High on students, Panjab University language departments low on staff
Professor Cecilia Antony and Prof V K Singh, chairperson of the Chinese and Tibetan Department.

THE LANGUAGE departments of Panjab University face a strange dilemma: the number of students queuing up at their doorstep is increasing every year but they don’t have the teaching staff or infrastructure to meet this demand.

The PU has departments dedicated to teaching Chinese and Tibetan, German, French, Russian and Persian, which falls under the Urdu department. Established in 1957, French and Francophone department started with only elementary courses, but now it offers diploma, advanced diploma, and certificate courses besides masters and doctorate programmes.

French a big hit
Serving in the department since 1982, chairperson Professor Cecilia Antony wrings her hands as she talks about the future of the department when she will retire. “I have been here in the department for long. I remember when I joined, I drove down to the French embassy to bring books for the library. When I came here, there was nothing in the department but now we enroll about 200 students every year. And the department receives more than 1,000 applications for admissions,” she said, adding that 10 students had also done their PhDs from the department.
But the fund crunch has badly hit their student intake.

“Earlier, we used to enroll 300 students a year, but in 2017 we scaled it down to 200 because of less faculty and insufficient infrastructure,” says Antony, who is worried about the department as her retirement date nears.

Kajal Verma, a student at the department, says she loves her subject but wishes the department would get better infrastructure. “We do not have ACs here and we need computers in our library.”

Many takers for Urdu MA
It was in 1978 that Urdu department, which also teaches Persian, was started at PU but the condition of the department is still the same. Professor Ali Abbas, coordinator of Urdu and Persian department, who has been here since 2014, says the interest in Urdu is on the rise. “There were only four students doing masters in Urdu when I arrived but now that number has gone up to 15 and we also have 10 research scholars.”

Professor Arijit Dakshi (L) and Professor Ali Abbas (R)

The department, which has only two faculty members, also offers certificate, diploma and advance diploma to students. Prof Abbas said the number of students applying for their courses far outstrip the seats at the department.

“In the current academic year, we received more than 250 applications for 85 seats of certificate course in Urdu, and 150 applicants for 34 seats in Persian. Even for masters in Urdu, we received over 100 applications for 34 seats.”
But they don’t have enough room to seat the students, leave alone teach them.

“Whenever we have more students in a classroom, we shift them to the lecture halls of Chemical Engineering department,” said Abbas.

High five for German
The Department of German established in 1960 boasts around 150 students for certificate, diploma and advance diploma courses. Professor Arijit Dakshi, chairperson of the department, also has the same story to tell of increasing applicants and decreasing faculty.

“Every year, the number of applications increases but we cannot take more students as we do not have enough space here. Also, we have only two permanent faculty members at the department.”

Prof Jeevan Sharma says he is happy to see the increasing interest in German language. “In 1980s, there used to be less than 100 students at the department, but now their number has gone up to 150. We can easily add to this number but who will teach these students and where will they sit?’’

Prof Dakshi said they want to start a master’s programme but only if they get more teaching staff.

Chinese for research
Prof V K Singh, chairperson of the Chinese and Tibetan Department, which was started under the name of Central Asian Studies in 1964, is happy with the increasing interest among people to learn both Mandarin and Tibetan. “I have been here for the last 25 years. We have about 50 students studying at the department today, though we receive applications from over 400. But more students would mean more faculty members and facilities.”

“More than 90 students have done their research with us,” said Singh, adding that how the department is very important for studying Buddhist and Jain literature in India, which in turn throws new light on our ancient history
Karamjeet Singh, registrar of Panjab University, when contacted, said, “‘There is no step-motherly treatment being given to these departments. There are some issues like shortage of faculty but that is true of every department. We need approval from HRD ministry before recruiting any teaching staff. We cannot increase faculty members on our own. We will look into the matter of increasing the number of seats if any of the departments sends us a proposal,” he said.