‘The Death of An Institution’ is a fictional piece by Dr. P. Ravi Shankar, an educator based in Malaysia.
I was leaving with mixed feelings. Relieved and sad; happy and worried.
Many of my colleagues and friends had already left and the empty tables and chairs underlined their presence. I had worked at the institution for over a decade.
I had steadily risen through the ranks and was currently the Chief Administrator. The institution was an offshore medical school located on a beautiful island in the Indian ocean.
The school had a campus of around 30 acres and was located on a gently sloping green hill. The campus was green and multi-coloured flowering plants created their own magic. Sweet birdsong was heard throughout the day.
A decade ago, the school had opened with high hopes. A group from South India were the investors. The primary shareholder relocated to the island and his family were deeply involved in the running of the school/college.
The students were mostly from South Asia. There were also students from West and East Africa. There were nine semesters of study and then students had to complete the internship in their home countries and write the licensing examination. The clinical rotations were conducted at the national hospital.
I enjoyed living on the island. The hilly island was a tropical paradise. The interior was densely wooded, and it rained nearly every day.
The rocky hills often came down to the coastline. The white sand beaches were small but were spectacularly beautiful.
Graceful coconut trees swayed in the sea breeze. Mangoes, bananas, and cocoa grew well in the rich volcanic soil. Flowering plants were ubiquitous. The climate was equable; the summers were not very hot. The winters were balmy.
The college initially had several hundred students enrolled. The school was its own university and made its own academic and other decisions and there were three student intakes a year.
The college initially maintained good academic standards. The university did not own any clinical facilities on the island and the national hospital was used to provide clinical practice to students.
Soon competition increased. More schools were opened on the island and in neighbouring countries. The agents began playing a vital role in enrolling and bringing students to the institutions.
They grew more demanding and the commission they charged steadily increased. They also began to interfere with academics.
They were often successful in reversing academic decisions and students who were declared unsuccessful were promoted. Students soon realized there was no need to study, and they would be automatically promoted at the end of each semester.
The students who graduated were not doing well academically. They often could not clear licensing exams despite multiple attempts. The academic standards were declining.
The university failed in obtaining accreditation from the national accrediting body. Multiple attempts were unsuccessful.
The student numbers slowly started declining. The number of successful graduates was less than a hundred. The quality of faculty also started going downhill.
The pay became irregular and was lower compared to the competitors and good teachers started leaving and were not replaced.
I was staying with my family in a house with a view, a five-minute drive from the school. Rainfall on the island could be heavy and many houses were built on stilts.
There was a nice view of the sea and the coastline in the distance. The constant sea breezes kept the house cool.
The island was prone to occasional hurricanes. The one in 2012 had caused extensive damage. Bananas were the major cash group and most of the plantations were destroyed. Many houses suffered extensive damage.
The continuous downpour led to landslides. The electricity supply was off for over a week. The university closed for ten days though the hostels and the mess were working to support the students. Local schools were closed for over a month. Luckily the house I stayed in did not suffer much damage though a few trees in the compound were uprooted.
The number of students at the university kept on declining. The university was taking drastic measures to stay afloat.
Unfortunately, most were of dubious nature and possibly measures in the wrong direction. Standards were in free fall.
Salaries started getting more and more delayed. Bills (including utilities) were not being paid. I read about a school on the neighbouring island where the electricity was turned off as the dues were not paid.
Faculty were being let go and those who remained had to cover for those who left. Most were busy teaching from morning till evening.
On the administrative side also, most employees had been terminated. I was now doing a variety of tasks. Soon we were being paid only a maintenance allowance. Soon that also stopped.
With two kids and a wife to support the situation was becoming desperate for me. Living on the island was expensive. The beaches and the resorts attracted a steady stream of tourists. Costs were high as the tourists were willing to pay top dollar for goods and services.
I discussed my desperate situation with my brothers back home. We had some family property and agricultural land in my village in South India. This could support a family if managed well.
With a heavy heart I decided to leave the island that had been my home for over a decade. The school was in the process of winding down operations. Only a few academic staff and two administrators remained.
My current stint was unsuccessful and left me with a substantial amount of debt. I was also sad thinking about what could have been if the institution had been managed well.
Hopefully I will be able to make a new beginning back home. Working the land and doing other jobs we may be able to maintain our standard of living and help us hold our heads high.
The cost of living was lower back home. We could grow most of the food items on our land. Being uprooted and tossed to the elements was unnerving. However, tomorrow may well be better than today. Hope springs eternal in the human breast!