Higher education in Jammu and Kashmir started with the establishment of S. P. College Srinagar and GGM Science College (Prince of Wales College) Jammu, in 1905. Subsequently, A. S. College Srinagar was setup in 1913, St. Joseph’s College Baramulla and Gandhi Memorial College Srinagar in 1943. Government College for Women M A Road Srinagar and Government College Anantnag came into existence in 1950. In 1951 two more colleges, Government College Sopore and Vishwa Bharti College Rainawari were established followed by Islamia College of Science and Commerce in old city Srinagar in 1961. Establishment of Colleges was continued at intervals and as on date there are 72 academic colleges in Government Sector and three Private Grant-in-Aid Colleges in the Vale of Kashmir. Some of these Colleges offer PG programmes as well.
Till the middle of 20th century, there was no university in J&K. For pursuing PG programmes and research leading to the award of Ph.D degrees, students had to seek admission in Punjab University Lahore, Aligarh Muslim University, or even in Calcutta University. To meet this requirement, University of Jammu and Kashmir was established in 1948. It was split into two universities, viz: Kashmir University and Jammu University in 1969. In 2002 State Government planned to introduce PG programmes in some Colleges having sufficient physical infrastructure but due to change of guard (governance) in the same year, execution of the scheme was delayed. However, in 2003 University of Kashmir, under dynamic leadership of Prof Jalees Ahmad Khan Tareen (the then Vice Chancellor), started PG programmes in some of its affiliated Colleges. The University also initiated process of establishing two satellite campuses at Anantnag and Delina, Baramulla (South and North Kashmir, respectively) in 2004.
University Grants Commission New Delhi in pursuance to Kothari Commission 1966 and NPE 1986 and its Programme of Action 1992 had initiated the process of granting academic autonomy to the colleges having potential for excellence. Accordingly Kashmir University in consultation with college principals identified some colleges having potential for excellence and communicated requisite statistical information to the UGC. On evaluating the status of these institutions, the UGC agreed in principle to grant academic autonomy to six colleges affiliated to Kashmir University. However, the State Higher Education Department did not allow the scheme to see the light of the day. Instead, false impression was spread against this novel idea.
To meet the demand for PG programmes, Islamic University of Science and Technology was established under an Act of State Assembly at Awantipora in 2005. Further, to spread the canvass of higher education, Central University of Kashmir was established in 2009 and Cluster University Srinagar (CUS), in 2016. This expansion in higher education sector opened new panoramas for the youth of this region.
An article titled, “Cluster University Srinagar: Open Horizons”, by Dr Meem Hai Zaffar, et al, in response to the present Vice Chancellor’s Vision Statement, appeared in Greater Kashmir on 25th April, 2021. The authors have articulated that the five leading colleges of Srinagar City comprising Cluster University have ample physical and intellectual infrastructure. However, “the university is striving for development of an ecosystem conducive to an institution of excellence. There is a need for collaborative effort on part of the constituent colleges to strengthen the cluster university and improve academic and research base as a single entity rather than individual educational infrastructure”, says the Vice Chancellor. There is also an opinion expressed by a school of thought that the pace of the progress of cluster university Srinagar has been slow as the concept of Cluster University has not been executed in letter and spirit. The constituent colleges of the Cluster University have been indifferent to act as a composite unit of the university and have apprehension that they may lose their individual identity. Besides, the prevailing situation in the region from 5th August, 2019 following abrogation of article 370 and 35 A and subsequent tragic effects of Corona Virus have crippled every sphere of life particularly the education sector. The author is optimistic that there are able academic leaders and dedicated faculty members in these institutions. They are expected to carry forward the vision document made public by the Vice Chancellor.
It is in place to mention that there is urgent need of robust institutions of higher learning where our youth could be prepared to face the contemporary challenges. The academic leaders must identify strengths and weaknesses (based on SWOC analysis) in their institutions, upgrade and get them accredited by NAAC with superb grades and achieve potential for excellence, a necessary condition for grant of autonomous status prescribed by the UGC. They need to join hands and strive for establishing more Cluster Universities and acquiring autonomous status for select institutions. It would be in the fitness of things to establish Cluster Universities in Kupwara (North), Kulgam (South) and Chinab Valley (Baghi-Fareed) including Doda, Badherwah, Kishtwar and Ramban.
Higher Education Department is also expected to come out of inertia syndrome, play a role meeting contemporary demands in higher education, facilitate the institutions to broaden their academic borders and promote their growth. Principals with more than five years of service at their back should be posted in such colleges. They should be enabled to achieve academic goals. Even posts of faculty should be made non-transferable as envisaged in National Education Policy 2020. The principals of Cluster Universities should be designated as Directors of respective campuses and different campuses be known by their functional areas as for instance, Cluster University Kupwara, School of Science at Government Degree College Handwara and so on.
To conclude, there has been exponential growth in the number of colleges established over the period in J&K. Quality education is the outcome of well-balanced curriculum transacted by adopting effective pedagogy. Need of the hour is to pool the resources, physical and intellectual by establishing more cluster universities and autonomous colleges, to empower both faculty and students.
The author is former college principal