Tens of thousands of students seeking higher studies in various professional colleges are put to severe problems in absence of private education set up in the state. Zafar Aafaq offers details of how the private educational sector from plains takes its classrooms from Srinagar
In mid June, when a local educational consultancy hosted an Educational Expo, hundreds of students aspiring to get a professional degree turned up at Indore Stadium in Srinagar, not far away from the Amar Singh College, the nerve centre of Kashmir’s new Cluster University. More than a dozen colleges and universities, operating from across India, had set up stalls to cash in on the student aspirations.
Mostly, the student preference was Bachelors in technology and engineering.
Khursheed Khan, 17, had come from Pulwama to find the “right” college that matches his specifications: affordability, reputation and distance from home. His first encounter at the fair happened to be with a Noida based University which had planted a stall right in front of the entrance.
In a persuasive tone, the Proctor of the University tells Khan that their institution is among the best private universities in India. The large billboard constituted a wall of the stall carried a wide angle image of the building. Overawed by the photo of the campus, Khan felt convinced that this university must be definitely the best. But once he was told that he has to pay more than one lakh rupees per year, Khan’s interest start faded. Slowly, he moved out to another stall.
In one “shop”, a man, in his early fifties, representing a Dehradun based university lectures Khan and a group of boys on how to choose a university.
At the very entrance of the next stall, set up by Lovely Professional University Jalandhar, the receptionist asks Khan to fill up the form before any conversation starts. This is the exercise Khan performed at Sharda University stall as well. In fact all the stall owners seek basic details of the aspirants that help them create a data bank to see market choices. It helps them in following up the interactions.
“What was your percentage in twelfth standard?” the receptionist asks Khan.
“It is below 70,” Khan responds. The receptionist tells khan that he can still avail scholarship, if he qualifies the University’s Scholarship Test.
In one “shop”, a man, in his early fifties, representing a Dehradun based university lectures Khan and a group of boys on how to choose a university. He tells them before asking about the fee, you should check some other things which include if the university has an R&D department and how reputed it is, what alumni say about the university, and whether it is recognized or not.
Khan takes a round of the hall and comes with a bag full of positive assurances, promises, claims like 100% job guarantees, no hostel issues, cosy hostel rooms, alumni confessions. Some of the institutes try to persuade him by showing him photographs of celebrities “who often visit their institutes”. He returned with a good load of broachers, carrying pictures of the campuses, visiting faculties, alumni and prospects of high salaried jobs, and higher studies abroad.
After filling a dozen chits, he leaves the hall without actually zeroing in on any one institute. “I am not sure which one to choose, because there is not much difference in terms of what they offer,” Khan said. “Going by their claims, all institute seem similar.”
In all the stalls he came across hosts telling him that there are only a few seats left. “You should hurry up because by the first week of July the admission session will be over,” he heard almost everywhere. Some institutes offering low fee broachers to visitors, one of the event organisers said, end up in a sort of extortions. “They charge hefty amounts of fine for not adhering to institute rules and at the end of degree the total money paid is almost equals the institutes seemingly expensive.”
These fairs are just one of the formal exercises aimed at phishing the clients. Scores of colleges and institute have already setup their offices in Srinagar and some peripheral districts. Besides, there is a huge network of consultancies having tie ups with these institutes of India and even abroad.
This being the season of admissions in plains, every day newspapers are stuffed with advertisements of colleges and consultancies making same promises. Some even hawk 100% job placements.
Kashmiri students studying across India often land in hostile situations when host societies react to events not even remotely connected to Kashmir. This has created a chain of events every time India and Pakistan meet on the cricket pitch. This has led to a new priority for students seeking admissions outside: How secure and friendly the campus and hostels are?
This priority of students has helped counsellors to take up this issue first. They assure that campus and hostels are guarded by security guards, hostels are on campus or just a few kilometres from campus. Meals are healthy and hygienic. There are residential apartments for students in the area if they wish not to stay in the hostels. If the campus is located in rural belts, the admission counsellors put it in a way that the student feels as if it is the city.
With a huge network of consultancies spread across Kashmir, the challenge for aspirants is how to choose even a consultancy. There is fear and cynicism in the mind of the aspirant given that cases of deceit and cheating from local consultancies. To manage this tension, the educational institutes especially from North India , now send their own people, mostly comprising alumni, teachers or administrative staff to their newly set up “regional offices.”
Consultants at the consultancies have their own methods to prove their authenticity. “We have a policy that if we cannot furnish the admission confirmation letter to the student in one week, we return the money,” says Imran Farooq, an engineer, who runs a consultancy at Baghat Barzullah. “We have a very huge success rate as we do admission, directly.”
Farooq’s consultancy has tied up with almost all the institutes seeking students from Kashmir. His desk is full of prospects copies and brochures of institute that have now become familiar among aspirants. From South to North of India, from Bangladesh to Iran, Farooq is a consultant of every institute.
But all the glitters are not gold. Students who are already studying or have completed their degrees in these institutes don’t sketch a good picture of their institutes. Dawood Lone of Kupwara landed in a teaching shop in Ambala Haryana. He was shown beautiful images of hostel rooms fitted with ACs and comfortable bed. He did not know it was a bait. Once there, he found it wrong.
“There are frequent power and water outages in the hostel” Dawood alleged. “Most of the teaching staff is not qualified, many of our teachers have just B-tech, with no or little experience and they are assigned to teach students perusing B-Tech.”
But all the glitters are not gold. Students who are already studying or have completed their degrees in these institutes don’t sketch a good picture of their institutes.
Similarly a counsellor of an engineering institute in a dusky village in Palwal (Haryana) had told Rahil Malik, a student from Srinagar, at the time of counselling in 2012 that their institute is just located in the immediate outskirts of Delhi. He found it located 80 kilometres from Delhi border”
Even campus placements claims are a hoax. Aadil Mir, from Baramulla, completion of B-Tech in 2014. Then, he was offered a job as a customer care executive in a local company in Chandigarh. For Rs 9000, a month, he worked for six months and returned home.
In last many years a lot of students went to study on the basis of Prime Minister’s Special Scholarship Scheme (PMSSS). As the government agencies work at their own pace, some of these students faced humiliation and threats of expulsion.
“Often students were barred from submitting examination form initially,” says Zakir Dar, who is studying in a Rajasthan University with PMSSS support. Zakir said he was taught by very poor teachers who were not qualified.“I would never suggest any one to come to this university.”
The number of students going out for studies has been on increase. Market estimations suggest that barely 15000 students had moved out for studies in 2005 which has gone up to 35,000 a year now. This number can sustain any number of private universities in J&K but the government is seemingly unwilling to permit investment.
(Names of the students were changed on request)