North Eastern Hill University (NEHU) is a Central University established on 19 July 1973 by an Act of the Indian Parliament. The university has two campuses: Shillong and Tura in Meghalaya. With a total strength of 5242 students for the academic years 2015-2016 (statistical cell report-dated 22/3/2016). According to National Institute Ranking Framework, India Ranking 2016 for Engineering | Management | Pharmacy | Universities Declared and published by the Government of India, Ministry of Human Resource Development, NEHU occupied the 15th position with 72.41 in the University ranking. The NIRF provides for ranking of institutions under five broad generic parameters, namely: i) Teaching, Learning and Resources; ii) Research, Consulting and Collaborative Performance; iii) Graduation Outcome; iv) Outreach and Inclusivity; and v) Perception. NEHU got 80.40 in the first, 58.31 in the second, , 100.0 in the third, 71.80 in the fourth and 92 in the fifth. Although as NEHU students, we are proud of this record, we are also aware that the greater part of the truth is always hidden. As students, we cannot identify with these results because we know that no matter the fame, a large percentage of the student population does not think. Our minds are lazier than our bodies. We never get into the habit of asking questions: how and why situations in the university are the way they are. We can say that human minds and thinking is not always the same but we must acknowledge the importance of thinking and perhaps acting, towards a goal of common welfare of the student community and beyond.
The writing of this article is not with the intention to blame but to share observations and experiences as a student of the university. The request to all the readers is not to fully agree with me but to find out whether these issues,arguments, opinions, experiences in campus are real or not .
By giving NEHU the 15th position, a big question needs to be asked to those who experience the everyday in the university. Let me highlight some points to unmask the real face of NEHU’s Shillong Campus.
Quality of Education
A good quality education is one that provides all learners with capabilities they require to become economically productive, develop sustainable livelihoods, contribute to peaceful and democratic societies and enhance individual well-being. The right to education is not only the right to access education but also the right to receive an education of good quality. Education must be available and accessible but also acceptable and adaptable .When students are interviewed, they are scared to speak out about the quality of education in NEHU. Various groups of students have said that college teachers are far more better than University teachers. Of course there are some who are exceptional but majority do not meet the expectation at a university level. Some teachers simply read the book without giving explanations, and yet scold students for not being “up-to-the-mark.” Some students are feeling insecure due to the behaviour of their teachers, some sacrifice their liberty and rights to their teacher but scared to speak out. Many teachers are busy catering to increase their Academic Performance Index or API scores by attending seminars, conferences, discussions and forget their obligations towards their students. Some teachers even discriminate non-general category students for “wasting their time” in spite of getting lot of scholarship. One teacher said “I know why you never do well in your studies. It is because you study here with scholarship, not even one paise is spent from your pocket.” Some teachers are like dictators and they consistently impose rules which take away the liberty and freedom of students. A teacher may have the qualifications to teach in a university but what is lacking is her/his teaching skills. Students feel like their teachers are dream killers who destroy the interest of students. For example A is a good student in subject XYZ, in University he is pursuing his specialisation in subject Z from XYZ ; but his teacher for subject Z is a not a good teacher who can inspire and support him. To simply read a book is something that even the student can do on his own; the teacher’s presence in most situation is almost superfluous because s/he does not make any effort to deliver discussions and disseminate ideas which may be alien to students. If a study is conducted everyone will be shocked to check the result. Some Teachers are exceptional and good , and some students are also good in their academic performances but not all. Many still heavily rely on teachers .
Below are some expectation of students from teachers:
First, they want to learn something new and useful in each lesson. They do not expect the teacher to know everything. They want the teacher to convey knowledge or a skill relevant to their lives. So it is important to communicate a program or curriculum and tell students what they will be able to do at the end of a course.
Second, they want the teacher to bring out the best in them, help them to find the courage to speak out, give them the desire to do the required work, and show them that by completing the program they will achieve certain goals. A teacher who can motivate the students will find the later very cooperative.
Third, they want the teacher to respect them, i.e. understand their difficulties, their hesitations, and their complexes. They don’t want to feel humiliated, if they give the wrong answer. They don’t want to be harassed by reprimands, i.e. “Don’t chat in the back”, “Don’t be so lazy”, “Don’t text on your phone”. If your class is interesting and the students all have things to do, they won’t be using their cell phones. And students want the teacher to be fair in the grading procedure and even in everyday activities—not to have favourites, not to let the best students dominate the class, not to label certain learners as weak from the very beginning. If the teacher is good, then the students will attentive. If a sculptor cannot make a sculpture or statue out of a stone then blame the sculptor.
Being a student there are no methods for us to consider whether cracks on buildings are serious or not unless we call an expert. However gaping cracks , separational cracks or horizontal cracks are signs that these issues are serious. These cracks can be found in various buildings of NEHU, from departments building to hostels. If anyone wants to witness, go and see departments like Zoology,Law,Electronic and Communication as well as hostels like Mawthadraishan, Thadlaskein and others. Considering the fact that our region is earthquake-prone, the condition of these buildings is truly worrisome. And it is sad that most of these buildings are not even old. Mawthadraishan Boy’s Hostel was built ten years ago and Thadlaskein Boy’s Hostel is two years old. Not only these but many poor constructions of NEHU are unreliable and hence risking the lives of students. All these issues maybe the outcome of brilliant engineers, contractors and sub-contractors that NEHU hires. Campus Development Department along with the other authorities are still closing their eyes until something bad happens to scholars.
Many university buildings do not have emergency exit which is very risky; perhaps the National Building Code and Bye laws are not required for a university. The new cluster classrooms in the Science Block have a mobile operator tower in the middle. According to the RTI Application (filed on 19th febraury 2016) the reply from NEHU stated that only two buildings in the campus are fulfilling rules laid-down by National Building Code 2005. In the same RTI report, we discovered that only two buildings in NEHU are fit for physically- challenged or handicapped persons. So it seems like the University opens its doors for them from the outside by giving them admission and slap and kick them inside.
Many buildings have leakage issues as well. In one of the blocks of Sensiar Girl’s hostel, the roof collapsed years ago and the same thing happened this year during the month of Janaury to the roof of one part of the SAIF department. The issues of roofs and walls collapsing, leaking ,cracking are very common in NEHU but they are hardly reported to newspapers.
Although new departments are introduced in NEHU, the number of hostels has not increased. Many students from various parts of Meghalaya and other parts of India are not able to get hostel seats. Moreover, as I mentioned before, the conditions of present hostels is unreliable considering the fact that the buildings are built with poor materials, there are no emergency exits, no safety equipment like fire extinguishers, and since there is a mobile operator tower standing on top of one hostel.
The mess is always an issue, in various hostels, the quality of food is pathetic and far from being nutritious. To add to the misery, students are not even allowed to feed themselves nutritious food since cooking their own food is also not allowed. Many canteens are sprawled around the campus but how much could students spend on outside-food? The mess fee of various hostels is variant; some hostels charge more, some charge less. There is no centralizing of mess in university; as of now some hostels have private caterers and some are run by the university. At one level, it is good to give private caterers the mess contract because it helps in generating employment but one cannot forget that private caterers always have profit in mind that they compromise on the quality of food.
“Worry not about the quality but think about the quantity” was one of the replies that a friend received from the authorities after complaining about the hostel food. In hostels we understand that we are suppose to get a minimal balanced diet from our minimal fee. We do not expect home food or fancy restaurant food but at least a balance diet. Recently in NEHU a mass blood donation camp was organized and we discovered that most hostellers especially girls have haemoglobin deficiency, where their haemoglobin is not reaching the minimum value required for blood donation, which is 12.5 g/dL.
Whenever the Hostel Review committee is called (which I have attended), when it come to Mess issues the hostellers are always the soft target , are always liable for all the blame charge by authority without listening to their issues or problems. Even the wardens are always defending the authorities, (some who are never even seen by the students at all). This year no Hostel review Committee has been heard or called. It is true that some hostellers are liable to what they charged but not all. The authorities should at least find out the facts and examine the validity of hostel rules before randomly and homogeneously blaming students. Perhaps the authorities should also do a comparative study of how other central universities run their mess to bring the best one in NEHU. The Hostel Review Committee should also make structural changes like the creation of posts like Prefect or Mess Secretary for each hostel rather than having wardens to govern everything. Many wardens never visit or communicate with their hostellers about their problems, and this is a clear indication that they are head-shakers of the authorities.
There are many health issues that hostellers are facing right now like skin infections which they are getting from water. This could be due to the high level of minerals like iron and unclean water storage systems which are installed in various pockets of the university. Hostel rooms lack an adequate number of beds, chairs and tables. There is no regular checking of electrical appliances, newspaper deliveries, and the like. Even if one puts in an application or complaint, there will not be any response, and even if it comes, there would be no immediate action.
Several forms of discrimination also exist in the university. Discrimination exists at the level of seniority. Under Graduate(UG) students are frequently discriminated against by Post Graduate (PG) students. In NEHU, students from Engineering and Law Departments are considered UG students. This discrimination is rampant but many students never realized it; comments like these are very commonplace amongst Master’s students, research scholars, teachers and the authorities: “Just ask that UG, to go back home and study”, “Just a UG but we are Master degree”, “Can a UG do that”, “You know why he is cheap ,he is a UG,” “Before those UG show their involvement in campus, ask them to come to Master’s. Someone say that we should not get discouraged but it is not easy to digest and tolerate. There are some teachers who do not talk properly after knowing that a student is from UG. In reality UG students and research scholars spend more time than those doing their Master’s; they have experience and know more and the more they know, the more they question.
Discrimination also exists at the level of sex. Hostels rules for girls and boys are not the same in the university . For boys the rules are too soft and lenient in nature whereas for girls in UG hostels the rules are extremely rigid. The wardens are over-caring that they do not treat university students as adults, even if they expect them to behave like that way. This attitude turns into a nuisance because the personal liberty of women scholars is totally restraint. People do not get the space to grow and live their own lives. Why do women scholars have to suffer? Why is a university, which is suppose to represent and establish fairness and equality amongst the sexes, still engaging in this kind of gender discrimination? It is as if freedom is a privilege of adult men and not women. Obviously, what is taught in the classroom about equality does not apply to the everyday life of students on campus.
Recently, a notifications was circulated which prohibits UG/PG hostellers from Parking their vehicles in the hostels premises due to reckless and rash driving (a very flawed argument, at that!). UG/PG hostellers are not the only people who own and drive vehicles in the campus; non-hostellers, research scholars, teaching and non-teaching staff also own vehicles and are found to be driving in campus. So the logic of banning UG/PG Hostellers students is nothing but selective discrimination. Rash driving happens in three situations; firstly, when someone is pathologically a rash drive; secondly, when someone is in a disturbed frame of mind; thirdly, if someone is under the influence of intoxicants. So when the argument is made that UG/PG hostellers are rash drivers, these attributes are also attached to them. On the other hand non-hostellers, RS, teaching and non teaching staff are immune to all these undesirable traits. This conclusion is highly ridiculous and unfair. Some UG students had to pay a fine of one thousand rupees per for violating this rule. How is it just to expect students to be able to pay the fine? But the more important question is whether there is any statistics that can be used to back this argument up or is it based on unreliable anecdotal hearsay? If there is no concrete evidence regarding this argument, why is this rule still tolerated? This amounts to negative profiling of a selective group. Why are UG students the soft targets when it comes to the imposition of discriminatory polices? Many UG hostellers who own vehicles require it to travel not just outside but around the huge campus where department buildings, the library and shops are far from hostels. By preventing them from parking within hostel premises, undue inconvenience is imposed on them. Then there is the case of outsiders using the campus for driver’s training and in spite of assurance that it will be stopped, many are still found driving around the campus. Instead of addressing issues which are relevant, an attempt is being made to divert the problem by picking on groups that are perceived to be weak. This attitude is highly condemnable. If a particular rule is to be enforced it has to be non-discriminatory and backed by facts and sound arguments not biased perceptions.
NEHU is a beautiful campus. The campus is fit for jogging, running and outings; it is full of green and life. But its beauty is fading away day by day, the amount of green is decreasing. A central University like NEHU does not have a proper waste management system, the authority fails in the preservation of this green campus. The waste collected from various pockets of the university is dumped and burned in the open, near the English and Foreign Language University(EFLU), on the way from NEHU to Mawiong through the Macdonald road (An infamous road with a lot of corruption scams involved, and one that has collapsed and has been closed after construction). Can anyone imagine the waste produced by NEHU everyday? In addition to common waste, NEHU has a lot of laboratory waste, consisting mostly of chemicals, from various science departments. Where are these waste materials dumped? Is there any proper segregation of waste before disposal? If anyone visits the dumping zone of NEHU, will have to hold their breath? Burning in the open really disturbs all the flora and fauna as well as the environment. That dumping zone is a home of various beautiful flora and fauna. By polluting the good quality of air, during rainy seasons most waste and leftoverss are washed away by the rain into stream which is injurious to both the soil and water quality and hence is a huge threat to the ecosystem of the entire region. Every year Swatcch Bharat and Environment Day is always celebrated with run and cleaning drives but these are occasional and there is no strong system in place to resolve environmental issues. In fact, more and more trees are cut, more and more hillocks are flattened for various construction projects.
As of now NEHU has eighteen number of buses. Most of the buses do not have the Pollution Under Control Certificate as mention in Motor Vehicle Act. One bus driver said, “Why do i need pollution Control certificate my vehicle is in good condition,that certificate i can pay fifteen hundred for easily.” The amount of black smoke emitted by buses is higher the ambient level. Maybe Pollution Under Certificate(PUC) is not required in states like Meghalaya; no one realized the importance of air until it is like in Beijing.
NEHU has many types and species of trees. They are the main contributors to the beauty of the University, but deforestation is rampant, and there is no steps taken towards afforestation to counter it. We don’t see any good sign of compensation of trees by the authority. Every now and then we see volunteers from various sections of the University are planting sapling. The forget to think that trees also need proper care like human beings. Plant and leaves cannot solve the issue of deforestation and global warming. World Environment Day should not be celebrated only one day, where we will plant only for one day and forget it after that till the next year.
When entering Gate 2, we see a beautiful pond. This pond adds to the scenery of NEHU but the moment we look into the pond we will see some fishes swimming but the number is decreasing day by day due to the lack of proper care. People throw a lot of junk in the pond and no one seems to notice.
During dry and windy seasons, forest fire is very common in NEHU. It really hurts to see all green reduced to black and ashes. Some burnt intentionally, some are caused by indiscriminate throwing of combustible items like burnt matchsticks, cigarette and bidis buds etc.
NEHU is getting something when leasing or giving temporary right of ownership of its property to others. On the roofs of 19 boys’ hostels and the science cluster buildings stand two mobile operator towers, and also near gate number three or the My-cafe commercial area. The radiation risks or SARS value of these towers is not known to anyone and when we ask the authorities, even through an RTI, they cannot provide us with answers. How it can be possible that the authorities are so dumb that they don’t know anything, whether the radiations from these towers is permissible or not and whether the poor-buildings are strong enough to support them? It is also not know whether when the mobile operator tower is included in the project report or plan of the buildings. We the hostellers sknow that our buildings are not safe especially when faced with natural calamities. And the tower is adding more insecurity. It is very surprising to see that these mobile operator towers are found in students common area but not around the teachers’ quarters. The authority is not getting good response when planning to installed nearby teacher’s resident area.
Every time companies and business groups are in NEHU, they are there not to recruit students but mostly to display their products. Sometime the question arises whether NEHU is for intellectual and educational purposes or for consumeristic purposes . Most of the product displayed are not even books but luxury things like cars, vehicles, etc. If we believed that displaying and advertising in campus is not having any useful and important benefits for NEHU I would be happy if they would allow to bring at least one wine store within the NEHU premises. After all, many students need the assistance of alcohol to tackle with the repressive regime of the university.
Many halls like Multi-use Conventional Hall, Community hall, Guest houses, etc on campus are leased out to Non-NEHU people, who pay the fees charged on them. But the reality is that NEHU cannot renovate those halls from the meagre revenue collected. It is such a shame that many holes are covered by a colourful cello-tape. Also, the surroundings of these buildings are now full of waste like plastics ,aluminium foils, disposable glasses and plates.
Many canteens are found in University but there are no proper checks and maintenance. One issue is that the lavatory facility is lacking. When asking the canteen owner they will say everything to NEHU. Authority is responsible for every failure of the system in NEHU.
Apart from all these issues that are there, there is also the issue of the work culture which needs to be contested. What is the function and duty of the Campus Development Department or the various departments of the administration? As we know, there is a huge culture of red- tapism in NEHU. The nature of rules to oppressed student’s right? The Utilization of fund in campus? Many facing by students this can be tell by students itself. As of now, the NIRF ranking of NEHU as 15th is still a mystery for those who are living and know what NEHU is all about. Maybe the good welcoming of the MHRD minister on Convocation Day on 29th March 2016 makes it deserving of that number. NEHU gave her a very peaceful experience as compared to all other universities that she had visited. The Convocation would usually be held on October or November but this year was so special that it is was not even discussed with the student’s representative body. The authority is controlling everything and we are subject to follow obediently. Why was the MHRD minister the only one fit to be a Chief Guest and to deliver the Convocation address? In fact our Honourable Chancellor Andre Bateille is far better and well-deserved. Why does NEHU have to lick MHRD’s boots? The prestige and fame of NEHU should be questioned.
Before I conclude, I wish to state that I am indeed too young to speak up on all these issues. I, thus, request other students to come forward and share their thoughts about their experiences in NEHU. Of course, these are problems faced by students in other universities as well but as students, we need to come together and demand good education and a system which is just, fair and efficient to provide that for us. We have nothing to lose but chains. In the case of NEHU everyone’s contributions is requested. The unity of intellectuals and scholars is needed at this juncture. All that we have today does not belong to us, including the University. It belongs to the future generation. What type of a legacy are we leaving for them? Would it be a blessing or a bane to them?