By Rouf Dar and Harun Lone
Recently a handful of students, pursuing research in the University of Kashmir took out a march within the campus. The agitating students held placards and shouted a few slogans which perhaps didn’t reach the Vice Chancellor. Onlookers saw and ignored. The students were protesting the recent promulgation by university authorities for an incremental increase in the fees paid by the students. According to the new regulation, Ph.D scholars will be required to submit an amount of Rs 25000 towards the university treasury instead of the existing Rs 11000. That is more than 100 percent increase! Similarly, the fee for PG students to be deposited at the time of admission is raised from Rs 3000 to Rs 6000. Again a 100 percent increase.
Also, we heard of the beginning of supplementary shifts for many of the departments in the university. Newspapers reported the news and various opinions were published regarding the proposed additional classes. The university will double the intake of students starting this year which shall, in the words of Dean Academics, stop brain drain in the valley. All the supplementary seats will be self-financed and help the university raise funds for developing necessary infrastructure for the additional student batches. Professors will be recruited on contractual terms to share the workload for this extra crop of students.
The two above mentioned promulgations appear separate on the surface bu are actually interconnected. If we rewind our memory, we hear the Vice Chancellor speak of how the university faces shortage of funds. Thus, the underlying assumption is this: the university lacks requisite funds to run its daily affairs. Where does the current fund allocation and money raised from various sources go? The question needs serious attention and answers.
Transport classification in the university is a good example to understand the expenditure pattern. It has for long been a major part of the culture in the university to move in cars even within the campus. The number of vehicles and petrol consumption per day must be such a drain out for the university funds rarely noticed. Most of the employees are allotted official cars even when the statutes entitle only a few for official transport facilities. Officially those few are only three: the VC, the Controller Examinations and the Registrar. But the perturbing situation is that the luxury car of Chief Proctor is used less by him and more by his security guards. On top of this the honorable Vice Chancellor will soon be seen moving around in a Toyota Fortuner, a luxury SUV that costs Rs 30 lakhs. Others have vehicles of lesser comfort, read Safaris and Boleros. How much spending on transport is too much!
Now, in order to match income with its expenditure, the administration has decided to raise the fees of all students presently studying in the university. Not only this, the gains from self-financed seats will help the cause too. The hypocrisy is quite evident here. In the name of avoiding the “brain drain”, the university will squeeze more and more money from financially sound candidates. The payment mode of this supplementary shift will benefit only those who are able to pay hefty sums to study in a below-par university. If the motive is stopping brain drain, the selection should have been purely merit-based like the procedure in place for primary student batches.
The existing structure of studies in place in the university is not the one to boast of. With only limited teaching faculty, the university just manages to ensure semesters pass off with ease and without much strain. The laziness embedded in the work culture is transparently evident. Students appear for semester exams in one year. The results come in next year. Non-teaching employees play candy crush games on smartphones while students are queued outside waiting in hope of seeing their problems solved. And the worthy teachers check examination papers while travelling in trains.
That many earnest students of the valley opt for universities outside the state and also outside India is an undeniable fact. This speaks volumes about the state of education in the premier learning institute of Kashmir. The university inspires absolutely no room for free and critical thinking. We are still required to dish out ready-made answers for petty percentages. The brains are drained of thought process in our university. Anyone who dares to think differently is the odd one out. The teaching faculty is well qualified but fails to inculcate a culture of knowledge production among the students. In such an environment, who would like to believe that merely doubling the intake will stop the so-called brain drain?
In addition to the meagre infrastructure, transportation around the campus, to and fro, is not so great and does not last beyond daytime. In such conditions, calling for a second shift makes no sense at all albeit for the fund raising prowess of the university high command. Students shelving out the money will ensure the university has enough reserves to host selfie-capturing dignitaries in conferences and serve them delicious Wazwaan, all a certain grandure. After all we see no seminars or conferences or discussions on a daily basis where students get to involve in brainstorming sessions, discuss ideas, innovate or create different modes of thinking, put their reason to use and solve issues of significance.
Our students are unable to assume leadership, propose out-of-the-box solutions to intractable conflicts, stand up to the level of students from other universities (international is a bit of an outlandish expectation). The blame has to be shared by the faulty administration which has reduced the institution to just more than a bureaucratic structure where power anomalies dominate the daily discourse. Beyond beautifying the lawns of university campus, we should care about building an academic culture which actually makes the identity of a university.
Let education be the primary preoccupation of our university. Let us appreciate any good move that helps us develop as rational humans. For that, critiquing moves such as the proposed sharp fee hike and supplementary shifts is something the university should encourage and invite.
Harun Lone and Rouf Dar are students of Political Science at the University of Kashmir.