Sikkim University celebrated its 14th Foundation Day on July 2, 2021. The Central University was established on July 2, 2007, with the mission to make higher education more accessible to the students from Sikkim and surrounding areas. Prior to this, the state only provided opportunities for higher education up to graduation levels. The University was established by an Act of Parliament of India, 2007. The vision of the University states, “To achieve intellectual, academic and cultural development of the people of Eastern Himalayas.” And the objectives of this University include statements like “to educate and train manpower for the development of the State of Sikkim” and “to pay special attention to the improvement of the social and economic conditions and welfare of the people of that State”. With such great dreams, of playing a vital role in the development of the people and the State of Sikkim in the field of education, Sikkim University began its journey in 2007.
But one of the major concerns that have been affecting the past and current students of the University, as it enters its 15th year, is that it still functioning out of a rented building spread across National Highway-10. From the Department of Peace and Conflict located beyond the 6th mile to the Department of Political Science located at Kazi Road, the University lays scattered in the hills of Gangtok. And with the Central Library located at 6th mile, the question of accessibility remains the biggest challenge. And beyond the factors of accessibility and commuting, the absence of campus has a further impact on the students of the University. The campus provides education and exposure of its own. Many times, it is a campus that completes the process of learning as it introduces the students to an array of cultures, traditions, and many other diverse factors.
Many other Central Universities that were established much later like the Central University of Karnataka (2009) have started functioning out of their campus in 2014. But with Sikkim University entering its 15th year, there is still neither a sign of a completed campus nor a promising future. The University had identified and acquired land in Yangang, South Sikkim for its campus to come up. But after 14 years, the campus continues to be constructed. And these years, the number of Departments in the University has not only increased, adding to the number of rented properties and students without a campus. The University currently has 32 departments and 9 hostels and no campus.
According to the annual report of the academic year 2012-13, the State government had transferred 265.94 acres of land on January 25, 2012, for the commencement of the construction of the campus. Professor T B Subba, who took over as the Vice-Chancellor in October 2012, mentions in the annual report of 2016-17 that the University has made some progress towards the development of the campus. He also mentioned that the work of the boundary wall had begun and the road connectivity with the campus made a lot of progress.
The current Vice-Chancellor, Professor AvinashKhare had mentioned in the annual report of 2017-18, the year he took over that the University has many areas for improvement in the overall infrastructure of the campus. According to the report, “The answer to many of these problems lies in having our university campus. The campus also endows an identity and face to the university. As you all may know that the campus construction has already started in Yangang. However, due to many factors and reasons, the progress of the project has been rather slow. In coming years our priority should be to smoothen and accelerate the pace of construction project so that we have our campus at the earliest where can live and grow freely without any constraints and fulfill our aims and aspirations.” It is interesting the note that the prospectus for admission for the year 2021-22 still states that Sikkim University is building a world-class campus in Yangang, South Sikkim.
The prospectus promises to students an array of infrastructures like sports and market complexes, restaurants, and utility stores. The prospectus also promises a centrally heated campus with academic complexes being connected by wide footpaths with overhead roofs.
Pallav Ram Bhujel, a current research scholar and the former General Secretary of the Sikkim University Students’ Association in 2018 says, “Sikkim University has been without a campus for more than a decade now. One of the major problems according to me is that the students have little or no interaction between them, as far as discussions and sharing of opinions among students from different academic and social backgrounds are concerned. There isn’t a common platform to talk about national and international issues. Further, the lack of a proper campus also makes the students feel indifferent to a Sikkim University culture. Another issue is that of the high cost of traveling and rent in Gangtok, which makes it difficult for students to sustain financially.”
On April 20, 2018, the student of the University led a demonstration in demand for a campus under the initiative of the Sikkim University Students’ Association. The then General Secretary of SUSA (2017-18), Sonam WangdiDorjee Bhutia says, “The lack of a permanent campus has resulted in the communication gap between the students and administration. Students are not able to participate in extra-curricular activities most of the time. The developmental programs for students seem to be impossible to conduct in such a scenario. The official work to be done by students are much more likely to be troublesome and time-consuming for them.
A campus is a space where a lot of learning happens. Beyond the physical space, it provides a space for the intellectual, rational, and sensitive development of an individual. It also provides an environment beyond the classroom to interact and gain exposure for the students as well as teachers. The campus will also provide a better environment in terms of getting students ready for the world outside. With a 14-year-old foundation, strong and historical, many students wait to step into the Sikkim University campus. A campus many dreamed of, and a campus many continue to dream of.
by Vaidyanath Nishant. The author is a freelance writer. He can be contacted at [email protected]