New Colleges for Votes?

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For a few years the state government has been on degree college opening spree in rural areas. But most of the newly established colleges have dismal infrastructure, extremely inadequate teaching staff and offer ill though of course streams. Is the ruling establishment playing vote bank politics in the name of revolutionizing higher education? Hussain Danish delves deep into the deceptive phenomenon.

IN LESS than a decade, the number of degree colleges in Jammu and Kashmir has more than doubled from 33 in 2003 to 72 in 2011.  An assessment of how the recently established colleges function reveals a more numerical than qualitative expansion of infrastructure for higher education in the state. The newly set up colleges are struggling to function properly while the old oneshave settled at mediocre standards.

Most of the colleges are running withonly half the required staff. The deficit has temporarily been fulfilled by appointing postgraduates on one-year contractsterms atRs 8000 per month or Rs 12000 per month for candidates who have qualified 1NET/SET or completed MPhil or PhD.

The Government Women’s College,M A Road is an example.Established in 1950,the college has 50 permanent and 50 contractual lecturers. Government Women’s College Baramulla, set up in 1986, has 17 permanent and 33 contractual lecturers.The Government Degree College (boys),Baramulla, set up in 1963, has 26 permanent and 51 contractual lecturers and the Degree College Kupwara, established in 1988, has only seven permanent and 29 contractual lecturers. The trend says it all.

The ongoing strike of contractual lecturers has exposed the issues involved in staffing the colleges. With 450 contractual lecturers on indefinite strike for almost a month now, education in colleges has come to a grinding halt. More than 1, 60, 000 classes have been missed due to the seemingly unending stalemate with the government.

Most colleges across Kashmir present a deserted look these days.Students prefer to stay home instead of attending colleges for merely a class or two in a day in absence of the contractual teachers.

“For the entire month, I have been staying home because going to the college is no fun. We have five classes a day of which four are taught by contractual faculty and one by a permanent assistant professor. I do not think it is wise to go to the college for one class,” says Shabnam, a student of B A second year in Women’s College M A Road, Srinagar.

The college ranked at the top by NAAC, is one of the most reputed in the entire Kashmir region. Situated in the heart of Srinagar, it has more than 2500 girls on rolls and offers more courses than any other college in the valley.

Instead of coming up with a plan to fulfill teaching staff requirements of the colleges, the government has slashed the number of contractual lecturers by 1100 this year. Each lecturer, permanent or contractual, is supposed to take six classes a day, affecting the quality of education badly by overburdening the existing teaching staff.

Senior professors believe that the schedule is impossible to follow for anyone at the college level.

“Every class we teach needs a prior preparation by the lecturer. If we undertake six classes a day where is the time for us to prepare a lecture,” asks Ali Mohammed, a senior professor in one of the oldest colleges in central Kashmir.“It is impossible to go on teaching hour after hour without a break. The government must devise a schedule that makes sense.”

The government has apparently taken the step because it is not in a position to afford the hefty annual salary bill of the colleges.

“In a high profile meeting of the concerned minister with officials and college principals held late last year the proposal was put forth that the contractual lecturers shall be appointed keeping in view the annual budget,” an official revealed.“The proposal was opposed tooth and nail on technical grounds by all principals. But the government went ahead with it.”

The move has forced contractual lecturers to come on the roads.

Revocation of the schedule figures is among the demands of the striking contractual lecturers, besides monthly wages – equivalent to the basic pay of the post they are holding – and a plan for their regularization.

Ironically, an estimated five per cent of the appointed contractual lecturers are eligible with NET, SET or Ph. D for appointment against the available vacancies. But the government is sticking to its policy of contract appointments even as the eligible lot is fast approaching the prescribed age bar for government employment.

Space limitations
The state at present has 72 colleges out of which only 44 have their own buildings. Twenty sevenare functioning from borrowed accommodations and two in hired buildings. The space in most colleges is insufficient to runall the courses they offer.

The Government Degree College (boys) Baramulla offers 32 courses with nearly 2800 students on its rolls, but the college has only 18 classrooms available. The scarcity of space is forcing the college to extend classes till 4:20 PM, two hours beyond the schedule. Besides, many classes are conducted in the auditorium, conference room and laboratories of the college.

Similarly, the grant-in-aid Islamia College of Science and Commerce at Hawal, Srinagar did not have a hostel till recently.  Until 2003, the college was catering to students from the entire Ganderbal district.

Step into another grant-in-aid college, Gandhi College and you will find government’s tall claims about education being a priority come crashing down. With dilapidated buildings, filthy lawns and limited space, the college looks no better than a government primary school in a remote rural area.

Kupwara Degree Collegeis another example where the student population far exceeds what the available space can handle.

In the Women’s College, M A Road, the old fashioned building housing the IGNOU department does not have spacious class rooms, yet many classes of the arts department are conducted here.

“The class cannot easily accommodate chairs for all the students. Many students take lectures while standing,” said a visitor to the college.
The senior faculty in the colleges saythe student rush has increased tenfold in the past decade while the infrastructure of the college has remained the same.

“The buildings, libraries and laboratories have remained unchanged because no attention was paid to their development over the years. Consequently, our educational standard is where it stood a decade ago,” says a senior professor of Amar Singh College in Srinagar.

The lack of space has made the University Grants Commission (UGC) norms impossible to adhere to. Against 80 students permissible in each classroom, the number exceeds 150 in most colleges in Kashmir.

A contractual lecturer teaching English in one of the North Kashmir colleges says she has to accommodate 240 students in one class.
“It is like hell,” she says, pleading anonymity. “There can be no more formidableplace for me than my class room. Every time I go in there, I wish to run out.”

Standard of education
The Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah, is often heard stressing on the youth to opt for technical or professional education. But the state of such institutions poses serious question the CM may have no answers to.

Official data shows only 16 colleges are offering job-oriented courses, nine offer BCA,five BBA, and two BIT. In a region where two universities offer post graduate courses in mass communication, Kashmir has only two colleges offering Mass communication and Multimedia production/video production course at the graduate level.

Some of the traditional courses are unique to some colleges. Like Islamia College of Science and Commerce and Women’s College,Nawakadal are the only colleges offering bachelors degree in commerce.

Rest of the colleges including almost all newly established ones, are not even in a position to offer degrees in science subjects.

Yet the infrastructure available in these colleges is challenging the government’s sincerity. The mass communication department was started in women’s college MA Road last year. The practical course, however, has been reduced to theory classes in absence of proper classrooms, much needed studio and other equipment.

“Last year we had photography as one of the papers, but for the entire year we had to be content with theory classes. We never got to lay our hands at the equipments,” says Maimuna, a second year student.She says many students were thinking of migrating to Degree College Baramulla, the only other college offering the course.In two years the department has only afforded an SLR still camera and a high definition video camera, which, the sources say, was actually purchased for UGC’s EDUSAT project.

“The college is openly saying that it has no money to develop the infrastructure,” sources said.

Newly established colleges worse
The PDP-led coalition government established 21 new colleges between 2003 and 2007 in far off areas, followed by 18 more established after 2007 by the current NC-led coalition.  

Most of these colleges are desperately seeking proper infrastructure. Under the nose of the seat of government, the Civil Secretariat in Srinagar, the Government Degree College for Women has been running in a hall of Amar Singh college library, divided into rooms bya set of cupboards. Established in 2008, the college has 500 students on the rolls.Like a primary school, the students have to take turns for attending their classes.

The Women’s College Pulwama in South Kashmir was established in 2008, but three years on it is still running in four rooms of the local higher secondary school building. It has 400 students. It has no library andnearly 1100 students of the higher secondary school share the playground.

Degree College Sumbal in Bandiporadistrict was established in 2005, but it is still running in a higher secondary school building with just one permanent faculty member,the Principal.All other teachers work on contract basis.

Similarly, the Degree College Budgam in central Kashmir, established in 2005, has a single building with only a few rooms operational.

The building of the 2005 established Degree College in Uri in North Kashmir is still under construction while the college is running in makeshift huts.
The Tangdhar College in North Kashmir runs in a community hall, constructed for the 2005 earthquake victims. The college has 100 students, no reading room, library or a playground.

The Uttersoo College in Anantnag South Kashmir with around 450 students runs in the local higher secondary school.
The Kokernag College in Anantnag South Kashmir is running in five rooms of a higher secondary school. It has 560 students without a library, reading room or playground.

With 200 students, the degree college Gurez in north Kashmir is running in four rooms of a higher secondary school. In extreme lowtemperatures of Gurez, many classes are conducted in three fabricated huts. It too has no reading room or library.

The College in Killam in Kulgam is located at a place where there is no telephone connection, post office or bank in the vicinity.With 141 students it is functioning in a middle school and three pre-fabricated huts.

In Nowshera,Rajouri the college is functioning in a middleand a higher secondary school building. It has 428 female students on roll without a reading room.
The college at Bani in Kathua is running in the hostel of a higher secondary school and three pre-fabricated huts. It has 170 students.

The Degree College at Banihal, Ramban is running in three rooms of a higher secondary school and three pre-fabricated huts. The number of students is 358.
The Paloura College Jammu, with 181 students, is running in four halls in the old university campus.

The Bisnah College, Jammu is again running in four rooms of a higher secondary and three pre-fabricated huts. It has 265 students.

These colleges are not even in the position to offer courses in science subjects. For instance, the degree college in CM’s constituencyGanderbal which was established in 2003, offers only arts courses. While the college has been shifted to a new building, all itslaboratories are non-functional. The locals say they have written to the authorities including the chief minister many times, but nothing has changed.

“We shot several letters to them asking for starting science courses in the college, but so far nothing has been done,” said Shariq Ahmad, a post graduate from the district.The college has 36 contractual lecturers and jus six permanent ones.

Amid this dismal scenario, the state government has approved 11 more new degree colleges under centrally sponsored scheme ‘Establishment of Model Degree Colleges in Educationally Backward districts’.Elevenwill be set up in DH Pora in South Kashmir’s Kulgam district, Tangmarg in north Kashmir’s Baramulla district, Charar-i-Sharief in central Kashmir’s Budgam district, Zanaskar in Kargil district, Marwah in Jammu division’s Kishtwar district, Mahanpur in Jammu region’s Kathua district, Women’s Degree College in north Kashmir’s Kupwara district, Surankote in Jammu region’s Poonch district, Kalakote in Jammu region’s Rajouri district, Nobra in Ladakh region’s Leh district and Sarah BaghaMahore in Jammu region’s Reasi district.

Eleven more colleges will be set up in Kangan in central Kashmir’s Ganderbal district, Khour in Jammu district, Jhandra in Jammu district, Pampore in south Kashmir’s Pulwamadistrcit, Thatri in Jammu region’s Doda district, Sunderbani in Jammu region’s Rajouri district, Vailoo-Larnoo in south Kashmir’s Anantnag district, Hadipora in north Kashmir’s Baramulla district, Bagh-e-Dilawar Khan in Srinagar, Gool in Jammu region’s Ramban district and Magam in central Kashmir’s Budgam district under a State Plan.

Vote-bank politics?
The way colleges are coming up without proper infrastructure enforces a belief that it is done to gain support of the locals for consolidating vote bank.A cross section of society Kashmir Life spoke to say the colleges serve no purpose beyond keeping the people in good humor.

“We definitely need more colleges for spreading education, but establishing a college does not mean a mere announcement of it. The college without infrastructure is useless. So the government must insist onthe development of colleges rather than setting up more and more of them,” saysMudasirIllahi fromDistrict Kulgam, who is currently pursuing post graduation degree in political science. “Right now establishing colleges seems mere politics, an attempt to appease people.”

Senior citizens too are worried about this trend.“We have many BPL (below poverty line) families here and most of their children are pursuing courses in science stream. Every day they have to travel 30 kilometers to and fromIslamia College in Srinagar, which is very difficult for them to afford. What is the purpose of a college opened here (Ganderbal) when it cannot provide us relief? Should not the government have tried to set up a science college? Has the government not played politics with us?” questionsGhulamMuhammedSofi, a resident ofGanderbal.
The degree college was a long pending demand of the district.

Govt calls it development      
The government, however,seems to believe that setting up more colleges will revolutionize higher education. While announcing 22 new colleges recently, the higher education minister, Abdul Gani Malik, said: “It will revolutionize higher education scenario in the state in coming years.”

“The landmark decision,” the minister hoped, “would fulfill the long pending demands of the people living in far-flung.”

Names of most people quoted in the story have been changed on request.

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A journalist with seven years of working experience in Kashmir.

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