Quality, not numbers

Obtaining education from a reputed college is the dream of every student and their parents. Issues surrounding our college sector are varied, and are worsening and hampering their academic expectations. Our colleges don’t provide best opportunities for career path in academics and research. The nature of academic life in colleges is drawing flak and is a potential risk to campus crises if timely not sorted out. Semester and choice based credit system has not proved beneficial to our student community in lieu of the poor curriculum designing and age old examination system which is in need of radical reforms. The introduction of credit system in teaching and awarding credit based degrees has neither satisfied teachers nor students. Elsewhere the semester system is very proactive system as it engages both faculty and students throughout the year in academic activity.

Without caring to deal with these issues and redress the student sufferings, an exponential growth of college sector rather skyrocketing in J&K State has taken place during the current year. On quality front we are struggling and lag much behind. Till the end of last year, 97 government degree colleges were functioning in J&K State, however, during the last few months, 102 (52 in first stage and now 50 more) academic colleges were created much to the surprise of everyone and has created an emotive debate amongst the stakeholders.

Sanctioning of additional degree colleges quite recently by our policy makers and what can we expect from these colleges or what government has planned to offer through these colleges must be in the minds of every stakeholder. When we know that the colleges which were established in the recent past are still suffering at multiple fronts including lack of proper physical infrastructure, lack of adequate human resources, leadership crisis and deficit teaching-learning practices, what can we expect now?

In one of my previous articles on the same subject (GK 18th March, 2019), I had rather questioned the establishing of more and more colleges in J&K State in absence of quality infrastructure, deficit teaching faculty and poor enrolment. However, in this column I will be more suggestive so as to understand what we can expect from the mushrooming growth of our college sector. Will it prove a boon or bane, time will decide itself?.

Achieving excellence in college education doesn’t mean sanctioning extra colleges on paper, but to address the issues faced by colleges at the grassroots level. This mushrooming of college sector is more a pro-politics rather than pro-academics affair. Rather than going for burgeoning of college sector, we badly need to review the current education system in our colleges including the examination system and question asking pattern to test student’s critical thinking and writing skills rather than merely testing their information or knowledge. An utmost thrust must be on improving the curriculum in tune with socio-economic needs of our society to make learning socially relevant. Similarly, we must think on the lines of enhancing and enriching the infrastructure and teaching-learning facilities in the existing colleges caring more for the quality learning and skill based education in practical terms.

The mushrooming of degree colleges will not enhance the student learning or improve educational setup, but may result in its declining if the existing scenario of faulty infrastructure and compromised teaching-learning practices continues. The graduation rates will only increase but there will be no improvement in quality learning and gaining skill based education. However, at the same time achieving these objectives does not seem easy because the students enrolled in colleges are least bothered about academic growth or excellence with exceptions of course. They hardly like to be regular in classes, instead spend less time in reading, concentrate less and learn half-heartedly. Overall today’s college student is deficit in reading capability, learning pursuit and writing skills that is challenging the very essence of imparting quality and skill based education.

In times when the Governments across the world are engaging their resources with best research and innovative educational policies and technologies to achieve excellence in academics and research, our policy makers are simply interested in quantity enrichment of our higher education without a proper plan. They are not addressing the basic academic needs of native populations as per their aspirations and cultural or socio-political setup. Innovation and technology is dreams apart here.

Our need of establishing more colleges should be in conformity with the percentage of population in college going stage. Maintaining proper ratio between higher secondaries and colleges, average pass percentage at plus 2 level and expected enrolment in local colleges is important. Do we get enough of the pass outs from higher secondaries actually available to take admission in these newly created colleges? We know that majority of students who are in college going stage prefer or choose to take professional graduate courses in government and private colleges either within the state, or outside the state or country. When very less number of students are actually willing to take admission in our colleges for the sake of degree only without showing any commitment towards academic excellence, then how will creating more degree colleges help us to do better in academia. Therefore, our colleges should be well equipped to run quality and attractive courses to magnetically pull students towards them.

A good number of our graduates are compelled to move outside the state to pursue post graduate courses because they don’t get the opportunity to get enrolled in local universities due to less intake capacity for PG courses. It will be therefore, quite beneficial for student community if some of the old and well established colleges at least one or two in each district are converted to PG colleges to cater the needs of local aspiring youth to get master’s degrees. However, it demands establishment of quality infrastructure, modern cohorts and pedagogy of teaching-learning, state of art laboratories, rich libraries, adequate teaching and non-teaching faculty, competent leadership, ICT based tools, overall better learning atmosphere, etc.

Interestingly, two administrative staff colleges will also be established one each in Srinagar and Jammu. But more interesting will be know their functioning and role when we have already two human resource development centres (formerly called UGC academic staff colleges) functional each in Kashmir and Jammu University. The most appropriate would have been to establish at least one professional college in each division with thrust on technology, management and research.

No doubt, we need more colleges to provide educational access and facility to deprived sections of the society at their doorsteps. However, a proper plan or procedure should be in place to run unique courses and subjects in these new colleges to attract students in tune with better career options and job prospects. Further, most of our population lives in rural areas but majority of the quality degree colleges are located in the city alone. A visible difference exists between infrastructure and academic expectations among rural and city colleges. This need to be looked into and made impartial. Making every college unique in terms of attractive and job oriented subject combinations or specific degrees and courses based on innovative and skill based education will surely help in achieving uniform enrolments and better academic expectations from them.

Protection of interests of students and providing them conducive learning atmosphere and best education in our colleges should be our motive. Let us hope that our policy makers are looking at it and sorting ways and means of the practical implications for these colleges in teaching and research so as to make our college sector academically rich and socially relevant.

The writer is an Assistant Professor of Zoology. Views expressed are personal.