Of late the demand for student participation in the administration of educational institutions has been gathering strength all over the and almost everywhere it has assumed a militant character. Stu the industrially advanced countries of the west as well as the developing countries in Asia and Africa are clamouring for more from restraints and a voice in decision-making on campuses.
The is bolstered with demonstrations, strikes, slogan-raising and other forms of protest which quite frequently lead to violence. Of course the’ provocation can very often be traced to minor causes like di; action regarded as too harsh, restrictions looked upon as unreasonable, unsatisfactory messing or lodging arrangements, a stiff question etc. But whatever the genesis of the trouble and howsoever it begun, it always ends up in demands for a bigger voice in running affairs of the institution involved.
Some people may be inclined to dismiss such demands as being thrown up by a generation spoiled by comparatively prosperity and permissiveness, and lacking a sense of purpose or They would condemn the acceptance or even consideration demands as betraying a weak kneed and skin-saving attitude part of the authorities. They decry protest movements among as being more critical than constructive.
They are not prep student-leaders credit for being motivated by any sense of hi But that amounts to gross over-simplification of a very phenomenon. Students are certainly no missionaries in the reform of education or educational institutions. They may well with being ignorant of what they want. But they do know what they do not want.
They are being edged on and driven by inexorable to try to reorder a system which, with the passage of time, obsolete in several important respects. The unrest we see and their taking to the streets on the slightest provocation is an expression of impatience with blind conformism for which students of today see no use.
For long our universities have been looked upon as centres of learning preparing young people to enter respectable careers. But today they are not able to fulfil even that function. Acquiring a degree is by no means a passport to employment. Universities today are overcrowded places where antiquated curricula provide the basis for instruction. The result is that not more than one in ten of their products can find a job. In this state of affairs, it is hardly to be wondered at that students should be anxious to secure a complete overhaul of the system, revised curricula having more relevance to their actual requirements, and a voice in how educational institutions should be administered.
The desire to make sure that education becomes employment-oriented provides strong motivation for demanding student participation in ordering the affairs of educational institutions. But there are other inspirations also. Students are anxious to see the university transformed from being an employment agency for the economy to a fountainhead of social reform to fight against the suffocating amount of corruption they see prevalent in contemporary social and political life.
They believe that education should not only prepare students for careers, but also enable them to become a dynamic force on the side of healthy social change. When they demand change, they also want to determine the course of that change. According to Professor Herbert Mercuse, one of the guiding lights of student radicalism, it is the students who, being the only adults not yet absorbed into the productive spheres, are in a particularly happy position to debate the issues. In the Professor’s opinion, it is they who are in the best position to define the real needs of society.
Their demand for being allowed a bigger say in the administration of educational institutions springs from a desire to participate in the task of evolving a new social order free of the ant and chicanery they encounter at every step in the world ruled by their elders. As such the demand must be accepted as genuine.
Above all, students want to be treated as individuals in their own right, and not as mere cogs in the giant wheel of society. They are no longer prepared to accept guidance and direction from the old as a matter of course. They are in no mood to be told what is good for them and what is bad for them. They want to be allowed to find out for themselves.
Once we come to recognize the genuineness of this demand and sympathise with it, it would not be difficult to see that there is a genuine need for student participation in the administration of educational institutions. They expect more of their alma maters than mere book-learning. It is all for the better because they will need many other qualities besides bookish knowledge to hold their own in the complex world awaiting them the portals of their colleges and universities.
The Duke of Wellingt remarked “The battle of Waterloo was won on the playgrounds of Today there are even bigger challenges awaiting the young as the on to the centre of the stage. If they are allowed to participate administering their colleges and universities, and sharing the responsibility of making them really useful, the experience will surely leave them equipped to face those challenges.
By now the idea has been given a trial, not only in a nu universities in America and Europe, but also in Asia. Students have allowed a hand in managing their hostels, their co-operation has obtained in maintaining discipline and they have even been cons while drawing up courses of study. Administrators who have tri experiment have almost without exception found the results gratifying. It has not only reduced protests and demonstrations, but also led general toning up of the campus atmosphere.
When students have been treated with respect, they have lived it and displayed a strong sense of responsibility. Permitting them to their opinions has served to take the element of violence out of marches and demonstrations. When they have been recognized individuals, they have displayed a readiness to work for change v- the existing system rather than by dropping out of it.
All this would go to show that students are ready to co-operate provided those in authority have the vision and the courage to their co-operation. There are several minor and major areas i administration of an educational institution in which students can useful service and at the same time imbibe qualities which are bound prove useful later.
For example: they can help in the administration student welfare funds; they can be allowed to manage the hostels; can look after a great deal of work in the sphere of sports; they car. immense help in maintaining discipline; they can be given charge of of the extracurricular activities. Among the major tasks in which help can be sought are planning courses of study, provision of vocational guidance, conduct of examination etc.
To a certain extent, student participation in the administration educational institutions can no doubt prove beneficial. But as they say, too much even of a good thing is bad. There is a limit beyond which, participation is bound to prove counterproductive. A university may be described as a microcosm of society, but it is certainly not a democracy where everything must be decided by votes.
Any attempt to cast i that mould will lead only to chaos and anarchy. In American Universities, students have often put forward demands to be allowed to choose. teachers. At some places, the demand has even been accepted to a extent. But the results have not been uniformly happy. When students have been allowed to dictate the hiring and firing of teachers, they have shown a preference for those who are sympathetic to the claims of student power, those who are ready to grant them long periods off, and to extend deadline for tests and thesis. As a result the students have allowed themselves to fall into echo-chambers and the quality of education has inevitably deteriorated.
Such situations are bound to develop if student participation is allowed to assume the proportions of student control. Students have to be given due recognition and encouraged to get involved. Their desire to see educational institutions playing a more active role in community life is very legitimate, and they must be allowed to help in realizing the aim. Their demand for rethinking on the relevance of education is genuine and they must be associated with that rethinking. But they must not be allowed to misuse the democratic process.
They must be brought round to accept reasoned dissent which seeks to persuade rather than raw intolerance which thinks nothing of interfering with the rights of others, and does not rule out fascist methods. They can accomplish something only by winning intelligent support from the elders. The elders on their part have to learn that student participation, rather being an affront to their good sense, is a powerful new ally in the common task of evolving a philosophy adequate for the stirring times ahead. They must anticipate and initiate the needed change before it is wrested out of their hands.