Alexander Duff was a young missionary inspired by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, who came to Kolkata (the then Imperial capital) to set up an English-medium institution. Apart from Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Duff was also helped by Lord William Bentink, the Governor-General of India. Roy helped Duff by organizing the venue for the college and bringing in the first batch of five students. Roy also went ahead to pacify the parents and guardians of the students that them reading the King James Bible was not an attempt to convert them to Christianity. Duff was unlike other missionaries and wanted to introduce his students to the best of European religion, science and literature. He was also very selective in hiring teachers for his new institute and made sure he had the right amalgamation of European and Indian teachers who would do justice to both Christian and secular understanding. Duff wanted his teachers to encourage in their students a questioning attitude and rational thinking. The Scottish Church College was one of the oldest colleges for liberal arts and sciences in India.
With the right vision, Duff established a strong education system in Bengal which succeeded in spreading progressive values across the state. Though Duff wanted to spread English education as far as he could, he realized that it would not be possible until the students mastered their vernacular language first, due to which a lot of emphasis was placed on learning the Bengali language. The Scottish Church College was also one of the earliest institutes to promote women’s education and was co-ed from the beginning. When Duff introduced political economy as a subject in the curricula, he faced his church’s criticism.
Till today, the Scottish Church College remains one of the most popular institutes for higher education in Kolkata and has famous alumni, such as Swami Vivekanand, Subhash Chandra Bose, Gopinath Bordoloi, Derek O’Brien, Mithun Chakraborty and Nirad C. Chaudhuri among others.