Kashmir University is all set introduce self-financed evening classes. The step is indeed novel and may be taken with good intention, but given the present conditions, is the university really prepared for it, or is this just an economy driven decision?
Kashmir University is all set to start self-financed evening classes in about 30 subjects, a step which may almost double the intake capacity of the university. Such a huge decision seems to be taken in last few months only as is evident from the recent developments taking place in this context. This step may boost the finances of university besides catering to the higher education needs of more number of students. As far as the improvement of finances of university is concerned, there can be no two different opinions but with respect to education, there are more apprehensions than optimism regarding the viability of such a step. The success of any such initiative will depend on various factors and it is imperative to see if the university as of now is ready to provide all those drivers which can make this scheme not only a success but also improve the learning standards. The session is about to begin and with little homework the university is going to face daunting challenges on following counts.
Teaching & Non-Teaching Faculty: The foremost challenge for double shift is the arrangement of teaching and non-teaching faculty. As per CAG reports highlighted by various dailies, the university is already facing a huge faculty crunch for even the single shift. Doubling the student capacity will put further strain on already overburdened staff. Of course the university can engage more people on contract basis or even woo the current faculty with more incentives but if that would be a dependable solution needs to be seen. The experienced permanent faculty can't be forced to work in double shifts and newly appointed contractual appointees are less likely to match the experience of older lot. Further contractual appointments have done more harm than good in our degree colleges and university should not follow the same example. The emoluments as well the authority of the permanent and contractual faculty differ widely in our colleges and universities which can disrupt the healthy academic environment.
Time Management: The prevalent conditions in Kashmir prevent extension of academic activity beyond dusk unlike other states of India. Thus a small time window is available to manage both the shifts. This is really going to be a huge challenge especially for the science and other faculties where practical work is required. During my Post Graduation days at Department of Chemistry from year 2008 to 2010, the official timing was from 9:15 am to 5 pm and most of times would extend beyond that. How can a department like that accommodate two shifts without compromising on the quality of teaching and learning now? As winter vacations of university hardly last for a month, the problem will be more critical during the remaining winter months.
Infrastructure: To expect that double shift will not need any further infrastructure will be a gross underestimation. Agreed that the university may not need more classrooms for second shift, but do only classrooms cater to the whole infrastructural needs? What about the library, hostels, and other academic and recreational requirements? Is Allama Iqbal Library ready to fulfill the needs of double shift? At present hostels aren't able to accommodate the enrolled research scholars, who desperately need this facility for smooth research work, leave alone the additional students.
Examination and Evaluation: Under normal circumstances at present the evaluation process doesn't take less than four months for most of the departments. Imagine the situation if more students are added. The University of Kashmir boasts of maintaining one of the strictest quality control in examination and evaluation systems to justify the slow evaluation process. How will the university cope with additional load without compromising the paper setting or paper evaluation process?
Effect on Research Activities: The research infrastructure of the university is already not up to mark. The research labs are crammed by the students much more than their seating capacity. Many a time research scholars have to share even a single working bench. Facilities are bare minimum and most of them shared between Post graduation and Research Labs. The residential scholars especially manage to use those facilities after the normal working hours. In case of a double shift, the research students will be pushed to wall further and research activity can come to a grinding halt.
Affordability of Payment: This puts a big question mark on the wisdom behind the idea of self-financing evening courses. Kashmir university, a government aided institution, is already charging surprisingly higher amount of fee than other such universities of the country for the so called free seats. The fee of self-financed seats may well go beyond the reach of even middle class, thus depriving the majority of population from this benefit.
The idea of increasing the seats is always welcome but the way the university plans to implement it in hurry may end up producing more certificate holders than the graduates in real sense. Under present circumstances, there is every possibility that the quality of the education may be compromised with this initiative. The university should first focus on capacity building rather than randomly going for such a seemingly populist step. The real progress of any organization is a long term mission and there are no such shortcuts for achieving that. Further, the present step of increasing only the self-financing seats seems more to be driven by the economic considerations than the educational development of the varsity.
(Aamir Hanif is an Ex-student of University of Kashmir presently working as Senior Research Fellow at CSIR-Indian Institute of Petroleum, Dehradun.)