Allegations of poor teaching standards by a student of BITS-Pilani Dubai compel Notes to approach more students of the university and its director to investigate the issue. Manal Ismail reports
Notes recently received a complaint from a student of BITS, Pilani - Dubai (BPD) alleging that teaching quality is poor. After speaking to several students from the university,
it seemed the complaint only scratched the surface, with students bringing up a number of other issues including the university's teaching methods, power outages and fining system.
Notes took the complaints to Dr M. Ramachandran, director of BPD, who explained the kinds of checks and balances in place to ensure student concerns are addressed and their problems resolved.
First - the issues
When computer science student Syed Atif of BITS, Pilani - Dubai approached Notes, he began by noting the reputation of the university's base campus in India. "It holds a very high rank back home, and many students came to the Dubai campus expecting the same quality education," he said.
Atif's complaints mainly relate to the professors' poor communication skills and their unsatisfactory teaching methods.
"I took the Engineering Graphics course excited about what I was going to learn as it is an interesting topic," Atif said.
"But it was a disaster. The first day they briefed us, with their poor English, on the required software. From the second class, they began testing us on the software - which we were obviously still completely unfamiliar with. It was supposed to be a very interesting course, but like many other subjects, it became a nightmare."
Notes spoke to four other students who echoed Atif's complaints. All of them insisted on remaining anonymous.
"The teachers aren't very proficient in English and don't know how to communicate," one student said. "And many of them aren't committed to teaching. They come here with their degrees simply looking for a job. But teaching is not about making money; it's giving knowledge and power to students."
According to Atif, with many professors hailing from the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu, a degree of favouritism is shown to students from the same region.
"Sometimes professors explain work in their own language when they get stuck," he said. "We're paying for quality education and quality education is what we should get, but currently the circumstances are extremely de-motivating."
Notes asked the students whether they had tried to raise their problems with the teachers concerned. According to Atif, when they do the response invariably is 'We can't do anything about it; we must follow the syllabus set out by the administrators'.
The official view
Notes spoke to Dr Ramachandran about the issues the students had raised. He said professors are fully vetted before they are hired, with all faculty being PhD holders who are proficient in the English language and have full control over their course syllabi.
Should there be a problem between the faculty and a student, the university follows a system of "checks and balances", Ramachandran said.
"A student always has the right to stand up and say he's not happy. They can at any time visit their professor's office to explain their issues and that meeting is always confidential," he said.
Ramachandran said that students fill out a compulsory feedback form that evaluates professors on various aspects such as knowledge and communication skills.
These forms are taken into consideration when professors are re-evaluated. He added that students receive a handout of the courseobjectives, evaluation methods, and all course details; students have the right to express any concerns with professors right from their first day in class.
Speaking to the press
The students Notes spoke to insisted that their names be withheld.
"During the orientation, the director clearly warned us not to approach any news reporters without getting permission from the university, and that if we did, we would be expelled," said a student.
Atif said that a senior faculty member had warned him against speaking to the press, saying earlier two students had been suspended for writing negative comments about the campus on their blogs.
To this, Ramachandran responded: "Students need to understand that by being here, they are part of a community. When you have a problem in your home or community, you don't go running to the court.
"You first try to use the opportunities available to you to redress the issue. Students need to learn how to follow certain protocol - as many of our interns discover at work. They need to learn how to use the system to their own benefit. They have all these options available to them."
Nevertheless, the students insisted they had exhausted these options, and the efforts had proved futile, with their complaints going "in one ear and out the other". They also said they found the feedback forms of no use and that university administrators have an "arrogant attitude" towards the students.
One student described his experience trying to talk to his head instructor: "I walked into the room to speak to the dean of instructors about a concern I had," he said.
"I said 'hello', and he didn't respond. I repeated it and he didn't even acknowledge my existence or look up. The first thing that came out of his mouth was 'Get to the point'."
However, Ramachandran asserted that should a student feel they've hit a brick wall, they are always free to approach him.
"My door is always open for my students," he said. "In fact, students are the only ones who need not arrange an appointment to meet me. They are always more than welcome to approach me with any issues they may have."
The students also complained about the university's fining system, claiming that although the handbook given prior to their enrolment into the university stated the regulations set by the university, there is no mention of the application of fines as a form of penalty for such things as missing classes or a curfew.
Students said that they were briefed about being fined for breaking rules during the orientation, but the amount was never specified and the orientation took place after they had been admitted to the university. As such they feel misled by this approach.
Describing the university as a "money-making machine", students claimed they were being fined "wherever and whenever the university saw an opportunity to take money".
"We have a curfew on campus; we can't leave the campus before 2pm and we must be back by 10pm," said Atif.
"If a student is late, they are warned, and if (the offence is) repeated, they have to pay a fine of Dh100. Students can be asked to pay from their first tardiness, and fines can range from Dh100 to Dh400, it depends on your ability to convince the supervisors about the reasons for your tardiness."
Students added that they were also fined for missing classes. "If you miss 20 per cent of your classes you're asked to pay Dh100 per subject," one student said. "And then you're fined for every other 10 per cent of classes you missed."
It's all about accountability
Ramachandran explained that measures are put into place to ensure the positive growth of students and that they have no reason to be late or miss classes as they are clearly informed about the university's rules and regulations from day one.
"Parents have left these students under our care. And they are explicitly here for academic purposes," he said.
"There is no need for students to go anywhere, especially after 10pm. Should the student need to leave the campus for some kind of emergency, all he/she needs to do is inform us and take permission. We have accountability to ourselves, the parents and the country we live in and we don't want to be involved in any kind of scandal."
Ramachandran emphasised the meaning of "freedom of responsibility," asserting that he condones freedom which nurtures positive growth and leaves no room for that which fosters "negative growth or negative attitudes".
He also added that parents have been very grateful and have received no complaints about their regulations.
Nevertheless, students argue that imposing fines is an ineffective approach to teaching "freedom with responsibility". "A student with all the money in the world will simply pay and not care," Atif said.
"Paying fines is not the right approach to teaching such values. There should be other repercussions that act alone - using money is useless and irrelevant in such situations."
Notes asked the students why they chose to continue in BPD and not get a transfer to another institution.
They said that should they decide to transfer, they would have to pay the tuition fee for the remaining years. Ramachandran refuted the claim, saying students are free to transfer provided they fill out the necessary paperwork.
Nevertheless, students insist that the administration makes it difficult for students to leave. One student said that he went to the registrar asking for a transfer; he was informed that he must pay for the remaining years.
"I was told to fill out the form and that it all depends on what the director says," he said.
Another student claimed that it took three months to process his transcripts and certificates and that he was required to pay the tuition fee for these months although he informed the administration of his departure from the university and didn't attend any classes during that period.
"Things get worse day by day," he said. "It's as if I'm stuck in a prison for four years, paying for a crime I didn't commit."
When Atif was asked why he decided to take this step and was willing to talk about the issue openly, he said that even though he might have to pay the full tuition fees, he is leaving the university and is not worried about any possible repercussions.
"Almost everyone feels the same about these issues but they're afraid to voice them," he said. "It's time to speak out. If everyone keeps quiet, there will be no improvement, no change and no hope for progress."
The plus side
Despite the many problems students say they are facing, there are a number of graduates from BITS, Pilani - Dubai who are working in well-known international companies such as Microsoft, Dell and Siemens and who have been granted admission to leading universities across the US and Europe.
However the students attributed their success to willpower.
"Anyone with the determination and drive to find success will find it," said a student. "These students arrived at their current position simply by their own talent and perseverance."
- Disclaimer: The opinions and ideas expressed in this article are purely those of the students and in no way reflect the views of Notes. Notes has repeatedly contacted the university for clarification of certain claims presented by students, however they did not respond in time to meet the publishing deadline.
What the Ministry of Higher Education says
When Notes contacted the Ministry of Higher Education, a top official said that BITS, Pilani - Dubai has been given a licence to operate, as per their procedures. The university has sought accreditation, however none of its programmes have been accredited because they have not met the required standards.
Any educational institution must get a licence from the ministry to be able to operate in the UAE. The licence is granted once the ministry assesses the institution's proposed programmes and determines that it has the funds and resources to establish itself as a university.
The official said they will investigate the issue, and should the complaints be valid, they will take the necessary measures.