Awantipora: Set up nearly two years ago, the Islamic University of Science and Technology has its task cut out: the university will not aim to be a centre for knowledge but a centre for job-oriented education.
Years of insurgency have shrunk economic opportunities in Jammu and Kashmir, forcing hundreds of young men and women to migrate for work every year.
The unemployment rate in the state was 4.21% last year compared with the national average of 3.09%, according to an economic survey by the state government. The per capita income was Rs17,174, against the national average of Rs25,907.
“The whole idea,” says the university’s vice-chancellor Siddiq Wahid, “is job orientation, because 95% of those who come to this university go on to work. So this is just like an industry turning out candidates for jobs.”
Wahid, who taught medieval political history at Harvard University before returning to India, said he wants students to feel they are part of a pluralist society despite the university being located in a Muslim-dominated state. He gets agitated on seeing some students assemble for prayers on the university lawns. “We can’t have this continue. Tell them to take their prayers inside. What are we trying to do? Are we trying to make those who do not pray feel guilty?”
Task cut out: A 22 October picture of students offering prayers on the grounds of Islamic University of Science and Technology, Awantipora. Ramesh Pathania / Mint
Wahid said he did not agree with Islamic being attached to the university’s name. “It was a terrible name, with prejudice bordering on bigotry in this country.” He said it was not a very good idea but they still decided to go ahead with it. “People come here expecting something else because of the name and they are surprised to find that we are nothing like that.”
Wahid said the strong science and technology curriculum at the university is complemented by a school of humanities and social sciences. The university believes a significant awareness of the humanities will help future generations understand social trends and human aspirations as they enter the workforce.
The university also offers spoken Arabic courses to students specializing in tourism and plans to extend it to bachelor of technology, or B. Tech, students from next year. The idea of teaching Arabic to technology students came following interactions with Wipro Ltd, India’s third largest computer services provider, said Wahid. “They were looking for technically sound people who could speak Arabic. They also asked us if we could give them a finishing course, so that we were not turning out complete geeks,” he said.
Wipro officials were not immediately available for comment.
Head of the school of engineering at the university, which will produce the first batch of Arabic-speaking engineers in 2010, K.K.S. Jamwal said he feels a large number of engineering students would take up Arabic.
Cultural proximity makes West Asia a natural choice for Kashmiri students looking for jobs abroad, he said, and Arabic is among the most popular languages in that region.
“We do not have much industry in Kashmir. Many boys feel like going out to other cities like Bangalore, Delhi and now to the Middle East. In Middle Eastern countries, English comprehension is quite poor. We want our students to make themselves easily understood to their employers,” said Jamwal.
A good logic indeed for a university that, according to Wahid, will aim chiefly to be an assembly line churning out candidates for jobs. “Lets call a spade a spade and have no pretensions that this is going to be the Oxford of Kashmir,” he sums up.