Squeaks of cleaners, paint on shabby walls, trimmed grass in lawns, men at work and illuminated streets suggest a big day is coming up in the Kashmir University (KU). But the ‘eleventh-hour’ beautification drive has come under sharp scrutiny from the varsity students and scholars.
KU is preparing for the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) visit.
The campus is being spruced up on war-footing. Hundreds of men have been engaged and money worth lacs is being spent. Authorities have directed sweepers, security guards, gardeners and other staff to remain on toes. Attendance of employees is witnessed even on Sundays. Mock teams pay surprise visits to different departments to ensure preparedness. Even the vice-chancellor is painstakingly monitoring the entire ‘cleaning’ process.
The pace and progress has however taken students and scholars by surprise.
“From last 3 years, we’ve constantly approached authorities with grievances related to infrastructure, but our pleas have been falling on deaf ears,” says Sameer, a post-graduate student of the varsity. “They would always cite dearth of funds as an excuse. It’s astounding how funds have suddenly cropped up now, that too, in a run-up to the big campus visit.”
But the varsity admin plays down these perceptive changes, calling them a matter of routine.
“We’re only doing minor changes, like erecting boards, reinstalling poles,” Dr Nisar Ahmad Mir, Registrar Kashmir University, told Free Press Kashmir. “It should be a regular process. I’ve recently joined here (KU), my VC has also joined very recently. We’ll ensure it in future.”
But the beautification and renovation started after Kashmir University applied for re-accreditation by NAAC.
For 2nd reaccreditation cycle, NAAC accredited Kashmir University with grade “A” in 2011 which was valid up to five years but the varsity did not get reaccreditation on time in 2016, which made it ineligible for funds in tune of about Rs 100 crores from the Government of India.
And for that, the varsity authorities put the blame on 2016 street uprising in the valley.
Notably, NAAC-accredited institutions become eligible for different funds from GoI. NAAC evaluates Higher Educational institutions in terms of their performance related to the educational process and outcomes, curriculum coverage, teaching-learning process, faculty, research, infrastructure, learning resources, organization, governance, financial wellbeing and student services.
But students reviewing the varsity on the touchstone of these parameters show sheer disappointment, terming the current process “cosmetic measures to mislead NAAC”.
Disguising institutional failure with exorbitant means may fetch the varsity good grade, but it won’t change KU’s sorry state of affairs, the students say.
“University ignores academic area and instead embroiders physical appearance of the campus,” says Aarif Maqbool, a final year student. “What about our degrees, which have been reduced to mere crash courses?”
Students further decry over ‘arbitrary hike in a hostel and other fees’ to which, some officials have cried financial crunch. Students also point fingers at the poor performance of the campus health centre.
“It seems they’ve created health centre to generate employment only,” says Saima, a varsity student. “There’s always shortage of medical supply. We’ve to get even essential medicines from outside.”
But then, KU Registrar responds by saying that the campus has to issue tenders for anything that exceeds the amount of one lac, and that they’ve already issued tenders, which is a “little time-consuming”.
But despite this official positioning, there exists a clear chasm between students and admin, KU students say. “Our attempts to take up issues that concern us with authorities often fall on deaf ears,” says Naveed Bukhtiyar, general secretary J&K Students’ Movement. “It seems Kashmir University is for everyone but students.”
From blaming authorities of using suppressive measures to tame critical voices, and highlighting arrogance of clerical staff, particularly in the Examination Block, students talk about endless issues.
In view of these unaddressed issues, how did students/scholars respond to the Student Satisfaction Survey carried out by NAAC?
“Students were advised to submit a positive response for the sake of the reputation of the institution,” says Aqib Yusuf, a varsity student.
The response of students symbolizes — their uphill task of choosing between ‘the rot in the institution’ and ‘the reputation of the institution’.
“This make-believe response was sought when backdoor appointments have already plagued the varsity,” Aqib continues. “Family influence matters more than merit here.”
What Aqib says resonates with the views of a contractual teaching staffer. Notably, last year, vigilance filed a case against the former Vice-chancellor for allegedly appointing an ineligible candidate as a medical officer.
But the campus mess doesn’t end there.
In 2018, in an awkward moment, KU forgot to print the papers of Persian literature students, who had to return home without sitting for the exam. In an equally bizarre incident, Geology papers were given to Geography students in an examination hall.
But despite these apparent aberrations, KU website proudly put its Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) Rankings and National Institutional Ranking Framework — which is 51st and 53rd, respectively.
Coming back to upcoming NAAC visit, the varsity previously drew flak for spending Rs 12 lacs on the 2011 visit. The team was gifted shawls, samovars and saffron. NAAC’s accreditation of grade ‘A’ to KU was termed as their reciprocity.
“If gifts would get the grades,” KU Registrar responds, “then we wouldn’t have gotten the 53rd position in NIRF. We’re in top 100 academic institutions. It means we’ve good potential. Besides, we’re creating a Central Research Facility Centre (CRFC). Hopefully, that will be completed by within a month or so.”
CRFC will meet the need for quality research, he asserts.
But amid claims and counter-claims, students say they aren’t against any development. All they want is administration’s focus on the “existing rot”.
“Beautification should not be allowed to cover up the mismanagement,” says Showkat, a scholar. “From last several years, dogs are on prowl in the campus, and authorities have failed to prevent this menace, despite several bite cases.”
But in the backdrop of NAAC visit, municipality staff was seen capturing and bundling dogs into vans on 25th April.
“This dog management is KU’s way to assert that the campus hasn’t gone to dogs,” the scholar says.
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