Challenges before new Central University VC

CUK has finally got a new VC after more than a year. The University is facing multiple challenges like declining admissions and poor infrastructure and all this needs immediate attention
"It is also a fact that the University had to bear a very huge financial burden on account of rent charges against temporary locations from which it would operate."
"It is also a fact that the University had to bear a very huge financial burden on account of rent charges against temporary locations from which it would operate."Special arrangement

Central University of Kashmir, Ganderbal, has finally got its new Vice Chancellor after more than a year of temporary arrangement. Prof A Ravinder Nath assumed the charge of VC on April 3, 2023 after the Union Ministry of Education issued his appointment order on April 1, 2023.

Ever since its establishment way back in 2009, the Central University of Kashmir has been operating from temporary arrangements in Srinagar areas and now from different locations in Ganderbal. Nearly 15 years after its establishment, one can safely conclude that this University still does not have a permanent address.

It is also a fact that the University had to bear a very huge financial burden on account of rent charges against temporary locations from which it would operate. Questions have often been raised over such huge spending as rent charges. That the University does not have a one permanent base is also reflective of the failure of its successive Vice Chancellors, who have not been able to do much on this front despite serving more than full terms as VCs.

The Central University has also been facing a steep decline in admissions to different courses over the years. Last year, as an unusual arrangement, the University invited open admissions from candidates who had not even applied for admissions/entrance examination. This has reflected very poorly on the University’s image and reputation in public.

The CUK has been awaiting a full-fledged VC for more than a year. During this intervening period, not many policy decisions have been taken to address issues of infrastructure deficit, declining admissions and lack of permanent faculty in different departments of the University. Insiders of the University say this intervening period was spent more on politicking related to appointment of VC, where a section of senior officers and professors tried to overthrow the whole process of appointment of VC allegedly for their own vested interests. Overall, teaching and research has been a big casualty in the University due to this politicking.       

As one senior professor puts it, “Few elements were so enthusiastic to disrupt the VC appointment process that they spent more time in Delhi than CUK to achieve their goal.”

For 35 courses being offered by the University, there are not many takers now because of multiple reasons. One reason can be the absence of a permanent campus for the University despite the passage of 14 years.

Another reason can be lack of senior faculty for different programmes which are mostly being run on contractual arrangements. Third reason can be failure of successive VCs of the University to be able to project the institution as a preferred destination for higher education.

A teacher from CUK told this newspaper that “our university is last choice for aspirants of higher education rather than the first.’ There are no hostels for students who would wish to study in the CUK. This can be another important reason for decline in admissions.

As already reported by this newspaper several times in 2022, the CUK authorities have time and again blamed ‘poor land and soil quality’ at Tulmulla (original site for University) for delay in constructions.

But the Ministry of Education, Government of India earlier constituted a high-level committee—popularly known as the Rao Committee after Professor Rao of the IIT Delhi—which heavily criticised the university administrators for holding this ‘flawed view’.

Prof Rao is once said to have remarked in the presence of a former VC who served the university for nearly eight years that such views must not be allowed to propagate because ‘there is no place on earth where buildings cannot come up’ and that it is ‘just a matter of making use of the right technology’ to make it happen in today's world. Many believe this view was deliberately allowed to propagate for vested interest of allowing more money to be spent on rental charges against temporary locations.

No doubt the CUK has shifted the School of Education to its permanent campus in Tulmulla which comprises three departments including B.Ed, M.Ed and MA Education department. But this is the only School operating from Tulmulla. Rest is all barren and reflects the failure of the successive administrators to have the permanent campus established.

“Why should we study at a place which doesn’t have its own hostels?” said a higher education aspirant from Baramulla. “Same is the situation with students from far-off areas who may wish to study in CUK. When there are no hostels, how can students go up-down 50 to 100 kms daily?”

For one year, many CUK insiders say the University authorities have only focused on extracurricular activities but at the expense of academic progress and infrastructure development. “What is the fun of holding daily events when admissions are declining and the University is presenting a very negative image in the society,” said an official, wishing anonymity, adding that “Holding events is no reflection of University’s progress. What matters is the quality of research and teaching conducted in the institute.”

The CUK is grappling with multiple problems, as listed above. In view of these problems, the appointment of new CUK VC, Prof A Ravinder Nath, is seen as a breath of fresh air for revival of the University’s lost image and prestige.

Prof Nath is faced with a huge challenge to not only build infrastructure and a permanent base for the University but also make sure that declining admissions are plugged without any delay. It cannot happen overnight but a beginning has to be made with seriousness which was missing in yesteryears.

The VC should also crack whip on elements resorting to petty politicking and sycophancy to be in the good books of VCs and under this garb disrupt the VCs from doing their job. Such elements in teaching and administration can be easily identified by the VC in due course of time. The VC should list his priorities clearly so that extracurricular activities do not take place at the expense of curricular activities.

As per his CV, new VC Prof Nath has served in various capacities in central institutions. He must be coming with adequate experience to handle an institution like CUK which is plagued with serious issues and challenges. If the CUK has to come up as a preferred destination for students from different parts of the country, the new VC has to create infrastructure for that, especially the permanent base of the University. Prof Nath should also address previous concerns related to finances spent by the University by holding a financial audit of all expenditures made so far.

To conclude, the CUK was established with a purpose to offer higher education in the UT of Jammu and Kashmir. It was another institution which could have catered to the higher education needs of the UT. But given its poor progress since its establishment, the goal is yet to be realised. All eyes are now on the new VC to see how swiftly he acts to address all these challenges. For now we can only keep our fingers crossed.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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