Higher education in Odisha has gone through a sea change over the past few decades. The State has been witnessing a growth in number of colleges, job-oriented courses and the quality of research and innovation has gone up. This rise, though, has not been able to create a strong impact as far as women’s enrolment is concerned. There still remains visible gender inequality in higher education institutions in the State.
According to the last All India Survey of Higher Education (AISHE) by the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) released in 2013, Odisha is amongst the most backward States in terms of women’s enrolment in higher education. It puts the percentage of women’s enrolment in Odisha at 41 per cent against the national average of 41.5. Even North East States like Mizoram, Nagaland, Meghalaya and Manipur have women’s enrolment much higher than the national average — possibly due to the system of matriliny, where women played an important role in both the family and the society.
Academicians feel development in the sector is skewed. “Though more and more girls are coming forward to take admission in colleges and universities in some cities, there is a trend of low enrolment in rural and underdeveloped parts of Odisha. In the age group of 18 to 23 years, the number of girls in colleges is far behind that of boys,” says Sanghamitra Mohanty, former Vice-Chancellor of North Orissa University, Baripada.
According to the AISHE report, as against men’s enrolment of nearly 30,000 in a year for postgraduate (PG) courses, women’s enrolment is just 19,000 in Odisha. While around 700 male students enrol for PhD in a year, the number is 300 for women.
At the undergraduate (UG) level though, while an average of 3,31,572 boys enrol, the number is 2,98,683 in the case of girls. “Women are enroling for BA, BSc and BCom, but not many of them are continuing their studies up to the Master’s level. This trend can be seen in interior and rural parts of the State where families believe that graduation is the last stop for girl students as far as education is concerned. There are also financial constraints. When it comes to ST and SC girl students, enrolment is alarmingly low,” says Mihir Das, Officer in charge of Performance Tracking Cell of Department of Higher Education, Odisha. Similarly, in professional courses, against an average of 900 male students taking admissions, only about 250 women enrol.
Distribution of Women’s Colleges
Academicians say Odisha is a classic example where talks of development are confined to urban pockets and that male dominance is prevalent in rural areas. “At a time when girls are still considered a minority, women-only institutions definitely serve a purpose to bring more women under the purview of higher education,” says Prof Arundati Mishra, HoD of Physics, BJB Autonomous College, Bhubaneswar.
In fact, the need for more all-women’s colleges has time and again been underlined by various agencies in the sector. In its report on ‘Higher Education in the XIIth Five-year Plan and Beyond’, the MHRD has underlined setting up of additional women’s colleges in small towns, as well as giving high priority to women’s hostels.
In Odisha, the number of women’s colleges is grossly inadequate and only a few of them have the provision of hostels. Of the total 1,449 junior colleges, 176 are exclusively for women. Similarly, of 705 degree colleges in the State, only 97 are women’s colleges.
What adds to the problem is that the concentration of women’s colleges is more in urban areas than in rural pockets. Consider this: a Maoist-affected backward district like Malkangiri has just one women’s junior college and no women’s degree colleges, but a city like Cuttack has 19 junior colleges for women and 11 degree colleges. Balasore has 18 junior colleges and seven degree colleges, while Ganjam houses 13 junior and seven women’s colleges respectively.
The Koraput-Balangir-Kalahandi (KBK) districts, considered the poorest in the State, have four, three and five junior colleges for women respectively, while the number is three, two and two respectively for degree colleges for women.
In other educationally backward districts in Odisha like Sonepur, Rayagada, Nabarangpur, Malkangiri and Gajapati, the situation is no better. For instance, Nabarangpur has just three colleges for women, while Rayagada has four.
Besides, none of these colleges adhere to the 1:50 teacher student ratio as mandated by the University Grants Commission (UGC) for women's colleges. All of them are facing large-scale vacancies in teacher posts and when it comes to infrastructure, a majority of them do not have proper laboratories, well-equipped libraries and computer centres. In some colleges, even basics like an electricity connection in classrooms are missing.
Training in only Humanities
To make things worse, maximum number of these women’s colleges do not have Science and Commerce subjects, and only offer courses in Humanities. A look at the colleges and courses they offer highlights some interesting facts. While certain colleges have courses in Commerce, Science is a rarity.
Of the 176 junior women’s colleges, 90 offer teaching in just the Arts stream. Only a handful of them offer Science courses, and that too those located in towns and cities. Just three of the 19 junior colleges for women in Cuttack and four of 18 such colleges in Balasore teach science to girls. In the business town of Sambalpur, only two junior women's colleges have the Science stream.
Degree colleges of Odisha have four streams — Arts, Physical Science, Biological Science and Commerce. Of the 97 degree colleges for women, as many as 84 have only the Arts stream. “It seems like the college managements think that subjects like Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics and Commerce are meant only for boys. This culturally-accepted norm exists even though the State Government claims to be giving higher education and women empowerment much-needed impetus. Though times are changing, nobody is now making efforts to change this practice in higher education,” said Chitrangada Samanta Singhar, principal of Rama Devi (RD) Women’s College, Bhubaneswar.
In certain cases, it is alleged that though colleges are ready to open the science stream for girl students, the Government has been apathetic to the demand. The Government Women’s Colleges at Balangir, Kalahandi and Jeypore are a case in the point.
A few years ago, the Odisha Government had decided to open the Science stream at women’s colleges in the headquarter towns of Jeypore, Kalahandi and Balangir, to increase enrolment of girl students in these educationally backward districts. Accordingly, buildings were constructed in the three colleges for the purpose at the cost of `1 crore each and infrastructure created for teaching of science subjects in 2011. But the Government is yet to grant them permission to teach Science, although numerous applications have been submitted to the Department of Higher Education in the last three academic sessions.
With private colleges charging at least Rs 1 lakh per annum to teach science, many girls shy away from taking admission there. They are, thus, forced to study Arts.
Former principal of Balangir Government Women’s College, Chintamani Sikka, says he had written to the Department of Higher Education several times seeking permission to open admission to Science subjects, but in vain.
Demand for Home Science Depleting
Among all subjects, Home Science has been considered as traditionally meant for women. Not any longer. Women are unwilling to take up this subject as it is seen as something related to modern day housekeeping. Two universities in Odisha, Berhampur and Sambalpur universities, offer MA programmes in Home Science while Odisha University of Agriculture and Technology (OUAT) has a college dedicated to the subject, considered the only of its kind in the State.
OUAT’s College of Home Science offers BSc in Home Science and has four departments — Food and Nutrition, Child Development, Family Resource Management and Textile, Clothing and Home Management. Apart from these, students are given exposure to various rural development programmes and extension education. The college was established under OUAT in 1981. This year, 21 seats in the college remained vacant after admissions. Academicians said lack of jobs was the primary reason why students no longer preferred to enrol for Home Science.
The existing Home Science students of the college said contrary to their peers in Agriculture, Veterinary Science, Animal Husbandry, Agriculture Engineering, Fishery and Forestry colleges, who are being recruited by various Government departments, they do not get good jobs. They claimed that States like Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu provide Home Science graduates jobs in their respective Women and Child Development (WCD) departments. In Odisha, recruiters often think Home Science courses are related only to home management, they added.
In Sambalpur University and Berhampur University too, the subject (MA in Home Science) has been receiving a lukewarm response over the past five years. In Berhampur, few students have taken admission as the subject is meant only for girls. However, faculty members suggest that the subject needs to be introduced at the undergraduate-level in more colleges. At present, only a few colleges affiliated to Berhampur University and Sambalpur University are offering the course at the UG level.
UG/PG Admissions This Year
It is generally seen that while girls outnumber boys in co-education colleges in cities, seats in women’s colleges are falling vacant as far as UG and PG courses are concerned.
In the new academic session here, very few have opted for women-only colleges that usually have high student intake. This year, 21 women’s colleges, both junior and degree, had zero or less than 10 enrolments, pointing to the poor quality of education being imparted at these institutions and poor management. It was found out that students did not even consider any of these colleges as their first option for admission.
In Bausuni Women’s (junior) College at Sonepur, there was no admission in Arts. Mohan Mahila Mahavidylaya at Nayagarh, Keonjhar-based Biswa Tarini Women’s College and Biju Patnaik Women’s College at Mayurbhanj had no takers for the Science stream and Bhadrak’s Nayanmani Women’s (junior) college saw zero admission in Commerce. Affiliation to these colleges has been withdrawn by the Department of Higher Education.
Likewise, four degree colleges saw admission between zero and 10 in Arts and self financing streams. In Arts, Kasturba Gandhi (Degree) Women’s College at Puri saw no admission to 64 seats in the subject, while in Derabish Mahila Mahavidyalaya at Kendrapara, only six students took admission against the student strength of 128. At Nuapada’s Lochan Jagat Women’s (Degree) College, just 10 students took admission to 128 seats in Arts. Keonjhar’s Government Women’s College saw zero admission in Self Financing course. These colleges have been issued show-cause notices by the department.
Centres for Women’s Studies
With Women’s Studies being recognised as a politically significant subject in the quest for equality, two universities in the State took measures to open Centres for Women’s Studies under UGC. These are Utkal University and Berhampur University. They offer various courses in Women’s Studies, albeit through the self-financing mode. But these centres are plagued by lack of teachers and infrastructure.
Students at Utkal University alleged that the Centre for Women’s Studies has been facing myriad problems ever since its Founder-Director and noted social activist Asha Hans retired in 2006. The Centre, which was established in 1999, runs a two-year PG course in Women’s Studies. Though there are two batches of students, 30 in each batch, the Centre has just one full-time faculty member. It relies on guest faculty for teaching and examination needs. At Berhampur University, students of Women’s Studies Research Centre that was established in 1988, say that a dearth of teaching faculty has affected teaching in MPhil and PhD. Apart from these two universities, Ravenshaw and North Odisha universities provide MPhil in Women’s Studies.
Technical Education Scene
The problem is more or less similar to UG and PG, when it comes to technical education. As per Government records, enrollment of tribal girl students is just one per cent in technical colleges. For a total of 45,000 engineering seats in Odisha, the enrolment of girls is between 5,000 and 7,000. The State has just one all-woman engineering college, Gurukula College of Engineering for Women at Khurda that has a strength of 420.
Similar is the situation of polytechnics. Till 2012, there were four women’s polytechnics in Odisha — Government Polytechnics at Bhubaneswar, Berhampur and Dhenkanal and SK Dav Polytechnic for Women at Rourkela. But the Department of Employment and Technical Education and Training then decided to convert these polytechnics into co-education institutes. It was found that many courses in these institutes had few takers and the courses were on the verge of being stopped.
CS Kumar, Commissioner of Department of Employment and Technical Education and Training, says branches like Civil, Electrical, IT, Pharmacy, Beauty Culture, Garment Design and Fashion Technology were opened in these women’s polytechnics. “Subsequently, it was noticed that due to non-availability of women candidates, seats fell vacant. Hence, we sought the permission of the Government to convert them to co-ed institutions and started admitting boys after the State Government issued an NOC. Another problem with the women’s polytechnics was that many companies were shying away from recruitment,” he says.
The Department, however, announced an increase in reservation of seats for women in co-education Government engineering schools and polytechnics to 30 per cent from 2013-14 academic session. Earlier, 15 per cent of seats was reserved for women in these institutes.
Kumar adds that as the number of girls taking admission to engineering colleges in the current 2014-15 academic year has been very disappointing, they are trying to rope in more and more girl students for polytechnics. Besides, the MHRD has asked the Odisha Government to open women’s hostels at all the existing polytechnics and has decided to provide Rs 1 crore for the purpose.
Hope for Women’s University
Unlike other States, there is not a single women’s university in Odisha. Recently, the MHRD proposed to set up 20 women’s universities across the country to give a thrust to women’s education and facilitate entry of girls from rural and sub-urban areas into higher education. Under this, the Odisha Government has proposed to set up a women’s university during the 12th Plan period with the help of MHRD’s Rastriya Ucchattara Sikhya Abhiyan (RUSA). While the Centre has proposed to fund its establishment, the State Government may provide the land and help to establish the university.
Odisha has, at present, eight Government universities — Utkal University, Berhampur University, Sambalpur University, North Odisha University, Fakir Mohan University, Shri Jagannath Sanskrit University and Ravenshaw University. Bhubaneswar’s Ramadevi Women’s College has the infrastructure to get the women’s university status. Sources says the State Government is considering providing land and other infrastructure at a suitable place for a new one without upgrading any existing women’s colleges.
“There are certain sections of the society which are still not open to sending girls to co-educational institutions. In such a scenario, an all-women university may give a fillip to the participation of girls in higher education. Very soon, a detailed project proposal would be sent to the Project Approval Board under the RUSA for clearance and funding for the proposed university,” says Higher Education Minister, Pradeep Panigrahy.
Work has already started to shortlist the Government and Government-aided women’s colleges to recommend to the MHRD for clearance of the proposal, he added. Social activist Asha Hans says efforts should also be made by higher authorities of Department of Higher Education and other stakeholders to include the disabled and girls from minority communities of rural Odisha in the higher education sector. “Usually, these less fortunate girls are left out of the higher education scene even though they manage to complete their schooling,” she says.