The much hyped, but definitely flawed, decision of opening up of new Government Degree Colleges (GDCs) has finally bounced back on the J&K government in a short span of not more than two years.
The J&K government in 2019 announced the establishment of new 102 degree colleges in two phases – 52 in phase I and 50 in phase II. Soon after making an announcement for making these colleges functional, the J&K administration decided to put on hold the operationalization of new degree colleges announced in phase II, citing lack of resources.
It was decided that the Higher Education Department (HED) should focus on those new 52 colleges which were approved in the first phase by the erstwhile State Administrative Council (SAC).
In November last year, I wrote a piece on announcing new degree colleges and making them operational in J&K. In that write up, I underlined that the functioning of these new degree colleges will meet the fate of SSA schools.
The apprehensions have come true as the government last week constituted a high-level committee to oversee the rationalization of higher educational institutions in the UT.
The committee comprises administrative secretary, Higher Education Department (HED) as its Chairperson, while as Director General (Budget), Finance Department, Director General (Codes), Finance Department, Director (Finance) Higher Education Department (HED) and Director (Planning), HED are its members.
The committee will study the requirements of higher educational institutions in the J&K UT besides examining the rationalization of existing higher educational institutions in the UT as well.
The committee is supposed to recommend the criteria for opening of future higher educational institutions in the UT.
The constitution of the committee is an indication that the decision of opening new degree colleges haphazardly has bounced back on the government. There can be two reasons for it. One is the lukewarm response of the students towards the new colleges and second can be the financial constraints in making all these colleges fully operational. When I say fully operational I mean by giving adequate teaching and non-teaching faculty besides setting up a permanent campus for these institutions.
Given the sequence of events, it seems that the government had announced the new colleges without doing any home work as it announced the colleges at some locations where it is yet to identify the land for the construction of a permanent campus for it. Ultimately, the same colleges will now be winded up by the government.
The committee has been constituted after a high level meeting was convened by the J&K Chief Secretary Arun Kumar Mehta to review the functioning of the higher education sector.
In the meeting, the operationalisation of new GDCs was discussed wherein the college officials stated that there was no availability of land for construction of new colleges. Also, it was informed that in some colleges, the enrollment was not more than five to 10 students.
In the wake of this, the government has now come to the conclusion that such colleges should be closed without any further delay.
The government was already aware about the problem as last year the concerned college principals where student enrollment was less than 10 were asked to shift the students to nearby already existing colleges.
It reminded me of the decision taken by the government in 2015 to merge the SSA schools which had meagre or no enrolment of students. And more or less, the colleges were following the norm.
To run the show, the government earlier had asked the principals managing new degree colleges to shift the students to nearby colleges wherever there is no land available for construction of permanent buildings or if the enrolment of students is less.
With this the government has hinted that they cannot afford to pay the rent of the buildings hired to run the new colleges for few students or give salary to the staff as well.
If we go by the prevailing conditions of the Higher Education sector, the opening of new 102 degree colleges was a flawed decision as the condition of the majority of existing colleges was not up to the mark in terms of the infrastructure, permanent faculty and the enrolment.
While announcing the decision to establish the new degree colleges, the government did not even care for the requisite parameters which are mandatory.
The decision to establish new colleges was like distributing ration ghats which are usually set up at a distance of one kilometer.
As per the scheme, around five to six colleges were announced within a radius of five to six kilometers which is a gross violation of set norms for setting up of a degree college. The first criterion to establish a degree college is that it should have five to six feeding higher secondary schools and should be set up at a distance of 20 kilometers from the existing college.
Relaxation of rules was justified in case of border areas keeping in view the terrains but out of the 52 colleges (announced in Phase I) only four to five colleges were announced for remote areas.
The J&K government had announced new colleges at Allochi Bagh, Hyderpora in Srinagar while as in Jammu a college will be set up at Bathindi and Sidra.
In the end, the decision bounced back and forced them to close the new colleges. The government should have realized earlier that there was no need to announce 102 colleges in one go.
Instead of holding meeting after meeting to chalk out strategies (on paper) to operationalise new colleges, the focus should have been on strengthening already existing colleges.
As of now, around one dozen colleges among the existing institutions are functioning from makeshift arrangements and are facing scarcity of teaching staff and infrastructure as well.
There are also infrastructural gaps in the colleges which are functioning from permanent campuses but lack proper infrastructure.
Amid such circumstances where the government has failed to strengthen the existing colleges in J&K, announcing new degree colleges only seems an outcome of the flawed policies which are framed without doing proper home work.
Now the government has constituted its committee to submit its recommendation within 15 days, all eyes will be on the government and the committee on how they will tackle the situation and focus on strengthening the higher education sector instead of going for its expansion which ultimately turns out to be a flop show