Three years ago when Gurjeet Kaur passed the matriculation examination from her school in Saravan village in Moga , it seemed she had reached the limit of her ambitions.
In a region that offers little by way of vocational education, she knew she had to put a lid on her aspirations. Yet today, she has begun to dream again. The daughter of a marginal farmer, Gurjeet is now in the third year of the six-year integrated degree programme in electronics and communication at the Yadavindra College of Engineering in Talwandi Sabo, Bathinda.
Punjabi University’s Neighbourhood Campus project has helped hundreds of rural students like her. The idea behind the Neighbourhood Campus is to provide top-class professional education to villagers at their doorsteps, especially for those who could not afford to enroll in expensive urban colleges for engineering and vocational courses.
Punjabi University Vice-Chancellor S S Boparai, the spirit behind the scheme, says, “We will give them quality education to ensure they are as good as their urban counterparts.”
Six rural campuses of the university have now come up on around 300 acres of land donated by villagers in Sardulgarh, Rampura Phul, Karandi, Jhunir, Rallah and Delha-Sihan in Mansa and Bathinda. In addition, there are two regional centres at Talwandi Sabo and Bathinda.
The courses are free, but that hasn’t diluted the quality of education. In fact, most of the faculty at the rural campuses are drawn from the university pool, while some have been appointed on a contract basis. Boparai confidently says, “The six campuses will soon develop into centres of excellence.”
Since the 4,000 students enrolled under the scheme are all covered by scholarships, the scheme is a big opportunity for youth who otherwise would end up shelling out Rs 11,000 per year for the PGDCA course, Rs 22,000 for a BCA and Rs 11,000 for a certificate course in computers. The four-year engineering course costs Rs 56,000 per year and works out to a total of Rs 3 lakh factoring in the numerous other contributions the students have to make. These come free for the village scholars now.
The tab for running these campuses are picked up by the Punjabi University, except at Yadavindra College, the regional centre at Talwandi Sabo. There the 180 students selected every year are sponsored under the Golden Hearts Scholarship Scheme, a corpus created by NRI donors and NGOs.
College authorities say the freeship is a kind of loan to the students, who are expected to repay the institution once they get a job after graduation. This will, in turn, fund the education of other rural students.
With the university having moved into their backyard, the students are suddenly finding new doors opening. Kuldeep Singh, son of Talwandi Sabo farmer Kheta Singh, says his family’s perilous finances would not have allowed him to even think of pursuing higher studies. “I am all set to become a chemical engineer now,” beams the student of Yadavindra. Similar is the case with Balkar Ram. A BEd degree was all that the boy from Maghanian in Mansa could ever aspire to. “It was my schoolteacher from Ramgarh Shahpurian government school who encouraged me to seek admission to Yadavindra College,” says the student of electronics and communication.
Yadavindra director Dr S P S Virdi says that rural students fail to make the cut in entrance tests to good vocational colleges. “We admit them on the basis of their score in the matric exams and then upgrade their skills to ensure that their BTech degree matches that of others,” he says. The students are also given additional courses to help them overcome the gap between rural and urban education. For instance, there are language labs as well as special classes in science and computers. “I’ve learnt to speak English in a year,” smiles Sumandeep Kaur, daughter of a farmer in Faridkot district.
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