When young Akhilesh Yadav took over the reins of the state government as chief minister of UP in March 2012, there was natural expectation that his top priority would be education and the institutions of higher learning in the state would be comprehensively revamped to clean up the mess created by previous regimes.
But the casual manner and the non-chalance of the chief minister towards this vital sector of growth has surprised educational pundits who see nothing but doom ahead, distribution of 1.5 million laptops notwithstanding. 'Higher education in the state is facing an unprecedented crisis and the level of research in our institutions has touched a new low,' a retired educationist Dr HS Sisodia, who recently got his third Phd from Agra University. 'It took me eight years to earn my Phd, registered and began working in 2005, got my degree few days back.'
Look at the mess, north India’s oldest state university is in. The teachers are agitating for better conditions of service, the karmacharis are dissatisfied, the students are not getting a fair deal and are restive. Academic standards have touched the nadir. Research has become a weird joke. The administrative machinery stinks of corruption and inefficiency. The university is playing with the lives of lakhs of students with little or zero transparency in the examinations it conducts. The university’s institutes have become white elephants and hotbeds of partisan politics. The university has no control on the affiliated colleges which continue to exploit the students in their own myriad ways. The stink of corruption in B.Ed entrance examinations, in according affiliation, in the appointment of teachers, in regularizing faculty, the admission procedures, has left everyone connected with the academic world dazed and shocked.
A university must have an optimum size. The Agra University presently has more than 500 institutes and colleges affiliated with its campus extending from Noida to Lucknow. It has also to oversee academic activities of the SN Medical College and the Institute of Mental Health (Agra Mental Hospital). Is the university capable of doing justice to carry out these functions? The university in its present form and size is clearly out of tune with the demands of modern education. Its elephantine-size makes governance impossible. It’s high time to look at alternatives. Perhaps the university juggernaut needs to be split into at least three universities.
The crudest joke an institution can play is in the field of research, says Abhinay Prasad, head of NGO Adhar which specialises in skill development and in promoting industry-academia ties. 'Agra University's pathetic record in the field of research deserves international recognition,' he says.
A retired professor, not wanting to be identified, alleges that one 'researcher got his Phd sitting pretty in the US, without ever having met anyone here. Another set of researchers with pocket ful of notes, had dozens lined up to do the donkey's work, from writing to data collection. Every year the same set of people continued to decide who would benefit how. A governor's secretary acquired a Phd, all gift packed as a token of affection from a dean. Numerous examples of fake Ph.ds have now come to light, not to mention the unique case of a don downloading from an internet site and submitting as his own.' The research industry has flourished in Agra all these years because of the spineless academics and vice chancellors who had no moral compunctions in granting Phds and appointments to bootlickers. Little wonder Agra University, one of the oldest in the country, has not been able to produce researchers of substance who could have won laurels for the academia.
The methodology of research has been developed to perfection. 'Pick up four or five old theses, roll them over, start rewriting and hey presto you are a Phd,' explains a retired head. The city abounds in hack writers willing to produce a thesis in just six months, if you have the dough, adds a journalist who has edited many such volumes. In a number of departments there are no laboratories but research has been going on for years. Scholars have also accused the research committee of approving topics for research without even filling the required forms and submitting synopsis.
One reason why the standards of research touched a nadir was the requirement of a Phd degree for a job in the university. Now the situation is changing for the better as candidates have to clear the Net examination conducted by the UGC.
Ideally, research should benefit society in many ways. Many universities have proper mechanism to interact with the needs of the local industry. But universities in UP have shown no such interest.
Two former vice chancellors of Agra University, Prof Islamullah Khan and Manjoor Ahmed, began interacting with the local industries to break fresh grounds in research and to ensure increasing participation and involvement of the academia in the industrial development of Agra. But presently there is a total disconnect between the industry and the university's research and higher learning institutions.
Agra is known the world over for its industries: iron foundries, glass factories, petha-making units, leather shoe industries and of course the Mughal architecture. Interestingly, raw material for all these manufacturing units is not locally available. The city has been a pioneer in these fileds entirely on the strength of its skilled manpower, the 'hunar' of the artisans, the 'misties,' the hands that toil and produce wonderful products. Unfortunately there has never been a sustained and continuous effort by any agency to upgrade the skills and research in these specific areas to develop new materials and devise cost effective techniques. The Agra University does not even have an institute for architecture, where research could be carried on the uniqueness of the Mughal architecture and conservational techniques. Research institutes in glass, leather, iron and food, are the crying need of the hour.
Nationally, the industry-academia lingages particularly with the technical institues have zoomed to a whopping 1,050 this year, a phenomenal 673% jump. But what is Agra's share? Nil.