An open letter to the Secretary Higher Education Department

The recent statement of the Secretary Higher Education, Talat Parvez, (Kashmir Reader, 18 March 2019) regarding the inability of the department to issue fresh advertisement notice for academic arrangement in valley Degree Colleges reflects poorly on the state of higher education in our state.

The secretary said that the Department was not going to hire teachers under the academic arrangement for the session 2019-20 in government colleges of the valley on the alibi of model code of conduct. In the same statement, he expressed his intention about making some alternate arrangement which only added apprehensions of many candidates who are highly qualified and desirous of working in the higher education sector.

For a candidate like me and many others, it was more regret than a shock. Spending some 4 years in pursuance of Ph.D. and enrichment of academic credentials with the hope that someday higher qualification would provide me the opportunity to work in higher education proved a disastrous decision.

More disastrous was the decision to prefer a PhD to ReT job when I had the choice to make. May be this decision might have been logical and wise in the Western part of the hemisphere but in our system bureaucratic insensitivity towards merit; lack of recognition for higher qualification and knack for choking opportunities for the new aspirants’ disincentives any pursuit of higher education.

Things are not as innocent as presented by the new administrative head of higher education. His decision not to issue fresh applications on the excuse of code of conduct fails the logic why advertisement for the annual academic arrangement was not issued in the month of January or February as it used to be issued every year? If elections were scheduled in April why was the tenure of academic arrangement extended by one month instead of seeking fresh applications?  Was it the first time that these elections are scheduled to happen in Kashmir? Weren’t applications invited in 2014 when last Lok Sabha polls were held?

Moreover, if the University of Kashmir invited applications for academic arrangement for the current academic session in time, why did the Higher Education Department fail to do so? And, if the university extended opportunities for fresh candidates to apply why could not Higher Education Department follow same? The ambiguous silence on the part of Higher Education Department and its mode of functioning is the cause of jittery among many aspirants.

Moreover, the University of Kashmir came up with a new procedure of appointment for academic arrangement which is purely based on the latest UGC Regulations. Same is not clear about the Higher Education department.  Ideally, there should not be arbitrary procedures of selection when the recent UGC Guidelines regarding the procedure of selection of teaching faculty are already being enforced by higher education institutions across the country.

At the face of it, one feels that education has never been the priority of the government. Unsurprisingly, the government remembered everything to do in time except issuing advertisement notice or the appointment of new teachers on the academic arrangement. All it can do is to open up new colleges that lack basic facilities, including faculty.

 What a strange coincidence! The Secretary Higher Education should not be ignorant of the fact that hundreds of students take the arduous journey of attaining higher education every year with the hope that attaining such qualifications would provide them the opportunities to serve in degree colleges when there are little job avenues in other areas.

This lackadaisical attitude of the government only disincentivizes and discourages the appetite for higher education. This obliviously does not augur well for the higher education sector of the state.

The situation is particularly baffling when the government also knows that there are little job opportunities in other sectors of the economy in the state of Jammu and Kashmir.

The Higher Education Department’s Secretary is bound to answer why the lack of opportunities to highly educated youth should not be construed as an attempt to push this educated section towards despondency and alienation. It is not difficult to understand that lack of transparency and sense of urgency in the system breeds ground for contempt and, hence, dents the legitimacy of the state.

Not lately the despotic bureaucracy – after taking full advantage of the absence of popular government – played havoc with the career of thousands of unemployed educated youth when ReTs were converted into general line teachers, thus, depriving the highly educated youth opportunity of employment.

These ReTs should have been regularized without denying the unemployed candidates fair opportunities of employment. Ironically, candidates having qualified highly competitive exams such as SLET, NET/JRF or having completed their M.Phil, Ph.D. and Post Doc degrees from reputed universities are applying for jobs in private schools at humiliating wage rates.

No bureaucrat should have this luxury to play with the hopes and aspirations of the highly qualified eligible candidates by not democratizing the employment opportunities in the education sector and elsewhere. The sense prevails that the Higher Education Department of the state is in a deep mess as ‘few elites’ are serving vested interests and causing frustration for thousands of unemployed youth whose merit is being trampled by callous approach of the government.

The absence of representative government allows these elites the space to run over the genuine concerns of the higher education.

It is still high time for the new Secretary Higher Education to clean the mess up by dispensing with the ad-hoc and arbitrary approach that has been the hallmark of the department. A non-compromising approach towards upholding merit would bring competent human resources in the department and increase the productivity of the sector. Hope good sense prevails. The author is a Doctoral Fellow at Centre of Advanced Study in History at Aligarh Muslim University.