Masters of none?

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SHEIKH ABID

THE varied universities in Kashmir are witnessing a strange and a worrisome phenomenon – there has been a major reduction in the admission applications for various professional and non-professional higher education courses. It seems there are no takers for the courses offered here.

  • Where are the applicants?

Only recently, the University of Kashmir authorities had floated a call for ‘open admissions’ to fill up vacant seats for varied engineering programs, reflecting poorly on the varsity’s efforts to boost its declining admissions.

The Directorate of Admissions and Competitive Examinations at KU floated a notification for counselling/spot admissions for vacant seats in Open/Reserved and Self-Finance categories at the Institute of Technology, Zakura Campus and North Campus, Baramulla for various engineering branches including civil engineering, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, electronics and communication engineering, besides computer science engineering at North Campus Baramulla. The KU notification dated October 25, 2023 read thus: ‘It is notified for information of all candidates concerned that a fresh counselling session has been scheduled on 30.10.2023 for 4-year BTech programs which have remained vacant due to non-completion of admission formalities/cancellation of admissions by the selected candidates’.

Similar scenarios have been witnessed with other two main universities of Kashmir including Islamic University of Science & Technology (IUST) which also floated an open notification of on-the-spot-admission in its various postgraduate programs without any entrance tests.

The IUST notice dated October 20, 2023 also called for on-the-spot admission in various engineering courses viz., B Tech (electronics & communication), electrical engineering & mechanical engineering,   to fill out vacant seats in the respective courses & admitting candidates on ‘first come, first serve basis’.

Earlier this year, the IUST had also floated an open admission notification dated September 5, 2023 for various postgraduate courses including MA (economics), Arabic language & literature, English language & literature, international relations (peace & conflict studies), journalism & mass communications besides M Sc & MCA programs too.

A similar scenario is being witnessed at the Central University of Kashmir where many notices can be found on their official website offering on-the-spot admissions or the same without qualifying entrance exams, giving a clear indication that there is a major dearth of candidates interested in taking up these courses.

These courses include a masters in convergent journalism, comparative religious studies, integrated BEd Med and integrated BSc-MSc programs.

  • Decoding poor takers

Such a poor response from candidates & fall in their number can be attributed to multiple reasons. From a big question on the employment viability on completing these degrees, to a questionable quality of teaching, there are enough reasons that keep the students away.

“Soon after completing my BTech in mechanical engineering, I could not find any job related to my degree for two years. It was only after I shifted to the service sector – detouring from what I had studied – that I got working. Now I am working as an office assistant in a private coaching centre,” says Arshid, an engineering graduate.

A very low number of private sector opportunities in Kashmir is also a factor that makes things tough for pass-outs even from professional courses as they don’t find any jobs in industrial setups here.  The industrial setups here are already limited in number and filled out.

“There are various well-paid jobs outside Kashmir being offered by various industries to fresh degree pass-outs. Job profiles like civil & mechanical engineers, chemical analysts, data operators/analysts, coders, IT professionals, biotechnology/microbiology assistants are easily available there which accommodate a huge number of pass-outs every year. On the other hand, our youngsters find themselves nowhere to go beyond government jobs since the industrial setup here is still evolving,” laments Mohammad Zubair, owner of a small manufacturing startup.

Then, the absence of quality teaching methods, updated syllabus as per the changing trends of the market, less focus on practical skills & more on theoretical aspect in pedagogy courses & changing job market demands with the advent of Artificial Intelligence, Chat GPT & AI command-based computerised and mechanised tools have also snatched jobs creating an imbalance in the demand-supply ratio of working force. Though it also must be said that these advanced technologies have opened a lot of new kind of job opportunities too. ‘’To be honest, universities here have not updated their curriculum/syllabus besides other infrastructural aspects as per the fast evolving job market. The world is changing fast, and in order to keep pace, we also need to upgrade our courses according to the industrial standards out there,” a college professor remarks.

  • There are other options

Fresh graduates, soon after passing out of colleges, also get a number of career choices other than going for higher education. Since, they get eligible for a varied number of graduate level recruitment posts including UPSC, Civil Services, State Civil Services, CDS, SSC, JKSSB etc, many don’t opt for higher studies.

“I want to crack the civil services exam because it is my childhood dream. So I directly went into its preparation soon after completing college. I don’t want to go for any regular postgraduate degree because it is of no use to me,” says Sheikh Farzan, a recent college pass-out & a civil service aspirant.

IGNOU is yet another alternative for those who cannot pursue regular university courses for whatever personal or financial reasons. “An IGNOU degree is equally valuable and recognised as any regular university degree. So I am currently pursuing my masters in Sociology from the open university & simultaneously preparing for various state competitive exams. I think I made a good decision by not joining any regular course because there is no difference in quality & material content nowadays,” says Shazia, an IGNOU student.

  •  Changed priorities

New-age graduates, who have access to the social media and its possibilities, simply aren’t interested in the traditional educational journey; rather they are finding new ways to settle down professionally. With new options available, they find higher education a bit boring and uninteresting. Their focus lies on lifestyle V-logging, YouTube videos, musical songs, singing, dancing etc. “We just don’t see the same level of interest in new-age graduates as compared to graduates of a few years ago. This generation is fast and follows intuition. They want a quick kick in life and are challenging old-fashioned customs, and education is also a part of it,” says Mahmood Rashid, a retired academic.

No wonder then that the university departments are literally struggling for students to turn up and show interest. Says an official who deals with admissions in a university: “We have to literally call recent graduates ourselves and motivate them to take admission in our courses. We tell them to just fill the forms online and submit the documents in office without appearing in any entrance test. Still, we see a very cold response. This is the first time we are witnessing such an abysmal response. Universities along with other higher education institutes need to look into the matter seriously”.

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