Friday, June 07, 2013

Central universities add satellite campuses in remote areas

Central universities are opening satellite campuses in remote locations in a move ostensibly driven by the desire to provide quality education to people in those areas, but the move, one academic points out, may be driven by a desire to score points with the electorate ahead of general election scheduled for 2014.

Indeed, the Union government, under whose Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) central universities fall, is already taking credit for opening more Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) in smaller towns in a high-decibel ad campaign that many see as part of the government and the Congress Party’s extended run-up to the election.

On Friday, HRD minister M.M. Pallam Raju will lay the foundation of Hyderabad-based English and Foreign Languages University’s (EFLU) campus in Shillong. Last week, Hyderabad-based Maulana Azad National Urdu University announced its Srinagar campus, and Aligarh-based Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), after opening satellite campuses in Kerala and West Bengal, is setting up a campus in Bihar, expected to be operational in two months.

“Less than 20% of the Indians eligible for pursuing higher education are in the university system and there is a need to increase this base. And central universities’ willingness to fill this gap is good move,” an MHRD official said, adding that the Union government is willing to extend financial help to such initiatives. The official asked not to be identified.

The academic mentioned in the first instance, who did not want to be identified, highlighted that both Shillong and Srinagar are dominated by so-called minority communities (Christians and Muslims, respectively) and offered this as evidence of the political motivation behind the expansion.

Rahat Abrar, a spokesman for AMU, said that as a “historical institution”, the university believes it can take education to so-called disadvantaged locations, a view the HRD minister expressed during a meeting with university vice-chancellors in February. Abrar said that in the satellite campuses in Jangipura in West Bengal and Malappuram in Kerala, AMU has started career-oriented courses such as a Bachelor’s in Law and Master’s in Business Administration. It will also launch a Bachelor’s in education course on both campuses, he said.

“In Bihar, too, we will do the same from the coming academic session,” Abrar said. “The demand is for professional courses and we are offering it.” Each of AMU’s satellite campuses has around 300 acres of land. “All the states have given us land for free,” Abrar said.

As for EFLU’s campus in Shillong, the HRD ministry official quoted above said students in North-East India will benefit as the region does not have enough institutes to train people in professional courses. “The youngsters in the North-East have a good command over English, but need training to get employable. If we can create teachers and language experts, it will benefit the education system as well as countries who seek teachers from India,” added this person. Several countries such as Thailand, Malaysia, African nations and Sri Lanka seek English teachers from India.

“There is a clear need for higher education in less-developed states. And when credible private players don't enter those markets, it’s essential that existing credible government players expand,” said Narayanan Ramaswamy, Partner and Head, Education Practice, at consulting firm KPMG Advisory Services Pvt. Ltd. Such new campuses must also focus on contemporary curricula, industry interaction and offer skill-based courses catering to local job markets, Ramaswamy added.

Maulana Azad National Urdu University’s Srinagar campus will offer skill-based courses in areas ranging from trade to business management in both regular and distant education models, said the MHRD official mentioned earlier. “The government has made attempts earlier to bring Kashmiris to mainstream India, and this national university opening a campus in Srinagar is another step. While for the university it is a brand extension, for people it will better their job and livelihood prospect thorough education,” said the official.

Source: Mint, June 7, 2013

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