The Pathetic Academic Culture of Mangaluru

Mangaluru is a city full of educational institutions. But the quality of education remains poor. The memories of students passing out from Mangaluru colleges are usually restricted to extra curricular events. Very rarely anything interesting happens related to education. I found students and teachers holding a low opinion of each other in this region. My own experience of teaching at major institutions like NITK, NITTE and Manipal was filled with many challenges related to attitude and inefficiency.

The biggest hurdle I faced was the attitude of the administrators. When I faced a problem, people in command would say that this is India. Being India was good enough for not being good enough. When I pointed out that things were different in other colleges of India, they would then say those are the few good schools of India; I must not expect the same standards here. How do we argue with an excuse like that? It says we are not good enough and you simply have to live with it.

I have never seen the kind of hierarchies that exist in Mangaluru colleges anywhere else in the world. There were hierarchies in seating arrangements at events. Even how food would be served had a hierarchy. How fast you were served your free tea, would determine your status in the institution. The order in which people say ‘Hello’ to you had an hierarchy. In guest houses, different food in different crockery would be served to people sitting on the same dining table. Bottled water would be reserved for special guests. Of course, the teachers were way low in this hierarchy and the students were the lowest. Moreover, many institutions in Mangaluru are private. At every function, some member of the founding family would be present. The sycophancy exhibited at such events is so disgusting that it is stomach churning. The function maybe to felicitate somebody’s accomplishment but all the talks are focused on the founding member present. His mother, pet, wife, child, gardener, etc. will be praised. The speakers at such events would compete to prove whose grandfather was more eminent.

The priorities at these institutions were clearly off the mark. At conferences, the opening speeches, which typically had nothing to do with academics, were well attended. All the important members of the college would be present and took great joy in lighting lamps. The interest in academic talks was thin. Apparently, after the lighting the lamp, there was nothing left to stay back for. I have sworn since then that I will attend no more lamp lighting in my life.

Colleges in Mangaluru are in general affiliated to the Visvesvaraya Technological University (VTU) in Belgaum. Among the choices they have, students prefer to go to VTU affiliated colleges because there are quality checks. But I found that you can write books about the faulty examination system of the VTU. I witnessed exams where more than 100 students in a class of 150 students failed. Such exams serve no purpose. Among all the challenges I faced, nothing derailed me like the VTU exam system.

I was a little concerned when I was told that the exam paper for the course I was teaching may be set by someone else. I knew it was better if they were tested on what I taught them but I was not prepared for what was to follow. In the first semester, the students faced my exam and very few students failed. These students I knew either did not study due to various reasons or found mathematics difficult. The semester ended satisfactorily. But the very next semester, the exam paper was an outside paper. This paper was approved by the department but there was no expert on the subject in the committee. It was clearly a substandard exam paper supposedly picked randomly by the controller of Nitte. I had spent a week making two exam papers for my students but quality did not matter. This would be a random choice. More than fifty percent of the students failed this exam to my utter horror. And the department blamed the students for not studying hard. I told everyone involved that this was not fair to the students but they said nothing could be done because they had to follow VTU rules. Then there is nothing more to say but that the rules must change. There is nothing more demotivating than leaving your performance to random chance. Students must be assured that if they worked hard they can shine.

Another problem I observed was that three or four people corrected the exam papers. There were no communications between them. Typically, the student was awarded the average grade. If there was a conflict, a third person would decide, again, without consulting people who had already graded the exam. I found that students who passed in my grading did not pass in this system. When students went in for revaluation, students who scored an average of eighteen points were awarded nine points. The students are not allowed to see their exams. They are forced to accept whatever scores they are given. This system is exploited by vindictive professors. There are stories that I heard of students failing exams for years in one subject because they angered some teacher. The performance of students in exams must be separated from their ability to enter into the good books of teachers. We need to make sure that students believe and work for a world where people are fair and sincere effort is rewarded. The VTU rules can be effective only if they are more transparent. The students must be able challenge a test and the scores they get. They must be allowed to defend their work. At this point, I see the system is rampantly used to enslave students and break their spirits.

Teaching remains an underpaid profession all over the world. Colleges think nothing about raising student fees. But the legal pay that teachers are entitled to always seem a waste of money to the administration. In Mangalore, colleges save money by hiring temporary faculty. These temporary hires are typically unqualified for the job. For example, recently graduated Mtechs are hired to teach Mtechs. This justifies the lower wages they receive. Some colleges do not do regular hires for years even though there is a severe scarcity of teachers. They make do with temporary faculty.

I ended up being a temporary faculty because NITK was not hiring regular faculty when I applied. Temporary faculty are required to sign a register to get paid. I was used to flexible working hours all my life. Everyone who teaches knows that teaching is a profession of passion. It is not a 9 to 5 job. There are days when you will work well past midnight. Except for NITK, no other college in this region believes in flexible working hours. Even at NITK, temporary faculty are not allowed flexible working hours. This meant I had to go to college just to sign even if I had nothing to do. And the department really cared about that signature more than anything about me.

The reason Mangaluru can get away with this kind of education system is because of the export culture prevailing in India. India has been exporting students for higher studies for centuries now. Gandhi, Nehru, Ambedkar, and most other national leaders went abroad for higher education. The IITs continued the tradition. Nowadays, students from small colleges in India aspire to go abroad for higher studies. Education abroad means a real career for students. With all the talk about make in India by the Prime Minister, it is time, we seriously think about making real graduates in India.

Without any doubt, I, for one, am disgusted with the academic culture of the Mangaluru region. The green coconut trees of Mangaluru lured me into setting up home in Mangaluru. I hope, in the near future, Mangaluru will establish an institution which Indians can be proud of. When we hear someone say “This is India”, then it should be said to signify something good.

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The author Dr Maya Mohsin Ahmed has a PhD in Mathematics from UC Davis and has taught mathematics in America, India and Africa. She was also nominated for the Excellence in Undergraduate Education Award at UC Davis.

Maya Mohsin Ahmed – from our archives:

13 Comments

  1. One of the best Article i have read about Academic culture in Mangalore. Very well written and so true to the modern scenario . All wants their children to be engineers and then follow up by MBA. what about pure sciences. nearly 90% of Mangaloreans don’t know the carrier choices after SSLC. They just think either Medical or Engineering so they join Science.Parents think if you above 70% in SSLC then Science….above 50% but below 70% then Commerce….rest below 50% arts. This is totally bad and very cruel on part of the child.

    I would like to read more and more such articles as it may benefit the general public.Dr.Maya please publish such articles in local linguistic papers as it will help general public a lot

  2. Very interesting observations!! While some of them are quite obvious (hierarchical, sucking up to managers and powerful folks), the other observations on exam handling and refusal to improve things are new to an outsider. I have a strong feeling that this is not unique to Mangaluru. This must be a recurring theme happening all over India – Agreed, the levels may vary.
    Oh well…

  3. True.

    I stopped blaming the system. We should not risk our life believing colleges, parents, teachers.
    I am learning online from universities like MIT(USA), Stanford University, Harward and sites like coursera. Forget teaching the content they teach are also outdated atleast in Computer Science. I realized that i need skills more than marks so i started to looking for better education for free and now i am learning from world’s best faculties for free!

  4. Excellent article, clearly articulated. For the last 28 years I have been guest faculty at various educational institutions in and around Mangalore, besides teaching for the last 10 years at a diploma course in personal investment. I can confirm that every line in Dr Ahmed’s article is true.

  5. Online courses are great and everyone must use it as much as possible. But it is dangerous to depend on it too much. Especially with the culture of sanctions America has been exhibiting lately. But surely make hay while the sun shines. There is nothing to beat self learning.

  6. Very well written by Dr Maya, it is only a money making idea. Hope these people read these articles and do the needful. Thank you Doctor for your Sincere observations.

  7. Is the pathetic academic culture something that is unique to Mangalore or is it part and parcel of the Indian culture of mediocrity?

  8. Dr. Ahmed,

    I am not sure where to start the response to your extremely well written article about academic issues in Mangalore. First of all, I am surprised that you decided to go back to Mangalore after earning a PhD in Mathematics from UC Davis! May be you felt that you had to give back something to your country.

    The issues you raised have been there since the 1960s. I attended St. Aloysius High School and did my Pre University at st. Aloysius College. I then left the country as I had seen no good opportunities in India at that time. When I matriculated in late 1960s, the SSLC syllabus was set by a board in Bangalore. The paper was set by another team of teachers and the answer papers were corrected yet by another group! None of the teachers who taught me had a say in setting the syllabus, the test papers nor in correcting the answer books! This was the same pattern in PUC under Mysore University! Somehow I managed to get good grades. Yet, when I applied to the then Tata institute to attend a 3-month Fortran programming course, I was rejected as I had NO degree in Mathematics! This is what they wanted! Disgusted, I left the country and went to London – got my degrees in Computer and Software Engineering. None of my examination papers were set by anyone else other than the professors who taught me nor were they corrected by someone else other than the professor who taught the course. I worked for a few years in London and also taught as an Adjunct Professor.

    I moved the US 30 years ago and have been working for a large computer company and also been an Adjunct Professor at a local university and have taught over a dozen different courses and thousands of students. Never has my university or department ever intervened in my teaching affairs. The undergrad committee sets the course requirements, pre-reqs, and objectives. I set the syllabus, I set the quiz/exam papers, grading policy, and I grade the papers. This is the general method in the USA. I am writing this for the benefit of others and not Dr. Ahmed as I am sure that she has gone through a similar process at UC Davis. BTW – I also taught students from Tata Institute and IIT and of course I had the last laugh!

    Dr. Ahmed, you may be better recognized at a different educational institution than the one in Mangalore. Often, we all are a victim of our own emotion based decisions. The quality of teaching, the quality of students in India has been eroding for decades. Everyone in the computer industry India wants a fancy title like ‘software engineer’ though they never did a computer or software engineering degree! There are layers and layers of management in US companies operating in India while in the west the same companies are reducing the layers of management. When these students from India come to the US, they first look for old examination papers – a habit from Indian college days – and then when questions are not repeated as they expected, they are a disaster!

    Your talents and capabilities deserve a lot better – you may want to come back to the USA and teach here. Like many highly educated and well qualified Indians, you may find peace and success here! I wish you every success.

    • Dear Mr. B. Dinesh,

      It was quite interesting to read about your experiences. The best Indian brains suffer due to the inherent red-tape, nepotism, corruption and all other evils prevalent in India, compelling them to emigrate to U.S.A. and other fresh pastures. And these brains have been a blessing in disguise to their adopted lands.

      I am told that every third or fourth engineer, professor, lawyer, scientist and other professionals are U.S. nationals (of Indian origin). 63% of U.S. nationals (of Indian origin) are graduates, whereas the “All America” percentage is 36 or 37%. Whereas, the average annual earnings of U.S. nationals (of Indian origin) per head works out to $ 90,000/-, whereas the “All America” average works out to $ 55,000/-.

      At least these figures should open the eyes of the Indian politicians.

      • Whereas, the average annual earnings of U.S. nationals (of Indian origin) per head works out to $ 90,000/-, whereas the “All America” average works out to $ 55,000/-. – Mr. Nelson

        Mr. Nelson, a small correction if you don’t mind.

        The figures you referred to are more-or-less OK. However, they are the MEDIAN annual earnings and not the “average annual earnings”.

  9. Dear Mr. Lewis

    You are absolutely right. All that the Indian politicians have to ask themselves is – “why is it that Indians do a lot better in western countries and how is it that a few of them even were awarded Nobel Prize?”. And you have answered the question correctly – “The best Indian brains suffer due to the inherent red-tape, nepotism, corruption and all other evils prevalent in India, compelling them to emigrate to U.S.A. and other fresh pastures. And these brains have been a blessing in disguise to their adopted lands.” – Indian politicians have been interested in the remittances and investments from the NRIs. They have no interest in creating opportunities for the brightest and the smartest. Indians in the USA not only have a higher median income than the local Americans but they also are the highest earners amongst all ethnic groups!

  10. Dear Dr. Maya,

    I would like to add a little to your write-up by way of a positive response. In India we do not have a regulated and self-regulating public sphere as in the West. Just take the education field you have written about: In South Canara you have several private education empires: the Catholic empire, the Dharmasthala empire, the Poojary empire, the GSB empire, the Brahmin empire and the Bunts empire. Each of these empires is only interestd in 100% result and money-minting. Given this, what would you expect?

    As for students, in South Canara as elsewhere in India, not many would know the difference between a Kuvempu University correspondence course which assuredly gives you 79-80% and doing the same course in a good univesity under qualified professors (who may not give away first classes).

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