The admission process for the undergraduate programmes is almost in the last phase here in North-India. One can easily feel the excitement and fear, almost together, in the new college aspirants and their parents. There are a large number of fishes in this small pond that need to be accommodated. Amidst the many concerns, including, new atmosphere, accommodation, being away from the one’s comfort zone, the dilemma over the course and programme selection, there are very few reasons to celebrate for the students. Many of us believe that college and university life not only gives our career direction but shapes our world view. Nevertheless, the best part of structured learning i.e. grad student’s life is on the brink.
The simple reason for the hardship faced by the students is the common rule of the market – ‘demand and supply’. There are millions of school pass-out students in our country, but we have a very few numbers of colleges and universities that could claim to have a launching base – to cultivate the skill to survive in the contemporary world, to provide knowledge and the basic etiquette that is required to live as democratic citizens.
Those institutions who do have a quality learning atmosphere, up to date course-curriculum, infrastructure, well-equipped laboratory, library, well trained and qualified faculty with ideal teacher-student ratio can be easily counted on one’s fingers.
These kind of public funding institutions are becoming rare because of the fund cuts by subsequent governments and a lack of significant recruitment over the decades in the states as well as in the union. Therefore, there is this nail-biting competition within the student community to find a place in these public universities like DU, JNU and BHU.
The technical institutions like IITs, NITs and medical colleges require a different kind of preparation to secure admissions and this is hardly possible without special coaching institutions. Nowadays, students from class 9th onward are taking coaching for the same. A lot of private schools are more focused on their alliances with these coaching institutions. These school charge a hefty amount of fees for these services, therefore, the medical and engineering option is not feasible for average students with average parent’s income.
There are large numbers of other central and state universities and colleges which are running without professors, laboratories and libraries. Their curricula are too ancient and far away from the existing reality and demand of the industry. One example of the outdated curriculum is in the Nainital based Kumaun University that has nearly 90 affiliated government and private colleges where students of political science are still studying the cold – war and are kept away from the new world order.
The post-graduation social science course stands nowhere in front of the undergraduate courses of Delhi University. The surprising fact about higher education in Uttarakhand is that neither the bookseller sell nor the teacher recommends textbooks for undergraduate studies. In fact, the students believe and rely solely on the 50 pages kunji or ‘Question Bank’ that can be memorised before the last night of the exam. Amartya Sen, Romila Thapar, Bipin Chandra, Rajni Kothari, Ashis Nandy, Pratap Bhanu Mehta, Dipankar Gupta, Andre Beteille, Paul Krugman, George H. Sabine, Noam Chomsky, and the like scholars are actively out of classroom teaching and discussion.
Unfortunately for the larger part of college ‘registered’ students, a university means taking admission, conducting exams, declaring results and improving in exam performance. That is quite different from the notion of our first Prime Minister, Mr. Nehru, who had said; and that is written in the entrance of JNU library “A university stands for humanism, for tolerance, for reason, for the adventure of ideas and for the search of the truth. It stands for the onward march of the human race towards ever higher objectives.”
In this way, public higher education in this part of the world is not cultivating the masses into demographic dividend as it claims under the rhetoric of ‘Vishwa Guru’. Without any doubt, our education system, particularly higher education, is outdated, non-innovative, and doesn’t inspire students to take a risk.
The irony of Indian education is that parents want kids to take admission in private schools up to class 12th, but after schooling, they move toward government institutions. Now, as the government is encouraging the corporatisation of education, some reputed names have emerged in a very short span in education.
In the absence of recruitment in government institutions, the private institutions are able to attract the best of professors across the country. But their fees structure gives them the elite tag. For instance, the fees for BA liberal arts of Ashoka University for a four-year degree course will cost over Rs 20 lakhs. So, due to financial constraints, the common Indian dream that education can change their destiny is not applicable here.
On the other hand, there are mushroomed private universities and colleges in small cities and rural India. Now, they are accommodating the financially well off section of society in the absence of quality public-funded institutions. Unlike government institutions, most of the private college’s operations are dependent upon the local teachers who don’t have the exposure and qualifications to satisfy the thirst of young minds. Their fee structure does not allow the students of lower economic strata to join them. These larger issues have established a huge profit-driven coaching industry in the country. Can these coaching and substandard institutions produce skilled human resources for the nation?
The grad student’s life is like raw clay that can be shaped and nurtured trough a vibrant campus life, where there is a balance of academic and extra-curricular activities. The campuses that have produced great leaders in different walks of life are known for academic excellence, debate-discussion culture and support and propagation of different art forms like theatre, cultural fests and constructive engagements with the community.
Unfortunately, we are witnessing this vacuum in most of the institutions in North India. It may be for the above – mentioned reasons that the output of these institutions has found itself in isolation and irrelevant when with respect to the real world. It is the right time for the society and its leadership to feel the anxiety of wandering students caused by our policies. Otherwise, any rebellion from this class will blow the existing structure.
(The writer is doctorate from JNU, New Delhi and has resided in the JNU campus for a decade. Now, he runs and teaches in a school in the Kumaon region in Uttarakhand.)