Imagine you read a newspaper tomorrow & see an announcement of a new University being established in valley, as big, experienced & resourceful as the University of Kashmir, what would be your reaction? Incontrovertibly exciting!
That's exactly what's been announced by the Vice Chancellor of Kashmir University, when he said that the University shall launch an evening shift & double its enrolment.
However, I'm astounded to see the reactions of many people in the media. Far from appreciations, the move is being lampooned by a section of our society. This is not to say that people shouldn't express their concerns, or raise genuine questions about the feasibility & viability of such overtures. In fact, being critical helps the concerned authorities formulate appropriate policies. However, I clearly see sheer pessimism at play here, which is what concerns me.
Having researched the Saudi market of late, I thought only Saudis were indolent, lackadaisical & slothful who didn't want to come out of their comfort zones, but it's disheartening to see my people acting on the similar lines. For God's sake, Saudis have oil; what do we have? We've got no alternative but to push our limits. This idea of '10 to 4 day of work' has to be extended, in order to ameliorate our performance and increase the quantity as well as the quality of our output in any sector, especially the higher education. I'm aware that the reservations about possible scarcity of the teaching faculty & transport facility for the students & staff can't be wished away. These are the challenges but then which project doesn't face hurdles, at least in the beginning? When business managers do SWOT analysis i.e. the analyses of the Strength, Weakness, Opportunity & Threats of any new project, the positive report doesn't necessarily indicate that there are no weaknesses & threats; it only means that the Strengths & Opportunities outweigh them; and that the weaknesses & threats are manageable. In fact, to take calculated risk is an indispensable trait of a dynamic administrator, who is bold enough to break the traditional regressive shackles and bring in innovation for the long-term benefit of the organization he heads, as long as he has his contingency plan ready.
The prime beneficiaries of this plan would be the students, who would otherwise have no option but to forsake their parents, comfort of their homes, go to other states to study in substandard institutions and pay fortunes for it. It must be noted that the expenditure to live outside exceeds the tuition fees there, which is why it wouldn't be fair to compare it with the tuition of the Kashmir University, even if it'd be the same. And why shouldn't we prefer to increase the revenue of our own University, so that it employs more people & can fund significant research projects, instead of filling the pockets of businessmen in Punjab, Delhi & other states, who run private colleges only to make money? We must also consider the hostile atmosphere prevalent in the Indian states towards our students there. Parents of such students are worried like never before. It'd be 'a dream come true' for them to have the cake and eat it too. There's also a section of our students who come from very poor families. They can get to do some part-time work during the first half of the day to support them. If we have a campus with laboratories, classrooms & other infrastructure, why not to capitalize on it as much as we can? I don't buy the argument of lack of infrastructure against the idea of evening classes, because the two sessions are not to be run in parallel. That could be a deficiency in general, which when addressed can equally benefit both the sessions.
The concept of evening session has revolutionized the education world-wide. In the cities, which has no dearth of premier institutions, people are busy taking advantage of them to the extent that even the night classes are being opted for. On the contrary, we have extremely low University-Students ratio. We need it more than anybody else does. It's a proven strategy which has worked. Take the example of Ivy League institutions in the US. I have taken classes till 6.30 in the evening at Harvard, and it's a day shift. The evening session starts after that. And I'm talking about the Greater Boston area, which has about 100 colleges & Universities, including the likes of MIT, BU, Tufts & Northeastern. In our case, I'm sure 7 pm would be the end of evening session, factoring in the different circumstances we live in. All the major Universities in Americas, Europe & even premier institutions in India like the IIMs have doubled their productivity by introducing additional shifts.
The only way to address the apprehensions of critics is to experiment the idea. As they say, 'there ain't no such thing as a free lunch'. So, we have to be prepared for the initial hiccups until the administration gets the complete grip of it. It's very rare to have 100% fool-proof plan on paper. It becomes so only after it's operationalized in real time for few years. For example, University can prioritize students living nearby for the evening session over those from far off places, who'd be assigned day session, so that late transportation problem is minimized. There can be numerous such risk-mitigation policies over the period of time, but we must let it happen.
I would request the University Faculty & staff, current & potential students, transporters & public in general to strengthen the hands of this dynamic Vice chancellor, who could have simply avoided this controversy & enjoyed his tenure, if he were there for those reasons. It's evident that he's somebody who is determined to change the fate of this institute for good, even if that means cruising through turbulent waters. And I would want him to take this opposition in his stride and implement this historic decision. Such a move could inspire other institutions & sectors in the state too, to replicate the same. I'm sure he would go down in the annals of history as a brave & innovative leader. Good Luck!
Mehboob Makhdoomi is a Harvardian & an MBA from Pennsylvania University (IUP) United States with a Research degree from Cardiff University, United Kingdom.