Universities, which ought to be the melting pots of various cultures and contexts, irrespective of the socio-economic barriers of students, are in reality turning out to be advantageous to some and exclusionary to some others.
The first set of students are those with an accumulated cultural capital that is conducive and encouraging of academic excellence, while the second set are often the first generation literates from poor, Dalit, adivasi and backward sections of the society with their moorings in rural areas and their legacy devoid of the culture of education.
Frustrated and alienated in university spaces which are not supportive of any effort to climb upwards, students often drop out of their respective courses, and occasionally resort to the extreme step of committing suicide. One may or may not agree, but this is the hard reality of our times. On one hand, the dream of education has become a reality for the disadvantaged sections of the society, thanks to the affirmative action provided in the Constitution. On the other hand, the few that are trying to enter the portals of the universities and elite educational institutions are becoming disillusioned and frustrated, which sets a bad precedent for the younger members of their ilk.
One example of this phenomenon is the recent suicide by a student Puyala Raju from the University of Hyderabad, who failed to clear papers in the seventh semester of his Integrated MA course in Linguistics. The young man was not allowed semester registration as he had backlogs, and he chose to abandon his three-year effort for academic improvement.
Also indicating similar state of affairs are the ongoing student protests in English and Foreign Languages University, against the German department. Three dalit students, Munavath Sreeramulu, Maya Kumari and Ranjan Kumar, detained in their B.A. course by the department have begun a relay hunger strike demanding remedial classes and permission to write exams.
Sreeramulu is an ST student from Nalgonda, while Maya Kumari and Ranjan Kumar are dalits from backward parts of Bihar district. After spending three years in the university, they will have to leave without a degree completion certificate. With the German department not issuing any fresh admission notifications for B.A. course for the past two years, their future is clearly in trouble. With poor parents back at home, who probably invested a major portion of their income on the education of their wards, these students are left in a difficult situation now.
While both sides have their arguments, it is indeed a matter of concern that since the formation of EFLU, very few dalit students in the German language department could clear the exams. Many either dropped out, or detained due to failure in clearing the backlogs.
K.Satyanarayana, professor of Cultural Studies from EFLU, attributes the problem to the university stipulations, which a disadvantaged student finds unable to cope with. All the central universities require that the students clear at least 50 per cent of the subjects, to be promoted to next semester.
“For SC, ST students coming from rural areas, learning a foreign language itself is a cultural shock. For them, the first few semesters are spent in getting adjusted to the university. The 50 per cent clearance stipulation should be done away with,” Prof.Satyanarayana says.
The EFLU faculty, from its CIEFL days, is largely used to teaching diploma classes for part-time students, and not equipped to deal with a diverse classroom setting, he says. A part-timer might not mind having to quit the course midway through. But for an undergraduate student, it is a lifetime loss.
Putting the issue in larger context, G.Haragopal, political scientist and professor with UoH, says that in central universities, accomplishments and sensitivities do not go together. Disadvantaged sections need more understanding and extra time to compete with students from elite sections who are brought up in a competitive atmosphere.
“Most of the teachers are carried away by academic work such as paper presentations, seminars and writing books. Students from dalit and economically backward sections come with a lot of diffidence owing to their study in regional language medium, and their social status. For them, the central university spaces could be very intimidating,” Prof.Haragopal says.
Universities are not centres of knowledge alone, but of transformation of iniquitous society, he says, and feels that more weight should be given to the social concern, rather than to the mechanical merit, while recruiting and nurturing faculty.