Shift to Nowhere

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Started with an intention to cap the outflow of students to hostile environs outside, KU started second shift but without basic infrastructure and facilities. Riyaz Ul Khaliq reports

University of Kashmir (KL Image: Bilal Bahadur)

University of Kashmir (KL Image: Bilal Bahadur)

The remote control to get things done in Kashmir University (KU) is not in Naseem Bagh but Raj Bawan! True. In February 2016, irritated by the slow pace of repair work of University’s main reading room, students shot a mail to Chancellor N N Vohra, the incumbent governor of J&K. Within no time, librarian was on his toes, giving directions to make the said reading room accessible to students. Two days later, without giving flooring finishing touch, the reading room was thrown open. “This is just one instance, how KU functions,” said Hashim, a post graduate student.

With a total roll of over five thousand, KU is the largest state run University in Kashmir valley. This year, after Naeem Akhtar, Education Minster, ordered to “make optimum use of university’s infrastructure”, a circular was shot by the Vice Chancellor, Khurshid Iqbal Andrabi, to all departments telling them to get ready for the evening classes.

“It will help make KU campus look vibrant,” Akhtar had told a select gathering of students and faculty.

Within no time, Andrabi called a meeting and set the ball rolling. “We have to make it possible,” he told administrative officials and senior faculty members.

However, sources said, “There was resentment from many quarters.”

Naeem Akhtar

Naeem Akhtar

Session 2016-17

KU gets around over 20000 applications annually for admission in various sections, reveals Prof Muhammad Ashraf Wani, Dean Academic Affairs. “We are able to accommodate only 3500 per academic session,” said Wani, “Others fail by 0.5 or 1 points.”

“Those who fail to make it to the selection list go outside Kashmir for higher studies,” says Prof Javeed-ul-Aziz, Coordinator CBCS. But going outside Kashmir for studies has its own perils. “First students spend huge money for admissions. Then there are security concerns. And finally, once they manage to get degrees, they are not recognized by KU,” Aziz adds.

Besides, the recent attacks on Kashmiri students in universities and colleges outside the valley, made government take the initiative.

In order to increase the intake capacity KU launched double shift classes from 2016. KU invited applications for PG courses even when 3rd year UG results were yet to be declared.

The idea was to start classes for both first and second shift from March. “The admissions are done and classes have already started for both the shifts,” Prof Wani told Kashmir Life on April 29, 2016.

Vice-Chancellor-of-Kashmir-University-Professor-Khurshid-Iqbal-Andrabi

VC KU: Prof Khurshid Iqbal Andrabi

However, when investigated,  many departments are reluctant to start the much hyped second shift program, including VC Andrabi’s parent department: Bio-Technology. Reason: Lack of infrastructure and faculty. “Besides, it will affect research programmes,” said an Assistant Professor, who wishes to stay anonymous. “The same VC once stressed on research programmes. Now with the introduction of second shift, he is hampering the same.”

Modus Operandi

Before the introduction of shift system, class work in KU started at 10 am. By 3 pm students would be free.

But with the introduction of Choice Based Credit System (CBCS), since last year, timings vary now.

“It depends upon the department how many credits are taught to a student in a week,” said Prof Javeed.

Take for instance History department where a student has to earn eighteen credits, besides completion of syllabus for elective classes.

The Crisis

Still in its first year of operation, double shift initiative is under criticism from a number of faculty members. “It is a hasty move,” says a Science department teacher. “Where are the additional lab equipment? Where is the required faculty?” he asks.

The major crisis that KU faces is reluctance of faculty members to teach in the second shift.

“It is not humanly possible,” Ishtiyaq, a teacher says. “We have to take care of research programmes as well. It is impossible to manage the burden.”

In order to “ease the burden” MERC teaches both first shift and second shift students in a single classroom.

“It is suffocating to study in a class with over seventy students,” a student narrates his ordeal after attending the class.

Islamic  Studies and Arabic Departments have started second shift classes from 11 AM and 12 PM respectively.

However, Prof Ravinder Kaur, HoD, Political Science said, “Second shift classes start at 2:30 pm and end at 7 pm.”

Fee Structure

With the introduction of shifts KU revised its fee structure entirely. For instance in Environmental Science department, a first shift student has to pay Rs 28,375 per annum, while second shift student pays Rs 62,375 for the same course.  Payment seats are offered at an annual fee of over Rs 1 lakh. “The payment varies from department to department,” says a teacher.

Who will Teach?

The idea was to engage permanent faculty to teach second shift as well. But given the “reluctance” of permanent faculty, the departments were forced to engage contractual teachers.

“Not all the faculty members are involved in teaching second shift students,” Prof Hameedah Nayeem said, “We were asked to engage any senior retired subject expert and contractual teachers.” Prof Hameedah heads Department of English.

At present, English department, which has capacity of ninety students in first shift and sixty in second shift, utilises services of a retired professor and a contractual teacher.

But in case of Political Science department, requirement of two temporary teachers was shown, but the interviews are still pending. In Environmental Science Department, one contractual teacher, too, is yet to be interviewed.

Interestingly, a number of faculty members, who were engaged on administrative posts, are back to their parent departments, for sake of second shift. “It is lucrative for them,” a teacher alleges.

Insiders say, Prof Mohammad Ashraf Wani, who is known for his expertise in historiography, will be asked to take at least one class in the second shift. Right now, Prof Wani, dean academic affairs, is the busiest person in KU.

“All the four permanent faculty members are taking classes in second shift,” HOD Islamic Studies, Prof A R Bhat, said. Prof Naseem is one of the faculty members in the department and is otherwise busy as Dean Social Sciiences.

Similarly, Dr Gul Mohammad Wani is back to teach Indian Political System, otherwise taught by Dr Ajaz Ashraf in the first shift. Dr Wani is presently Director Institute of Kashmir Studies (IKS).

Interestingly, people interviewed for teaching on contractual basis in the second shift are not asked to join. “It is done to save the money which will be utilised to facilitate additional services of permanent faculties,” alleges an insider.

Who will Fund?

Otherwise an autonomous body, KU is accountable to state government for its fund allocations. Besides, MHRD funded University Grants Commission gives grants to the varsity.

For instance, in last 8 years, Environment Sciences department has received Rs 3.25 lakh from state government.  Same is true for other departments as well. Besides environment sciences department gets Rs 4 to 5 lakh from GoI in five year plans.

Notably, second shift was conceived by the J&K government but funded by KU through fee received from students. “There will be no grant by MHRD, whatsoever.”

“The idea is to spend only what we collect in shape of tuition fee from students. There were clear cut instructions to not exceed the annual limit,” says a faculty member. “Anything saved will be spent on infrastructure development.”

The thinking behind the move, says Prof Hameedah, is to stop the flow of money that goes to outside universities. “Our students spend Crores of Rupees annually for studies in colleges and universities outside Kashmir. We want to save that,” says Prof Hameedah.

An official from administrative block says, “Authorities wanted to treat second shift students as paid seats.”

The move, he adds, was criticised by almost everyone terming it as a “business opportunity” for KU. “That is why a third category was created, where a student pays more than normal fee, but less than a payment seat.”

Remuneration

A senior retired professor engaged by any department will be paid Rs 1500 per lecture.

A Professor will get Rs 1000, while an Assistant Professor will be paid Rs 850. For a lecturer it is Rs 750 per lecture.

Student Take

Most of the students are sceptical about the move. Javaid, a student leader, alleges that VC has contradicted his own stand many a times. “He (VC) wants KU to be at par with DU and JNU in academics. But when it comes to student politics he says KU is not JNU or DU,” says Javaid in a sarcastic tone.

Hostel Facility

At present university has only four hostels: two each for boys and girls, housing around nine hundred students.

“Girls hostels are overcrowded already,” confessed Provost Prof Zuhra Afzal. “Third hostel for girls will be commissioned in May, hopefully.”

There are around 200 pending applications from 2015 for girls’ hostel. Yearly, university falls short of around 2500 beds given the number of annual intake.

Likewise, two hostels meant for boys have 170 and 200 bed capacity each, but are overcrowded.

Interestingly, given the rush, recreation space meant for boys, is converted into make-shift hostel. “It is like a waiting lounge. Once you spend a year in this common room housing twenty students, you are eligible for proper hostel,” says Abid, a hosteller.

Given the scarcity of hostel facilities in KU, second shift students are not given the hostel facility. “Our classes end at 7 pm. Where will we go then?” asks a student. “Rooms around the campus have doubled their rents after second shift started.”

“We will be regulating it soon. We are in touch with district commissioner,” says an official. “Besides, we have requested SRTC to ply more buses on this route after evening.”

 “It is ridiculous that first shift students will get hostel facilities, and second shift students who leave late won’t,” a student leader says on condition of anonymity.  Two more hostels are ready at KU’s Zakura campus but awaiting ribbon cut.

Academic Concerns

There is a growing concern among certain senior faculty members viz-a-viz second shift’s affect on KU’s overall academic performance. “Increased intake has brought down the merit,” a teacher says. “We should not end up as a certificate giving institution. The focus should be on quality education.”

The concern is that teachers will have to give second shift students more attention to make the initiative a success.  “The success of the initiative can only be gauged once results are out,” another teacher adds.

The other pressing issue concerning faculty members is management of time. “How can a guide give attention to his research scholar when we have to teach from 10 am to 7 pm?” asks Adil.

In Islamic Studies department, a research scholar is asked to teach in the first shift, because his guide is busy with administrative issues.

Official Take

To know the status of current academic session, Kashmir Life rang up the VC. “I have already given five interviews,” Prof  Khurshid responded to a question, “What else I need to tell you.”

Education Minister, Naeem Akhtar, defending his decision to start second shift said, “We have created one more university without even using a single brick.”

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