My Viewpoint: Kanwar Sandhu;
The Punjab Government has an unexpected challenge on its hands. While it is still trying to deal with the poor state of its government schools, its colleges are grappling with dwindling student strength. On completion of 10+2 in schools, most students from the state try to pass IELTS exams to go abroad for higher studies. The most favoured destination is Canada. As a result, the degree colleges are finding it hard to sustain themselves due to the fall in the strength of students. In most cases, the numbers are down to half and in some cases even one-third of what the strength was three years ago. Some colleges did get some respite due to COVID when international air travel was banned but with the return of near-normalcy, the exodus has begun again. And it appears it has returned with vengeance.
In fact, this is the second whammy for the degree colleges. A few years ago, when it was decided to shift the 10+2 classes to schools, the colleges saw a sudden fall in student strength. Now, colleges are facing a second challenge. Until a few years ago, the students preferred to go abroad after graduation. Now with students opting to go abroad after 10 plus 2, there is a fall in some cases of over 70 per cent. Earlier mostly boys were going abroad but now the trend is also the same among girls.
The dwindling student strength in the colleges was brought out the other day in a news report by the Indian Express newspaper. It gave some specific examples. For example, at a college in Kapurthala, the strength has come down from 950 students in 2018 to 523 students now. In another college in Jagraon near Ludhiana, the strength has come down from 1650 students in 2014 to 449 students now. This is a fall of 72 per cent. The report quoted an official of Punjabi University, Patiala who said that of the 270 colleges affiliated to the University, as many as 50 colleges have less than 100 students. It appears that if this trend continues, colleges, where the student strength has fallen below 100, could close down.
Educationalists feel that perhaps the whole system of higher education will have to undergo a change with emphasis on vocational courses after 10+2. This could include greater emphasis on diploma courses for tourism, hospitality, hotels, nursing etc. Colleges should be made to have direct tie-ups and link-ups with industrial and business houses for assured jobs for students who pass out. This may arrest the trend to some extent. Perhaps a committee of academic experts should be appointed to make suggestions. Sadly the new Government is not even addressing this problem, which if unaddressed would be irreversible. I am told that the Chief Minister has called the principals of government schools in the coming days to discuss a revamp of the school education system. Perhaps he should do a similar exercise with the college principals before it’s too late and colleges start collapsing.