The New 600: Does Size Really Matter?
By Devika Goswami (Batch of UG 2022)
It is difficult to go too long on campus without at least hearing a few concerns over the size of our newest undergraduate batch. The matter has set off an almost unprecedented number of arguments, and most aren’t in complete favour of a much larger student body. It may seem like an ‘evil’, and it may be a necessary ‘evil’ but even now, it is still very much possible that it is not necessarily ‘evil’.
The fact that this is coming from a student from the new batch surely warrants an eyebrow raise, but I wish to use this position to uncover the potential of much larger student body, however badly timed it may be.
At the very core of this issue lies diversity, or the hopes of greater diversity with a much larger batch. Different backgrounds mean different viewpoints, and isn’t that one of the core values around which Ashoka is built? Whether this value is only limited to PR or not, it would serve us well to look critically at the new batch profile:
There is a slight increase in each of the chosen indicators of diversity, and this naturally stems from a greater batch size. What is interesting to see is the increase in students on financial aid, the students from non metropolitan cities and most importantly, the 1st generation college goers. This shows greater inclusivity, and stands as a reminder that more students now have the opportunity to experience a higher quality, liberal arts education than they otherwise may have had. Not to forget: the better and more well-rounded discourse that we can now anticipate on campus.
A 1969 study shows that there is a positive correlation between large student bodies and student demonstrations. While this doesn’t necessarily mean more protests on campus since levels of involvement differ, it does mean a slightly larger turn out when there are protests. This means a greater level of support for the current student body, especially in navigating our currently precarious relationship with the administration.
Granted that ‘controlled’ growth or gradually increasing intake may have been a better option, we can now make sure we don’t face this challenge again through persistent dialogue and discourse. Now that we have identified the problem of a lack of resources to sustain any more students than we currently have, it will no longer be an unforeseen issue if this pace of growth were to continue next year.
An answer to Ashokan “apathy”
An Edict article published earlier this year highlighted increasing levels of disinterest and disillusionment on campus, as attributed to our favorite buzzword: “Ashokan apathy”. Intuitively a larger class size would limit personal interactions, undermining the student body’s ability to function as a community with a common aim. However, this does not mean that students would not engage with student clubs and societies that they are personally invested in. For instance, the club inductions this year have already yielded a sizable turn out from the new batch.
It is important to note here that US public universities have extremely large undergraduate populations, most with an enrollment size of at least 30,000 students. Universities like University of Michigan and Purdue University are not only academically renowned, but they also have nearly a 1000 clubs and societies on campus.
One of Ashoka’s defining factors has been a commitment to a vibrant student life, and so far the sheer number of clubs and societies on campus upholds this commitment. If a correlation between undergraduate populations and the number of clubs does hold true, then we can anticipate an even more dynamic campus that we currently have.
Even though the infrastructure can still hold these many students — its foundations are shaking under all the new weight. We find ourselves moving towards the day this campus can comfortably accommodate a rapidly growing student body. However, it is important to make a distinction between the pace of this growth and the growth itself. The issue of SH5, and less distressingly the mess lines and a more cramped campus all have something to say about the unruly pace of student intake growth.
With these very real problems, it is easy to rally against the idea of a growing Ashoka and not the approach taken to get there. It would be a shame if we lost sight of the potential of a larger student body in view of an administrative miscalculation.
The Bigger Picture
On a larger scale, we cannot overlook the possible responsibilities that Ashoka must uphold as an institution. In 2012, the UGC created its 12th five year plan for higher education proposing universities to double their student intake to meet greater education demands in India. Whether or not these demands are even met, it is worth thinking about the additional number of students that are now choosing a liberal arts education and what this could mean for the state of Indian higher education in the near future.
Universities like UC San Diego, UC Berkeley and UCLA have all seen an increase in their student intake in the past few years. Given that these universities have the infrastructure and resources to support this move, they do display a commitment to growth. All this means is that there is definitely a greater vision at play whenever such a decision is made, and Ashoka’s vision is yet to be realised.
We are clearly caught in the crossroads between Ashoka having, to a large extent, achieved its initial vision to create a good first impression and Ashoka now having to spread its influence while safeguarding an increasingly fragile reputation. It is a fine-line to walk, but we should try our best to try and keep an open mind to the potential positive impact of a larger batch for Ashoka.