The Jammu region has four universities besides an IIT and Indian Institute of Mass Communication; the Kashmir Valley has three universities and a National Institute of Technology. This makes it a total of seven universities for the state, including two Central Universities.
As usual, it’s Ladakh which is left behind. The region is not only the largest Lok Sabha constituency in India in terms of area, but also covers more than 53 per cent of the State’s total area.
Besides the odd degree colleges in the Kargil and Leh districts, the region does not have a single medical, engineering or other vocational institution for its students.
Over the weekend, however, Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation stone for the first-ever University of Ladakh.
According to the Press Trust of India, it is going to be a cluster university comprising degree colleges across Leh, Kargil, Nubra, Zanskar, Drass and Khalsti. The administrative offices of this University will be set up in Leh and Kargil, the district administrative centres of Ladakh. It will be established with an initial grant of Rs 65 crore, to be provided next fiscal.
This announcement follows the State Administrative Council (SAC) led by Governor Satya Pal Malik’s decision to approve the Jammu and Kashmir University of Ladakh Bill, 2018.
Previously, these degree colleges were affiliated with Kashmir University.
“Ladakh region with a population of 2.75 lakh as per 2011 census has a student population of 40%. As per the rough estimates, around 90% of students from Ladakh have enrolled in different Universities across the country for studies and the remaining 10% study in Ladakh,” said the Governor’s release.
Since the dawn of Independence, the population of Ladakh has grown manifold, as a consequence of better access to modern medicine, economic prosperity and enhancements in general infrastructure. Will the establishment of the university fulfil a long-standing demand?
“It’s a cluster university and not a full-fledged one. There are degree colleges already present in Leh and Kargil. For the time being, these colleges only offer undergraduate courses. There are the odd additional vocational courses on travel and tourism. However, enrolment in these degree colleges isn’t very high, and there are shortages in staff. There is a satellite campus of Kashmir University in the Taru area, but it is ‘mostly defunct’. Thus, students prefer to go to Jammu or Srinagar,” one lecturer who teaches at the Degree College tells The Better India.
He wishes to remain anonymous and continues, “Changing affiliations from Kashmir University to Ladakh University can improve the situation for Ladakhi students as they no longer have to endure delays in Srinagar arising from regular incidents of civil unrest and inefficient administration. Moreover, the provision for postgraduate and integrated honours courses may stem the tide of students leaving the region for higher education.”
Today, most students have to leave the region and seek higher education in Srinagar, Jammu, and states like Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Delhi and Uttarakhand. By some estimates, the annual average expenditure per student is Rs 50,000 to Rs 1.3 lakh.
With more than 30,000 undergraduate and postgraduate students from Ladakh studying outside, a lot of money is being drained out of the region. Moreover, the financial and emotional stress on students and their families is high. This is particularly the case for women, who undergo regular harassment akin to their sisters in the Northeast.
“I had studied in Leh all through school. For my undergraduate degree, I had to leave and move to Delhi University, where the culture shock was high. Moreover, I had endured constant eve-teasing and racist slurs. Adjusting was very tough initially, but eventually, I found my group of friends from home, the Northeast and a few mainlanders,” says Diskit Angmo, a state employee, speaking to The Better India.
Shakil Ahmad Zaki, the president of All Ladakh Students’ Welfare Association, Jammu (ALSWAJ), highlights some of the problems faced by students in colleges of Jammu and Srinagar.
He observes, “It’s because of the irregularities in the working of the Kashmir University. Our exams are never conducted on time. Results are delayed by one – two years. An undergraduate degree which should be completed in three years takes five. Don’t you think it is a reason enough to compel students to study outside Ladakh?”
Speaking to News Click, he asks, “It takes one hour to travel from Jammu city to Katra. Within the distance of 45 km, there are two universities. Can you imagine? And not even a single university in Ladakh?”
These students feel that Ladakhis shouldn’t have to endure such difficulties. They must have the option of studying at home with access to quality education, they insist.
Families that can afford the expenses send their children to Delhi, Chandigarh, Jammu, and Srinagar. Children from families that can’t afford it drop out of school or college and get into the tourism business or join up with the Ladakh Scouts regiment.
Divisions between those who leave Ladakh, and others who can’t, play along class lines and provoke inspiration or low self-esteem among those who stay back.
This isn’t healthy for any tight-knit community.
“As a result of this ‘forced migration’, the youth of Ladakh are losing touch with their culture and identity, not to mention the burden it takes on our economy,” Jamyang Tsering Namgyal tells The Better India. He is the Chief Executive Councilor of the LAHDC, Leh.
Credit for the establishment of Ladakh University goes to the various student associations in Leh and Kargil, who have, for the time being, set aside regional differences to unite on a single issue.
While the announcement of a Ladakh University addresses the bottlenecks degree colleges in the region suffer from as a result of their affiliation with Kashmir University, the question remains of quality. With Rs 65 crore allocated in the coming fiscal, there are concerns about what sort of upgrades they will see regarding pedagogy, teacher quality and other infrastructural requirements.
“This amount isn’t sufficient for a full-fledged university, but it’s a start since some amount has to be allocated. But yes, for the long run, this sum isn’t sufficient,” says Jamyang Tsering Namgyal.
When asked about the courses on offer, the authorities responded that there would be two models of education—a recognised course and another that will involve a “non-degree skill-based” programme in agriculture, tourism or business.
There is little clarity about the courses on offer, and a committee comprising of senior officials from the respective Hill Councils and experts in academia will soon be constituted to decide on these matters.
These courses and subsequent research programs must attract researchers from India and around the world tackling real-life concerns that affect not only Ladakh but other high-altitude regions around the world that suffer from the vagaries of climate change.
The work of Sonam Wangchuk, the legendary social activist/entrepreneur who founded the Students’ Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakh (SECMOL) and set up the Himalayan Institute of Alternatives (HIAL), could be of inspiration in this regard.
The students of Ladakh have managed to cross the first barrier, which is to pave the way for the establishment of a university in the region.
The hard part for both students and authorities comes next, when questions will be raised about the courses taught, the quality of teachers enrolled and other key infrastructural concerns.