Karimganj district, Hoque grew up facing personal tragedies, one after another, early in his life but he remained undeterred.
Hoque lost his father Ibrahim Ali, who was a panchayat secretary, when he was in Class VII. And he was preparing for the Class XII board examinations, his mother, Khairun Nessa, passed away. "We were eight brothers. Our father struggled a lot to provide us education. As a school student, I sold home-grown vegetables in local markets. I also taught schoolchildren for my education expenses," Hoque recalls.
When Hoque entered the Aligarh Muslim University as an undergraduate student in 1993, after securing a distinction in the Class XII exam, he was just 20 but already a Sir Syed Ahmed Khan was growing up in him.
He had read about the vision, sacrifice and works of visionary Sir Syed. During the next seven years at the AMU, he would often visit his mazaar and sit there for hours enlightening himself with the vision of the founder of the university.
In 2000, when the Karimganj resident was leaving the AMU with first-class B.Sc (Hons) and MCA degrees, high-paid lucrative job offers from multinational companies were waiting for him, but he turned them down. He wanted to serve his people. "Courses in computer science were high in demand then. So, I thought I must go back to my state and do something there," Hoque says.
He approached some people in Guwahati for financial support for a start-up but none believed trusted him. He then started assembling computers and sold around 100 of them. With that money, that Hoque set up a five-computer lab in the city.
"I had only Rs 85 when I started the lab in 2001. In due course, I visited Manipal University. Those days, the affiliation fee for a Manipal study centre was Rs 2 lakh. I didn’t have so much money. So, I paid it in instalments of Rs 25,000 after borrowing money from a friend and started the centre," Hoque reminisces.
In the first batch, Hoque had only 28 students at the centre. But the numbers kept growing each year. By 2006, the centre had as many as 3,500 students. Over the years, the number of staff also increased. Hoque said that was the turning point.
"I came up with a trust called the Education Research Development Foundation. Some of the trustees are still there. Soon, I started the Regional College of Higher Education (now Regional Institute of Science and Technology or RIST), affiliated to the North East Hill University in Meghalaya. It was the state’s first engineering college. Then, I kept setting up one institute after another in Assam and Meghalaya," Hoque adds.
He says that the Meghalaya government supported him in establishing the RIST. Hoque says then Meghalaya governor RS Mooshahary who had suggested him to set up the USTM — by far his most successful venture.
At the USTM, there are 22 departments and more than 60 courses — mostly related to information technology. It has all the basic science programmes from undergraduate to postgraduate levels. "There are over 700 students at the USTM studying for free. Similarly, over 15 per cent of the students in my schools are being provided with free education. It is my duty and social responsibility to provide poor but meticulous students free education," Hoque says.
Srijana Jaishi, a student of the USTM and a resident of Mizoram, says: "Besides education, we saw Hoque sir’s involvement in social work during the COVID-19 pandemic. He is someone we all look up to."
Dr Mukulesh Barua, director of Assam Institute of Management, says: "I have seen him (Hoque) from the beginning. He has got a single-minded focus to provide a platform of education and contribute to society."