arts: universities learn to earn
arts: universities learn to earn
T. S. Eliot is passé. So are Shivangi, Mir Taqi Mir and Bhai Vir Singh. Adam Smith, however, is in. Going by the number of students opting for vocational and professional courses as well as the commerce stream, one gets the feeling that humanities are taking their last bow. Students nowadays are in a hurry to earn money. They'd rather take up a vocational course right after school or earn while they do their graduation through correspondence. An MA is definitely out of fashion—unless you are appearing for some competitive examination.
Universities here face a dual dilemma. One is the number of dwindling admissions, especially in the humanities stream-both in terms of quality and quantity. On the other hand, they are slowly but steadily being asked to be self-reliant. Can they cope?
"Yes", replies Dr A. K. Saihjpal, honorary director of Centre for Industry Institution Partnership Programme (CIIPP) at Panjab University, Chandigarh. He is practical enough to admit that universities have to learn to earn in order to buffet the onslaught of commercialisation in education.
With private institutions both in India and abroad luring students with a host of vocational packages and a neat cache of placement offers, even good universities are struggling to convincingly sell themselves. Under the CIIPP, Dr Saihjpal claims to have spread awareness in the industry about the services that the university (both faculty and students) could offer to the industry.
"Industrialists in Baddi, Ludhiana and Jalandhar, for example, had problems communicating with clients from the Middle East, Russia, Germany and other such countries which prefer to converse in their own mother tongues. We invited them to get their manuals and business communication translated from the university departments. The German Department alone earned Rs 25,000 and Persian, Urdu Chinese and other departments also got some work," he substantiates.
"Apart from this, some R&D work, consultancy programmes, surveys and market research jobs are offered to the departments of pharmacy, chemical engineering, geography, business management and sociology. The corporate world and banks, too, have outsourced the conduct of examinations to us because of our infrastructure."
Here, too, it is the university and the faculty, especially from the sciences, who benefit the most. Only the brightest of the students get to share the booty, he concedes.
The Department of Music, by conducting summer and weekend workshops, has managed to involve students and make a little money on the side. For the humanities stream, he has visualised a Language Club for the faculty, which will pool the resources of the departments of English, Hindi, Punjabi, Sanskrit etc to offer translation work, workshops and allied services to industrialists and publishers etc. Still, the involvement of students is missing.
For Dr Sudhir Saxena, who teaches English at the Department of Evening Studies, humanities are at the forefront of university teaching, offering guiding principles for a society to function. "Humanities create new values and interrogate the existing ones. Arts are studied not only for their aesthetic appeal but also to provide ideas to science to infer from, which are then applied by the industry. The quality of humanities, therefore, determines the quality of education imparted by the university," he states.
He calls for restructuring outmoded departments and clubbing together facilities for optimum utilisation of resources. "Research-oriented faculty could be reserved for teaching, while the market-oriented ones could hold workshops on content writing, proficiency in the language, translation studies and do translation jobs, which could later be published by the university or an outside publisher and sold in the market. Quality translation projects could be made part of requirement for an M.Phil or Ph d. for students and also be published," he says.
Dr Kamra, who teaches public administration, is all for the therapeutic effects of humanities. "People need to replenish the aesthetic part of their souls. That is why reading as a hobby has made a big comeback. Science and commerce can never be fronts for generation of ideas."
Dr R. K. Wanchoo of the Chemical Engineering Department, who is in charge of the newly opened University Placement Cell, which is to provide placement services specifically for students of humanities, admits that some value addition is required for these students in order to resuscitate this stream.
"It does not matter what subjects you study at the graduation or post-graduation level, if you want to join a call centre, for example, but working knowledge of computers is a must. We could collaborate with private IT training centres to further empower our students. Even for the placement cell we intend to involve the students themselves."
Solutions for earning for students as well as the university are ample only if carried out thoughtfully. What is required is a vision for the arts stream as a whole and end the bias towards sciences. There are numerous dysfunctional Chairs in various departments, which could also be restructured. A lot of work, e.g. in the Department of Correspondence Studies, that can be outsourced cheaply or a lot of laboratory work that doesn't require regular faculty should be rationalised.
The linguistics paper, e.g., is taught in the regular department, Correspondence Studies Department and the Department of Evening Studies—the classes for this could be held together or by the same faculty. Even cost cutting need not mean shutting down overstaffed and under worked departments or pinching pennies while allotting budgets to departments such as philosophy, public administration, history and education etc., which can contribute little to the university's kitty. Restructuring these could provide a solution.
FOR someone who is reviled for trying to change the "Punjabi" character of Punjabi University, Vice Chancellor Swarn Singh Boparai has done something for Punjabi which none of his predecessors touched upon. The Vice-Chancellor envisaged and established the Advanced Centre for the Technical Development of Punjabi in the University this February at a time when animosity towards him on the issue of reducing the importance of Punjabi was at its peak.
To the credit of the Vice-Chancellor, the project was not pulled out of the hat to offset the criticism on the Punjabi front. The Centre, which is headed by a technical man in Dr Gurpreet Lehal, who was earlier on deputation with the Thapar Institute of Engineering and Technology, has got a headstart with the University Grants Commission releasing a grant of Rs 40 lakh to it.
While the grant will practically help the language with major feats proposed to be achieved in the field of e-learning, the Vice-Chancellor has also tried to prove a subtle point, one that he has been maintaining all along. He was trying to give a practical solution to students studying science subjects at the graduation level and was never against Punjabi language per se.
It is his thinking that these students should be allowed to concentrate on science subjects by doing away with the compulsory Punjabi language subject. He tried to do the same with arts students by removing the Punjabi subject and introducing computer science as a subject in lieu of this. He had to backtrack in the face of sustained opposition and a directive from the state government forbidding him from going ahead with the move.
Students strike back
With so many good strokes, the
Vice-Chancellor seems to have erred again, even though it is on the
same issue. Strict action against student leaders led to a historic
strike on the campus in September last year when girl students sat out
two nights in front of the Vice-Chancellor’s office, prompting the
government to intervene. Recently, four student leaders who are the
main force behind the Punjabi University Students Confederation (a
conglomeration of nearly all student bodies on the campus), were
rusticated by the authorities. While three of them are accused of
being involved in a fight with other students, the fourth was found
drunk on the campus. It has been two months since the fight took place
and the fighting parties have also arrived at a compromise. However,
the university authorities are refusing to reinstate the students,
which led to blocking of the main gate of the university at a time
when the institution is preparing for the World Punjabi Conference in
December. This does not portend well for the university.
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