The recent suicide of a student at the University of Hyderabad has a different angle to it. He was the third student of an Integrated Master’s degree course to have ended his life in the last two years. Hence, it’s no wonder that several students are demanding that this five-year “killer course” be scrapped.
The university administration, which set up a review committee a year ago to look into the issue, is waiting for its final recommendations but believes it would be unfair to drop the course altogether. The Integrated Master’s degree courses are offered by the Centre for Integrated Studies (CIS), which at present has about 1200-odd students on its rolls. According to sources, there is a request to convert the CIS into a separate college within the campus with stricter rules. Pro Vice-Chancellor Prof E Haribabu, who is in-charge of the review committee, said, “We have held eight meetings. In the next three days, we will have the final meeting where recommendations would be submitted to the Vice-Chancellor who will present them to the academic council and the executive council if need be.” He made it clear that the course will not be scrapped. “Instead, we are going to reform it,” he revealed.
Asked if academic pressure was the reason for suicides of students, he replied, “Integrated students have a lot of free time and we expect them to utilise their freedom responsibly. Courses per se do not create any pressure but there are many other factors that in turn affect their academics.” The programme, according to the administration, was started to catch students young and offer them high quality liberal education. But the reality is that several students lag behind in studies. “Students stay on the campus but have attendance shortage. How can you explain that?” wondered Prof Haribabu. According to him, the university is offering a lot of support to students with a rural background to cope with campus culture and learn English to clear backlogs and go to the next semester. “But there are no takers for our summer courses,” he pointed out.
The CIS runs a basket of courses for three years after which the students are sent to their respective departments. “Since there is no departmental structure, there is a problem of students interacting with faculty. We are going to address this issue,” said Prof Haribabu. Zameer Butt, a senior research scholar, said, “These students are exposed to many things on campus and try to emulate their seniors. They stay awake all night with friends just like their seniors and would not go to classes the next day.”
The CIS offers courses in Chemistry, Physics, Systems Biology, Mathematics, Health Psychology, Social Sciences, Humanities and Language Sciences. “We sit through the programme for three years and later when we go to our departments, we find ourselves among a bunch of students who have already specialised in the subject in their Bachelor’s programme,” said one student.
Among other possible reforms, the Pro VC said, are measures to strengthen mentoring programmes for students in 1:10 ratio along with strengthening of students’ guidance cell to give counselling and organise personality development workshops. Also, there are plans to introduce an ‘exit clause’ for students who want to leave after finishing three years. At present, they have to spend five years and graduate with an Integrated Master’s Degree.