From Single-Seater to Multi-Seater: Vision of Higher Education

“Vision without action is a dream. Action without vision is simply passing the time. Action with Vision is making a positive difference.”

Joel Barker

In order to decide the future course of a huge country like India, “right” vision at every level is required. Without right vision, it is not only difficult, but also impossible to cater the need of the nation. The purpose of this article is to emphasize the fact that unless a nation (especially people who are in charge of planning or decisions making) has a vision or insight into the kind of decisions that can affect its long term goals and realizes the problems that can crop up with one mis-step, many generations can suffer in the long run.

In the recent past, the Government of India has increased the number of seats in all institutes of  higher education including IITs and IIMs to accommodate the new OBC quota. There have been debates and counter-debates on the issue of quota. It also  met protests ranging from the aamjunta’s court to the supreme court.  But, it was a political decision which had to be accepted. These kind of decisions are irrevocable in nature and need to be accepted as “facts” of our society. But, the idea of increasing  the number of seats to meet the quota and the inclusion of quota itself have serious repercussions. The massive inflow of students resulted because of which it became a practical issue and a challenge for all IITs in 2008-09 . IIT administrations buckled up and started increasing the number of seats. However, unfortunately no decision making bodies ever bothered to examine the repercussions of the increase in the number of  seats. The question of infrastructure, faculties, quality, availability, environment, etc., seemed to be not even taken into account. The seriousness and hurriedness that was shown in implementing the quotas in all IITs and IIMs was at least not seen in creating the right infrastructure to accommodate that quota.There were mere announcements as to such and such number of seats have been increased in IITs, IIMs etc., but no steps were taken to create and to provide the right ambience to sustain the quality while increasing the quantity of students.  Interestingly, quota came first, then the increase of seats to counter and then the question of infrastructure and quality; shows the depth of their vision. Committees were formed as a reactive measure, not as a proactive measureOne has to realize that vision is proactive, not reactive.

If increasing the number of seats along with quota is the vision, then some one has to suffer. Who suffers in the end? The students! Existing students in all the premier institutions are now being forced to share accommodations, change hostels, etc, etc. Even in the final year of your  BTech or MTech it is not certain whether you will get a single-seater or  a multi- seater room in your hostel. New students who might be joining in the coming semesters will even be in a worse position; (a) they will obviously have to compromise with the existing infrastructure of the new institutions and might be at the receiving end since preferences will be made mostly on seniority basis, and (b) they will have to cope up with the demands of academics while still groping for the basic minimum facilities. Neither parents nor students nor authorities realize this until they really experience that how frustrating this can be. Just an increase in the number of seats does not solve the problem of quota in higher education.

Forget the undergraduate programs, the PhDs are also sharing accommodation. Research is supposed to be the most crucial and sensitive activity, which if we take the given parameters, need at least the best facilities and infrastructures. Researchers are supposed to be at least entitled for a single accommodation if not all the benefits that a researcher in the west gets during his/her research tenure. But where is the space to accommodate the massive inflow? Starting from cycle stands to hostel council rooms, from guest rooms to corridor, everywhere constructions are on in full swing. THE REASON: there are no rooms for new students. Single rooms have now become double rooms and double rooms might be tripled or quadrupled. Even then, it is not going to accommodate the huge number of new comers. Some have to still suffer.

Fortunately or unfortunately, newly constructed hostels are coming up of late. But at what cost and at what speed? In IIT B for example, authorities have allowed many huge trees to be felled. Even those trees which were planted as part of “vanmahotsavs” and other such occasions are now completely chopped down. While the country’s Prime Minister and cabinet are making speeches and tours to huge environmental summits to protect the ever-deteriorating environmental conditions, in one of its most prestigious institutions there is a rampant felling of trees. IIT B boasted of some of the best ecology of the country and was no less than a shady gurukul, but thanks to the vision of our decision makers now we have a dry-dreary campus which is facing the tough blows of a hot summer. Moreover, for creating all new buildings most of the time roads are being dug, Internet/electricity/ telephone cables are cut, water pipes are broken

The fault is also of the aamjunta’s, because of our ignorance we do not even bother to ask about the environmental concerns that comes with reckless development. All that which matters to us is our greed for our children and ourselves to get an opportunity to “study” in IITs or IIMs or elsewhere. However, we do not have the foresight that may be our grandchildren or the next generations may never know that such an institution ever existed in India. Our governments and decision making bodies are amazingly good with “maximal use of available resources” without actually thinking of “optimizing” or generating new resources. Where is the vision to understand the capacity of a certain institution or establishment? If an intake has to be doubled up, then why is not there an equal allotment of new land and new space to accommodate the numbers? In addition to it, the red-tapism, contract procedures, tender rules, etc., etc., .. all these things create hurdles to build new hostels even in the existing land (forget about getting new lands). The pace of construction of these buildings are pathetically slow, usually takes 200% times more than the stipulated time.

However, it is not the students who only suffer. To meet the huge intake, the intake of faculties into IITs have also significantly steeped up. Similar problems are also faced by faculty for faculty quarters and offices. There are no quarters for new faculties and most of them are staying in 1 hall-kitchen type flats. Office rooms are also a big problem. IITs which are considered to be aggressively growing research organizations, cannot provide all faculties the minimum facility of a lab and a decent office. Younger faculties who join the institution cannot even expect to bring their spouse, as there is no certainty if they will get a quarter. If this practice and apathy continues how do the governments expect to attract new faculties required to teach/guide the huge population of places like IITs.

But, the problem of infrastructure and other fundamental facilities in higher education in India is neither new and nor is it limited only to institutions like IITs. Universities and especially state universities are in an equally sorry state. An earlier instance of my own experience with this huge intake without a vision comes to mind in this context. In 1995/1996, Govt of Odisha decided to go for a 30% women’s quota in all engineering colleges, since elections were around and the vote bank had to be appeased. I was in the 3rd year of my engineering. Fortunately, we were the last batch and did not suffer the unprecedented inflow into our college. We could manage to get single accommodation in our final years which was very important because of our semester exams, placement and other career decisions badly required at least some personal space for ourselves. There was a ladies hostel with 40-50 seater capacity. That was grossly inadequate to accommodate the massive 30% inflow of female students into our college (UCE, Burla). Nothing was done and no allied campus was set up. Finally, as is typical of our decision making authorities, it was decided that our single seater hostel which was meant only for final year students was to be converted into a ladies hostel. The reason; contract process had not even started to build a new ladies hostel while the government had already issued orders to allow immediate increase in the intake. But, then who suffered? Final year BTechs who succeeded our batch. Ironically, the vision of authorities was such amazingly regressive that the final year BTech boys were doubled and tripled up in the hostels while the first year BTech girls got completely single accommodation :(.

One tends to ask the question that do the authorities not think about all these aspects? If yes, then why is there an apathy and a delay? Who is accountable for this? Why should the common man, students especially suffer?; no infrastructure, no hostels, clumsy classroom, what else is required to prove the amount of respect that the governments, political parties and decision making bodies have for the thing called “education”? If no, then who is responsible for this gross lack of vision? Who is going to take care of the environment and people – planning commission, knowledge commission, MHRD, parliament, judiciary or the aamjunta?

As said before, my intention here was not to debate on the pros and cons of the quota system. Quota has become a brutal reality of this country. But through this article, I appeal specifically to those who are in power, who are coming to power and those who are aiming for power to kindly not to play politics with the educational aspects, which is the actual future of the country. Before implementing any decision, make sure that it is properly studied and its requirements are met. Implement with your eyes open and with a vision, not with closed eyes. The common man also needs to understand and be a part of the process of planning the future of the nation and the world.

Think 1000 times before taking such big decisions. And learn to take appropriate decisions. Action without a vision will not lead to anything productive.

Aamjunta, what is your vision?

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