Lost Opportunities

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With instability and turmoil frequenting Kashmir, more than 200 thousand students at the college and university level are facing a crippling crisis as their degrees get delayed inordinately. The new norm of the Universities in Kashmir offering graduation in four years and managing masters in more than three years is deducting one to two years of precious economic life from Kashmir’s new generation in the most vibrant phase of their life, reports Aaqib Hyder

Students protests against delay of examination in March 2018. KL Image by Bilal Bahadur

Students protests against delay of examination in March 2018. KL Image by Bilal Bahadur

When childhood friends, Waris Samad and Murtaza Hussain, passed their twelfth class examinations in 2016, they planned to go outside the state for graduation together. Hailing from Bemina area of Srinagar, they were both fed up with the inordinate delays that the University of Kashmir would normally resort to in offering graduation degrees. After a lot of convincing, Waris managed to persuade his parents but Murtaza’s family was reluctant in permitting their son to move out of Kashmir. Resultantly, Waris went to a College in Bangalore and opted for media studies and Murtaza got his admission in a local college and started studying humanities.

In the very first year of his graduation, Murtaza faced several months of curfew and turmoil in the wake of Burhan Wani’s killing, hurdling effective and smooth college working. Subsequently, it resulted in a delay in semester examinations, and ultimately leading to the extension of the whole course. Surprisingly, in late 2018 when he was still in his second year of graduation, Waris informed him about the completion of his degree.

“I was absolutely shocked,” Murtaza said. “To be honest, I felt embarrassed to tell him that I am not even halfway done with my graduation.”

Waris completed his graduation in 2018 and is now in the second year of his masters in the Mass Communication department at the Jamia Milia Islamia, Delhi. By the end of summer next year, he will have two degrees in hand and will be looking for a job while as Murtaza will be just hoping to graduate. On top of that, he has to seek admission for Masters Degree in a university which means more two to three years of studying.

The choice of college cost Murtaza a huge price of almost three years. He believes that after either getting hit by the ongoing political instability or any other hurdle, the University of Kashmir always wakes up late to the crises and is very slow to pick up and compensate.

“A three-year degree is now getting completed in more than four years, that too if end semester examinations are conducted on time. It can’t be justified anywhere outside Kashmir,” Murtaza said pensively. “The adage ‘Time is money’ loses its value right at the start here.”

When Kashmir’s Central University (CUK) announced its post-graduation entrance results in June 2019, 21-year-old Toyiba jumped with joy to find her name in the selection list of PG English, acquiring the third rank. A final semester student of English (Honours) at Women’s College, MA Road Srinagar, Toyiba had her entire career plan charted out in her mind when she sat in the entrance in May. Her graduation course which was supposed to complete in early 2019 had already missed many deadlines but she thought it will be over before the PG admissions would even start. Soon, she realized she was wrong.

The counselling sessions started one month after the entrance results were announced but there was still no sight of even a date sheet for semester examinations in colleges. She was refused an admission during counselling because her graduation was far from being complete. She got to know that her eleven classmates have also qualified the CUK entrance and are facing the same issue. After August 5,  everything was in a lockdown for more than three months including universities and colleges. As a semblance of normality started showing on the streets, the students approached the concerned authorities asking them to conduct their exams as soon as possible to minimize the loss. The authorities gave them a new deadline.

A student holding placard during a protest in Srinagar on March 2018. KL Image by Bilal Bahadur

A student holding placard during a protest in Srinagar on March 2018. KL Image by Bilal Bahadur

“We were told that our last two semester exams will be held jointly in November but that never happened,” Toyiba said. “I can’t even express how helpless we feel. Seven months after we qualified PG entrance, we are at the same place in graduation where at the time of applying for the PG course.”

Toyiba along with the rest of eleven students contacted KU officials several times informing them about their issue but didn’t get any promising response, so far. The authorities at CUK, quite justifiably, turned them away citing official protocol. They categorically refused to allow admission of students who have their two semesters pending in graduation.

“They could only offer us their sympathy every time we approached them,” Toyiba said. “They said nobody is sure when our exams will be held, how our final result would turn out and they can’t violate the official procedure.”

Surprisingly, the Central University of Kashmir (CUK) waived off its official admission criteria for PG English course and advertised for new admissions to fill up the vacant positions. Only those students with good grades in English literature in graduation were eligible for the course before but now students from any stream with good grades in General English can apply.

After about six months of delay, 37 students were admitted in the PG course in total with batch capacity of 44. It officially nullified the admission of 12 graduation students who had qualified for the course but couldn’t join because their graduation wasn’t complete.

“CUK had to fill up the batch one day or other and we can’t blame them at all. They wouldn’t want to delay their degrees just because Kashmir University is running late in graduate courses. We  are on the losing side in every situation,” one of the 12 students said.

Ironically, they have to qualify the entrance exam once again that they already cracked with good points. Had the graduation degree completed on time, they would have been in second semester of their masters, already. “It is a tragedy that despite being the third topper, I couldn’t join my PG course. Now if we manage to qualify the entrance again next year, we would still lose a year in between. How can one get that much unlucky!” Toyiba regretted.

Things are messed up in the same way for Fayiza, an honours student in economics currently in her last semester of graduation. She qualified the PG entrance of Jamia Milia Islamia, Delhi which was held in the first week of July. Fayiza was selected for the masters’ course in Psychology and was supposed to join classes in August.

Students sitting in a lawn outside Humanities block of Kashmir University.

Unfortunately, her admission was nullified because her graduation was incomplete and there was no possibility that it could be completed in immediate future. With examination of last two semesters yet to take place, she fears the same situation might arise next year too. Despite encountering bad luck this year, she is keeping her fingers crossed for the next year entrance examination and hopes her graduation would be completed by then.

“We have lost complete faith in the education system here,” Fayiza said. “Anything can happen tomorrow and our degree could get extended to one more year and we would be able to do nothing about it.”

She believes that this is just the tip of an iceberg. Hundreds of students like her are missing great opportunities because of the ill-functioning education system and mal-administration of the academic space in Kashmir. Her few classmates qualified entrances in reputed institutions like Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) but couldn’t join. “Good opportunities don’t come along every now and then but we are helpless,” she regretted.

The students were promised that the examination of fifth and sixth semester will be conducted jointly in November but that didn’t happen either. Recently, the date sheet for their fifth semester examination was announced and the examinations were scheduled to start from December 18 and conclude on January 11, 2020. With sixth semester exam dates yet to be announced, students are concerned that the course could get stretched to 2020 summer which might cost them another year.

It is quite universal that students cringe at the mention of examinations but the case is completely opposite here. “We have literally begged the authorities several times to take our exams but to no avail. We don’t want to lose more precious time,” Fayiza said.

College students believe that the semester system has added to the mess and made the course more time consuming. A semester which was supposed to be completed in six months gets dragged for more than a year. Some of the students argue that any untoward incident throws everything out of gear for months in Kashmir but Kashmir University administration is neither able to hold examinations in time nor compensate the students for their loss.

“Last time we wrote our semester examination was in December, 2018. After a whole year, we are still in our graduation with two pending semesters,” Haris Sidiq, a sixth semester graduation student said. “At times, I regret opting graduation course here in the first place. It is the biggest mistake I have committed in my life so far.”

Students in Kashmir getting into the college systems enter clean-shaven and move out with their degrees with greying beards. Normally, graduation takes three years for six semesters in the colleges. “I entered the college in 2015 and was supposed to graduate in late 2017,” journalist Aakash Hasan said. “I completed my degree in 2018.”

Hasan said when he is analysing his last four years; he is astonished to understand that there was only four months of classwork in almost four years. “It was 2014 flood first and then turmoil of 2016 came,” Hasan said. “As we resumed classes, there was student agitation. We wrote examinations for two semesters in one go and for at least one of them, we had barely covered half of the syllabus.”

Tahir had joined the University of Kashmir after completing his graduation in four years. He got his masters in another four years in 2019. “There are students who completed their graduation in five years,” Tahir said.

The trend is across the board. For BSc in nursing, the AMT School that the GMC runs through the University of Kashmir, the students who had entered the premises in 2014 should have moved out with their degrees in 2018. Unlike other academic spaces, the SMHS hospital, being a teaching hospital, is not impacted by the turmoil. But the 2014 batch, is awaiting their four annual examinations.

The University of Kashmir is yet to hold the first-semester examination for the master’s students who entered the Naseem Bagh campus in 2018. Ideally, they should have written two examinations, so far.

This crisis is eating up the vitals of a huge population of the students. Many believe the semester system at graduation level as the main reason of the mess, which was started in 2015 and later changed to Choice Based Credit System (CBCS) in 2016.

Farooq Ahmad, Controller Examinations of the University of Kashmir said the first-semester examination is underway and 74000 students are appearing. For the fifth-semester examination starting this week, he said, there are 30000 students to be examined.

He further informed that the delay in degrees was mainly because the examinations were not conducted on time due to turmoil in the valley in 2016, then students unrest and now after the recent 2019 lockdown.

Allama Iqbal Library, Kashmir University (KL Image: Bilal Bahadur)

He added that in year-wise system, there would only be one exam a year which had a provision to be compensated.

Given the inordinate delay, some of the students who get enrolled for graduation either migrate to outside colleges, simply drop out for reasons of affordability or join the Open University system. This is the main reason why the students in the first semester are huge in number and their numbers fall in the subsequent semesters.

“We have 179000 students enrolled in our colleges across Jammu and Kashmir,” Talat Parvez, Secretary High Education said. “In Kashmir alone, there are around 120000 of them.” By an average, he said, around 45000 students complete their graduation, every year.

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