Welcome Talat Ahmad

After the new Vice-Chancellor came to serve the University of Kashmir for the second time, there have been some interesting changes at the level of administration. Prof Talat Ahmad, now with more experience in managing better and bigger universities, has right to choose his team to run Kashmir’s oldest university. He has been on the campus for less than a week now.

With coming days he will come to know where the university has reached since he moved out, taking a better job at a point when he was being offered an extension. He might have had his ideas which he could not implement and he might have had put in certain systems which might have gone corrupted over the years. As an insider who knows almost everybody who matters in the NaseemBagh campus, he knows his job is as difficult as it was last time.

But the veracity to a large extent has deteriorated further.

The biggest crisis the University of Kashmir is facing is that it seemingly has come of its age; it has greyed a lot and looks older than its age. While much older campuses in South Asia look so young, vibrant and full of knowledge and hope, the University of Kashmir seems archaic in style, corrupt in practices and highly questionable in academics. By and large, it is an institution that mints certificates, which are routinely being considered as gate passes by the employers in the market. This is regardless of the rating it might have to its credit.

At the same time, however, there is no dearth of talent, young men and women who wish to contribute and become part of a change in Kashmir’s major campus. Though the University has the history of denying entry to the talent from Agha Shahid Ali to some bright scholars in recent years, the new talent, routinely gets consumed by the culture that has evolved over the decades, a culture in which survival is the key factor and the situation is the main alibi for not doing what it is supposed to do.

After the VC picks his team, what is expected is that the academics get a top priority. The questions, the new management must ask is why a postgraduate course supposed to conclude within two years is taking more than three years? Why MPhils and PhDs take slightly less than a decade? How many studies are our scholars working on which have a direct relevance to the society in which the campus is located? Why are non-local universities desperate in having PhDs on and around contemporary Kashmir while the same is being discouraged, if not denied, by the faculty?

Kashmir is a place where the babu-driven policymaking has literally refused the private sector to get into the higher education. This has resulted in hundreds of students having no option other than moving out in questionable campuses at a huge cost. In a year, by an average, almost Rs 700 crore is the net capital flight on account of education alone. In this situation, if the University of Kashmir has an enigmatic spread – from south to north and then to the arid desert of Leh, why is it not helping manage part of the load?

Accountability should neither start from the noisy big garage nor the din of the canteen. It may not even require counting the head of ‘ghost peon’. It must start from the classroom, the main activity of the university. A regime change should not end up superimposing a new lobby on an old one.

The University of Kashmir is greener, cleaner and healthy. The last finance minister has given it a fiscal autonomy too. Why should not it lead to its academic revival and a quick turnaround?

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