Monday, 28 April 2003  
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Marshals back in universities

Our universities have been in the news in the recent past, not because of the brilliant academic achievements of the majority of students, but rather because of the shameful conduct of a few. One university had to be kept closed for several months after a student was killed in a clash between two groups of students over the ragging of freshers. The other universities have also had their share of trouble.

Avoiding such incidents and maintaining discipline in the universities seem to be the aims of the reintroduction of the Marshal system, which was operational in our higher seats of learning more than 20 years ago. Newspapers reported yesterday that authorities hope to re-implement the system from May, with the recruitment of more than 25 trained individuals for universities islandwide.

Parents, university staff and the vast majority of students will certainly welcome the presence of Marshals in the universities. Their work will be complemented by fully-staffed police posts at some universities where student violence had flared recently.

Although some politically-motivated student groups have opposed this move, they themselves have created the opportunity for the Marshals to come in. It is well-known that some students engage in politics at universities on an almost full-time basis, neglecting their own studies and affecting the work of others as well.

These students could perhaps pause for a minute to think how lucky they are to enter the universities in the first place. Only a certain percentage of students who successfully pass the GCE A/Ls gain admission to universities. In other words, only the cream of students enter the universities. They are supposed to be the best.

No one in his right mind would suggest that political activity be barred at universities. University students are adults with the right to vote for and support any political party. But when political activities override studies and affect the university en masse, it is time to say 'enough is enough'. They are not above the law, after all.

University students must bear in mind that they have only three or four years to complete their degree. They should concentrate mostly on academic work and everything else comes second. If they must hold placards and shout slogans against the authorities, why not use that chance to demand better facilities, more experienced teachers and a more market-oriented education? Sadly, an education of good quality seems to be the last thing that these students seek.

Of course, there are many other areas of concern.

Ragging has still not been eradicated from our universities despite an Anti-ragging Act and numerous other legal steps. The brutal ragging of students has even spread to technical colleges and schools. Such violence at universities may reflect present social trends, but there cannot be any room for brutality and mayhem in places of learning which are supposed to instill moral values and discipline in students. The presence of Marshals will hopefully act as a deterrent to ragging.

It goes without saying that university administrators must maintain an extremely cordial relationship with students. All universities should have trained counsellors to guide students on the correct path and to help those facing difficulties, personal or academic. University staffers should be able to pinpoint potential flashpoints and take appropriate action, with the assistance of the Marshals.

They should combine both diplomacy and authority in ruling the universities and maintaining their scholastic standards.

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