Campus Monopoly

Kashmir produces around 50 thousand graduates annually but accommodates merely 5000 in all PG courses. Those left out end up spending huge money to seek admission outside the state. Faisal Shabir Bhatreports the dismal state of affairs in educational sector in Kashmir 

Kashmir-UniversityFor 19-year-old Faiq Showkat, who hails from Nowhatta in Srinagar, there is no other option but to prepare for All India Engineering Entrance Examinations (AIEEE) one more time. His first attempt was a failure. Unlike most of his classmates, who have sound financial backing, Faiq cannot move outside the state to pursue engineering in a private college.

In last two and a half decade of conflict in Kashmir, thousands of students moved outside for higher studies. Most of them ended in private colleges and universities after paying huge amount as donations to secure a berth in courses of their choice. Places like Bangalore, Pune, Aligarh, Meerat, Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan emerged as hub of education for these Kashmiris. Some of the fortunate ones explored options in countries like Nepal and Bangladesh, which offer admission in courses like Medicine and Engineering against money.

But for students like Faiq there aren’t many options. Presently only four institutes in Kashmir offer various engineering courses to students. These are the Kashmir University (KU), National Institute of Technology (NIT) Srinagar, Islamic University of Science and Technology (IUST) and the privately run SSM College of Engineering and Technology.

But these institutions collectively accommodate just 5230 students annually—with KU: 4000; NIT: 330; IUST: 360; and SSM: 540.

These institutes fail to accommodate a large number of the students which are left out. Unlike other Indian states there aren’t any private institutes in Kashmir which could offer professional courses to the students.

The Central University of Kashmir (CUK) which was established in 2009 is still in its infancy and offers only a limited number of post graduate courses. It doesn’t offer any engineering course at present. The University presently doesn’t have a permanent campus and operates from rented buildings at Sonwar, Aloochi Bagh and Zainakote.

On the other hand state run KU can accommodate just a few thousand students across all streams in a session. In 2014, 36,500 appeared in entrance for different PG courses, but only 4000 made it to selection list.

Those who fail to crack the entrance are left with no choice but to move outside for even a post graduate degree. Places like Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh have emerged as natural choices for these students to pursue their degrees. These states have hundreds of private colleges and universities which offer a wide range of post graduate and professional courses.

Islamic-UniversityJamiat Ahlihadees, a socio-religious organization in Jammu & Kashmir has planned a 200 crore university in Kashmir to be named Trans World Muslim University. The university is aimed as a multidisciplinary institution to provide quality education and research in the field of medicine, science and technology with emphasis on Islamic principles and theology.

Abdul Lateef Alkindi, General Secretary of the organization, says that being a socio-religious organization it felt the need to contribute to the society and that is where the idea of setting up a university in Kashmir came up.

“The people of valley have suffered too much due to the prolonged conflict and when our young men move outside for studies they are looked with suspicion. That is why we plan to start a university in the valley which would offer world class education to them in their own homeland,’’ says Alkindi.

The University’s main focus will be on introducing job oriented courses which are relevant in the present job market, he adds.

The proposal for the university was cleared by the then J&K chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad in February 2008. Both National Conference and the People’s Democratic Party had supported the bill in the state assembly. The proposal was referred to a select committee headed by legislative council member Davender Singh Rana after state Congress chief Saifudin Soz opposed it in the legislative council in October 2010. The bill has been pending since and has not been tabled in the successive assembly sessions held till date.

Alkandi believes that the establishment of the university has become victim of bad politics prevalent in the state. “One of the senior legislators from the state had opposed the bill citing that the university would become a factory of Taliban,’’ he remarks.

Prof SM Afzal Qadri, Ex Dean Faculty of Law, University of Kashmir believes that the establishment of private universities is an urgent need in Kashmir. “Every year Kashmir University receives above 30,000 applications against an intake capacity of 3500-4000 for various courses and as a result majority of the students have to go outside the state to pursue their higher education,” says Qadri.

According to him, it is a great irony that when private universities are being encouraged by Ministry of Human Resource Development and University Grants Commission (UGC) all over India, the same is not happening in Kashmir. “There is an urgent need to involve public-private-participation in education sector in the state to bridge the demand and supply gap,” feels Qadri.

People who argue against the establishment of private universities in Kashmir serve the interests of the privately run educational institutes outside the state, feels Qadri. “These institutions can boost the state economy as well,” say Qadri.

Some people from private sector who wanted to establish colleges and universities in Kashmir, he says, were discouraged by the state bureaucracy and thus they had to shelve their plans.

He opines that in addition to the limited number of universities in Kashmir, the choice of career is also limited. The state universities offer a limited number of courses to the students in Kashmir. The recently established Central University offers a repetition of courses available at Kashmir University like Law, Political Science, and English. There is no concept of new and emerging fields like Nanotechnology, Environmental Engineering, Biotechnology, etc.

Prof Jalees Ahmad Tareen, a noted academician, believes that higher education does not seem to be a priority for the state government. Tareen has been an ex vice-chancellor KU and is presently serving as the vice-chancellor of BS Abdur Rahman University in Chennai. He says that the government should liberalize education and allow the establishment of private universities in the state.

“There is not a single commission for higher education in J&K,” he says. “The state should have formed a commission on the pattern of Kerala which formed a commission for higher education reforms.”

GN Var, who heads the Coaching Centers Association, says that more than 5000 students from Kashmir move out of the state for pursuing their undergraduate, postgraduate and Phd Degrees. He attributes the outward movement of students to the dearth of universities in the state.

“Unlike in other north Indian states, J&K is the only place without a single private university,” he says. “What prevents the state government for not allowing private universities to be established in the state.’’

He argues that only the elite class in Kashmir manages to send their children to good educational institutes outside the state.  The rest, he says, stay here or manage to get admissions from ‘third class universities’ in India with poor infrastructure and sometimes not even proper recognition from the government.

According to him Rs 1200 crore Prime Minister Special Scholarship Scheme (PMSSS) launched for the students of Jammu & Kashmir after the 2010 unrest has been cleverly designed to benefit the outside educational institutes and not the state. “They gave scholarship to students but assured that not even a single penny comes to Kashmir,” he says. “If the state colleges are allowed to take these students, just imagine how much up-gradation we will witness in the higher education sector.”

Var is also doubtful about the quality of education the students receive at these colleges under the PMSSS scheme. He says that some of these colleges function from two room houses while some are no more than cowsheds.

Till major investment is not done in the educations sector by private players’ and supportive government policies are not formulated to back these investments, students will continue to suffer silently outside Kashmir.

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