Agenda Setting for Kumaon University Alumni Society

By R S Tolia • Random Thoughts • 22 Nov 2015

When approached by Vice Chancellor of Kumaon University of Hoshiyar Singh Dhami to join the family of Kumaon University as its designate President of KU Alumni Association ( now renamed as Society, to comply with regualtions of the Society Registration Act, 1860 ) this writer was not very certain and clear as regards the role that he and other former students of Kumaon University and its associate /affiliate Colleges could possibly play, at this stage of their respective lives. Few efforts were made to contact some known to him and close friends who were known to have had their academic association either with the erstwhile DSB Post Graduate College of the Almora Post Garhduate College. The third Campus of Kumaon University ( KU, hereafter ) is the latest of the three. Who could be considered 'an Alumni', how far back in time one could go in tinme and so on were some points that could be argued either way. Frankly speaking, during the past 15 years at least since the state came on its own not much was heard about a group of stake-holders called 'A lumni' and the role played by its cobnstituents. What certainly one had heard, almost an un-ending litany, was the ever-detriorating standards of higher-eduaction and what all was amiss in a fast deteriorating situation, which is certainly assuming alarming proportions as the quotient of educated unemployment goes newr the tipping point ?

Role of a Vice Chancellor

\Vice Chancellor of a University is both its academic and executive head and there is no gainsyaing that the proverbial buck stops at his table, as the Univerities Act provides him vast powers, including some discretionary ones. Prof Hoshiyar Singh Dhami certainly out-did my modest expetations of him when he announced his participation in a very preliminary preparatory meeting that this writer held a few months back, in Doon University and attended it, sharing documents related to Kumaon University and what all he has been able to initiate and achieve during his tenure. His personal participation though did go a long way to motivate all of us, alumni based in Dehradun, but the subsequent follow-up, did not prove to be up to the mark. Whiel he did mention that he himself is an alumni and that is why his extra interest also some how did not click, as it should have, now one can say with the advantage of an hind-sight. Past few months his reminders on mobile interventions amongts some of us did indicate that possibly all escape routes are now closed and at least some of us will now have to make this association a reality, and institution that delivers. If some one really needs to be given full marks for activating this Alumni Association, it must be Prof Hoshyar Singh Dhami, the Vice Chancellor himself. One simple reason that led to a major delay were the hassels that are associated with registering a Society, as any association like the one proposed, had to be a legal entity, if it hoped to remain transparent and really active. After losing much time in deciding on its registration it was decided that registration and activisation could move in parallel, and let registration be not the first necessary step.

National Assessment and Accredition Council ( NAAC )

While things were moving at their own leaisyrely pace the visit dates of the Accredition Committee ( Cycle -2 ) was announced and Prof Dhami sent this writer an invitation for the inaugural dinner and the meeting with NAAC Team on the morning of the 20th November along with some of the office bearers of the Association. This announcement precipitated the action and as all Indians are wont the designate office bearers, who were short listed by this designate President, based on their response alacrity and known competence to deliver a promise made by them, tweaked almost every thing and ensure that all necessary papers required for registration of the proposed society got delivered, ahead of the formal date of appeaarnace before the Accredition Committee. It is only later that this group relaised that the registration of this Association was really not a mandatory condition, the avtivity of the Association was ! Be that as it may, to put the record straight, the office bearers out-did themselves, in reaching the first tangible mile-stone ! Let is be pointed out, for those un-initiated in the mechanics of Higher Education funding process that the National Assessment and Accredition Council ( NAAC ) is an autonomous instition of the University Grants Commission ( UGC ) based on whose assessment the UGC releases major grants to any institution of higher education, including the autonomous Colleges, which may be affiliated to a Unievsity but not directly under its control. To illustrate, the size of this issue, Kumaon University has only three Campsuses, which caters to just under 9, 000 regular students, but its 40 affiliated Colleges, takes the number of students who get its Degree ( after successfully qualifying through its Examination ) exceeds 60,000 ! If quality of education be the issue for debate the very first quetion that hits any one looking into this issue, naturally is, how does one ensure this quality, which covers the system that gets operated via these 40 affiliated Colleges. Given the efforts, that went into arranging this Cycle -2 of Kumaon University NAAC visit, one wondered about the fate of those that we confront in the remotest part sof Kumaon ( as Kumaon University is the point under discusssion is here ). This writer is more than alive to the 'quality of education' ( if there be any such thing in our rural areas ) that one can expect, say in Munsyari, where there are no regular teachers, no classes get conducted, for the last 13 years ! More of it, later. 

Self Study Report ( SSRs )

The best part of any NAAC team visit is that not only it is a voluntary offer by a University to offer itself for such a Cycle of assessment, certainly a bold act on the part of any Vice Chanceloor, as the buck stops at his table, still more laudable is the fact that its a 'peer review', the team consists of well-known academics, who have spent their lief -time in similar educational institutions. Any University gains tremendously, and we are not discussing, just the additional grants that may be received by it but the entire process of self-reflection on the part of each and every part of the institution in focus, but also all other stake-holders ! Reaching Naini Tal two days ahead of the proposed interface with the NAAC team members, this writer sought all documents that had been submitted to the vsiting tema as also varios other reports, inlcuding those that were published as a part of the Twelfth Convocation, held a few days ago.

Going though these documents, particularly the Self Study Reports ( SSRs ) prepared by the University, as a team, that educated this writer about the 'state of the art', so to say, about his alma mater. Going from cover to cover, in two volumes and the Annual Reports that get prepared by the Excellence Assessment Unit, one get the so called 'sense of the Unievsrity', including its financial health. The SSRs are nothing but a comprehensive Questionnaire that seeks all kinds of pertinent information that would help any 'peer' to know the fact, as presented based on documents' and seek further clarifications, if any. Obviously, as the review is by peers only, such an inventory has to be prepared with utmost care, leaving absolutely no room for 'looking silly later'. The two SSRs that this writer literally consumed page by page, neight almost serial number by serial number, as it was so informative, content -wise. These help also in coparing the state of educational health of each department, within each campus, primarily the DSB and SSJ ( standing for Deb Singh Bisht and SS Jeena Campuses ), as also between the two campuses for each department !

As this writer had been witness to the progress of these two Colleges, then part of the behemoth of a University, called the Agra University, since 1966 onwards, as a Post Graduate Student, and later as the Principal Secretary handling these very same academic institutions, for UP Hills in early 1990s, then as Kumaon Commissioner, and yet again post 2000 as an integral part this new state, for him it was a long marathon, down the memory -lane ! These SSRs were not just bunch of pages, providing details, names, statistics and various percentages etc but real live comparisons, between periods, between regions, between institutions and between various leaders who led these institutions, the Principals and Vice Chancellors !

Facts and Visuals from the Past

Financial figures and institutions like Hostels flashed back a Langham Hostel that was revamped as a Women's Hostel, in its new avatar; a burnt Physics Department and Lab attarcting a major financial help from the Uttarakhand Development Department, and several other requiremnets adding up to a prinecely sum of Rs 25 crores in 1994, in a single year, for just one University,that also benefitted the sister-University of Garhwal, by an equal amount of Rs 25 , without it being asked ! Those were the days in UP when if one package went to Kumaon, Garhwal became automatically entitled to it. This writer, after the meeting shared with some alumni who were present, that is how the Chauras land became available for the then Garhwal University ! The SSR details, at least for this writer, were not just drab data but rela and live past history of these two campuses. 

The Bhim Tal Campus, brought back the memory of how when UP Teletronics had to be wound -up, and this writer as Kumaon Commissioner was charged with its liquidation, juggled and bargained an over-due of aproximately more than a crore of rupees in 1994, exchanged it for the proposed Kumaon University campus Institute ( perhaps Pharmacy or Management /Computer Centre ), using the budget to pay the bank over-dues, and in the bargain get government posts for those UP Teletronics employees who were to be thrown to streets ! It was a Bonanza for these hapless employees as most of them, who were qualified otherwise, all became government servants ! Bhim Tal Campus came for a word of praise by the NAAC committee chairman, and that triggered the UP Teletronics exchange-episode.    

Alumni Directory and Action Agenda

As this writer went page by page through these two excellent SSRs and the Annual Reports in his minds eyes, the Directory of the Alumni took a clera shape, as did the Agenda Items for the proposed Alumni Society.These SSRs have a serial item which seeks from each department the details of ten most Eminent Alumni that it has had ! As this writer went though the ten names that each department, of both campuses, as each department gets covered one campus following the other, the individuals cited became real persons, majority of them either known to him, several his eminent contemporaries, many decorated at the national level, several having been recommended by him only fro the Padm Awards, several awarded by some of the most eminent Science Academies and other National Academies. 

The Alumnies, thus feted and celebrated by the present department, becomes easily the best award that these 'eminent alumnis' would ever receive, many may even rate them higher than the highest they have received in their careers ( ask them confidentially, immodesty permitted ). It has been rightly said ' the highest recognition that any one can get is from their peers, and contemporaries.' Same applies, in reverse, and that was the rationale when the then IAS Association in UP decided to vote 'The Most Corrupt Three' amongst them. Much maligned, by all other IAS Associations of the country, it was the UP IAS Association, which was proved 'absolutely right', with two of the voted most corrupt, jailed, convicted, besides being ostracised by the society at large; and the third vanishing withot a trace.

Thus the highest honor that any alumni can possibly aspire for is to find one's name being included in this of the Ten Most Eminent ! As this riter went though lists after lists, it also triggered a chain of memories. Sevral Chief Secretaries, senior civil servants, eminent scientists, scholars popped out of these lists, several of them not known to the Uttarakhandis, as they served other parts of the country, many even abroad. Given the failures that are inherent in such departmental histories, one is amazed at the total contribution of Kumaon University to the society and the country, at large. This writer said so, in so many words and quaoting the lists in the SSR, to the NAC Committee. The NAAC Committee indeed went so far as to appreciate, what they called its ' Glorious Past ' !

This clearly suggested how the Alumni Directory is now going to be arranged, namely, Department-wise, and for the sake of organisational purposes, also geographic distribution-wise, also. The Eminent Alumni, if they figure in the Honors List, have to redeem the honor bestowed on them, and lead the Departmental Alumni effort to improve the Department's performance , all -round. They owe it to the Departmnet, that provided the the paltform from where they have grown. Its time for Paying Back. They need to tweak every possible alumni, who followed them or were their contemporatry, where ever they may be today. Thats it. Let there be a fiece competition amongst all Departments, who does best for its Department ?

What to Do ?

All alumni thus arranged and identified are to look up yet another entry in the same SSR, where their names did or did not figure in the List of Ten, and it is by way of a SWOT analysis of each department. The 'W' of SWOT, namely Weakness, as listed today, is the list of items to be addressed, taken up for solid and timely action. It would involve almost all physical, financial and human resource deficiencies. The action agenda for each Departmental List of Alumni is the Sigma of these Ws ( sum total of Weaknesses, as identified today in these SSRs ). One was really wonder-struck when told that the kick-start fund for kick-starting the Higher Eduaction Revival Mission ( Rashtriya Uchcha Shiksha Abhiyan, RUSA ) could not be utilzed as the plans for upgradation of Higher Education could not be prepared and timely executed by the Higher Education department ! If these SSRs are any guide, and if similar exercise could be taken up by each state university and more importantly, each affiliated College and Post Garduate College, why such is the situation of poor implementation and traction of RUSA ?

Towards an equally GLORIOUS Present and Future

The Glorious Past thus acknowledged by the chairperson of the Peer Committe, Prof R.P. Tewari, Vice Chancellor, Dr H.S. Gour Vishvavidyala, Saugor, MP, now a central University, the question that was repeatedly discussed with several other stake-holders like the Parents, Teachers, Student Union Leaders etc etc was how to make the present and the future equally Glorious ? NAAC is essentially to encourage, motivate, and counsel through the peer group and stake-holders discussions to work for improving the present state and the future of higher education, more relevant to the emerging needs of the society, which is changing so fast and in texture ? The NAAC visits and series of discussions held in campuses, departments with groups of stake-holders was thus a major exercise, that could prove to be a watershed in an old University like Kumoan University, with its 9o plus affiliated institutions, including the three Campuses, with more than 68, 000 plus students. 

Obviously, the assistance from the state government and institutions like the UGC, alone would not suffice. As Prof Tewari mentioned more than 50 per cent of the future requirement has to come from outside the public resources. At present, it adds up to around 55 crores plus annually, and that means that a minimum of Rs 50 crores plus has to be, as a minimum, come from outside. In what to do, the financial resources obviously are the central agenda, besides the physical and other resources..

Prof Tewari particularly mentioned the paucity of land-space, as the University now stands, as te most important requirement for the future growth of this University. During discussions with the Alumani association a possibility of the SIDCUL complex, lying unutilzed, at Bhim Tal, as the only possibility, as far acquisition of additional land was concerned. SIDCUL, it was pointed out, could go and be set up any where else, but not the Kumaon University. For its Glorious Present and Future, the SIDCUL land at Bhim Tal has to come to it.

Tail-pice: The evening brought some three hours of a colourful repaste and well deserved rest for the visiting team via the Music department of the University. The students od Music and Performing Arts were given a tough competition by the senior professors, who played at mouth-organ, sitar, drums and tabla and sang gazals. As almost all senior professors who competed with the students, also consisted of some eminent alumni, not necessarily from the Music department, the newly fouded Alumni Association had reasons to be proud of its present, as well. The Committee members also admitted that the present also seems equally glorious !

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