In 2011, when Kupwara was allotted a degree college under a centrally sponsored scheme the announcement had come as a big relief for thousands of students who had to travel miles every day for pursuing higher education.
The decision brought one of the educationally backward districts of J&K in spotlight, and a smile on the faces of younger generation. But seven years on, the "college" with around 600 students on its roll, continues to function from five rooms of a middle school. Like Kupwara College, there are many other colleges which were announced with much pomp and show only to be forgotten later as far as infrastructure up gradation and providing required faculty.
The issue has come to fore once again after government recently decided to set up 40 new government degree colleges in J&K including 26 colleges which were approved during previous PDP led coalition government, under state plan. Experts have raised questions that instead of announcing new colleges the priority should have been to make functional the education institutions announced years ago. An official in higher education department said 23 government degree colleges – nine in Kashmir and 14 in Jammu region – were announced by successive regimes over the past one decade. "Most of these colleges are functioning from rented building or higher secondary schools.
Lack of adequate space, infrastructure and inadequate continues to be a problem," said the official. He said rather than focusing on expansion the priority should have been strengthening existing infrastructure. According to official data there are at least 100 degree colleges (including grant-in-aid colleges) in the state – 53 in Kashmir and 47 in Jammu. Of total number of colleges, 23 don't have permanent buildings – 17 colleges are under construction while work on six colleges hasn't been taken up so far.
The degree College Hadipora was approved by cabinet in 2008, but it runs from a higher secondary school. Likewise Bagh-e-Dilawar Khan College in Srinagar was approved under state plan some eight years ago. It is also functioning from three rooms of MP higher secondary school in down town. The college has failed to attract students owing to lack of infrastructural and facilities.
"There are colleges which don't have basic facilities which a degree college is supposed to be equipped with," the official said. An official said of the 40 newly approved colleges, the proposal for 26 institutions was earlier rejected by the state administrative council citing that the higher education department had not followed the procedures. "We were told that the colleges were approved without taking approval from finance and planning department.
The SAC had decided to keep the cabinet order in abeyance," another senior official said. He said the sites for construction of 26 colleges (approved by PDP government) has been approved while the process was on to identify location for remaining 14 colleges. He however too questioned the decision to set up new colleges while meeting the requirements in terms of infrastructure and other facilities for the existing ones. "These colleges are not announced on basis of requirement but on insistence of politicians to please their vote bank," the officer said.
He said when there was fund shortage for the construction of buildings for colleges cleared a decade ago arranging funding for the new colleges was "next to impossible" at least in near future for setting up permanent buildings. He said another challenge for the authorities was to get NAAC accreditation for some of the 26 colleges which were approved a decade ago. As these colleges are functioning from make-shift locations for almost a decade now they are ineligible for the accreditation owing to non-availability of basic infrastructure.
The NAAC is an organisation that assesses and accredits higher education Institutions-Degree Colleges and Universities in India. It is an autonomous body funded by University Grants Commission (UGC). He said earlier the department had submitted a proposal to the government highlighting the need for allocation of the funds to make the existing colleges functional.
The proposal, he said, was submitted after thorough discussion over the issue. "In most of these colleges we are teaching only a few subjects as there is neither accommodation to open new classes nor do these colleges have required facilities. Some colleges where science subjects are being taught are struggling with lack of labs and other facilities," the official said. He said keeping in view the ground situation government needs to ponder upon its decision to open new colleges. "Efforts should be made to meet the demands proposed by authorities of the existing colleges time and again.
It will improve education and infrastructural standards of these institutions and take higher education to new heights," he said. Commissioner Secretary higher education department (HED) Sarita Chauhan acknowledged that in the past colleges had not been setup on basis of feasibility. She however defended the decision to establish new colleges owing to growing population of students in the existing colleges. She said all the colleges functioning from makeshift places would get permanent buildings "after few years".