A Coaching Centre That Produces UPSC Exam Toppers Is A Dream For Many
Twenty three students from Jamia Millia Islamia's RCA have cleared the UPSC exams this year. How does the residential coaching academy function?
Delhi: When Shruti Sharma was announced as the topper of Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) exams, Jamia Millia University, the educational institute in Delhi that was labeled 'anti-national' during the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) came back to the news again.
Sharma prepared for the Civil Services exam at Jamia Millia Islamia Residential Coaching Academy (RCA) in the last two years.
She graduated from St Stephen's College of Delhi University (DU) and joined Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) for her post-graduation. Later, she dropped out of the JNU and joined the Delhi School of Economics at DU to pursue her post-graduate degree.
"I will give credit for the success to my parents, teachers, and friends for being a constant support. They were motivating me throughout this journey," Sharma said.
Ever since its inception, RCA has produced more than 266 Civil Servants and around 403 other central and state servants.
This year, a total of 23 students from Jamia's RCA have cleared the UPSC civil services examinations.
How Does Jamia's UPSC Coaching Centre Function?
With an aim to provide free coaching to underprivileged sections of the country and help minorities clear India's prestigious civil services exam – UPSC — Jamia Millia Islamia's Residential Coaching Academy (RCA) joined the project of University Grants Commission (UGC) in 2010.
The project by UGC was initially for four universities — Aligarh Muslim University, Jamia Hamdard, Jamia Millia Islamia, MANUU in Hyderabad and Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar University, Lucknow.
The Academy prepares aspirants for civil service exams, including junior services of staff selection commission exams. However, as per the eligibility criteria, only students belonging to minorities, SC/STs and women can get admission to the RCA.
In 2010, the coaching program facilitated by the Jamia Milia University during the UPA era began on the recommendation of the Sachar Committee to uplift and increase the proportion of candidates in central and state services among minorities, SCs, STs and women. The selection is made through a written test, followed by a group discussion and interview.
"The need to enhance and improve the coaching is there but there is a need for a lot of funding for better hostels and infrastructure. Within a limited set of resources we still try to give our best in shaping the future of our students," Professor Abid Ali, a teacher at RCA told BOOM.
Other than the grant of UGC of ₹80 lakhs for coaching, RCA offers scholarships to meritorious students selected through an entrance examination.
At present, RCA selects only 300 students annually out of the 10,000 applications they receive. The quota can increase only with an increase in funding.
Professor Ali says that RCA is not a money minting institution like other coaching centres. The institute's motto, he says, is to get more students from diverse communities, into civil services. At RCA, students get education free of cost as all the expenditures, except for food, is borne by UGC.
"Even though some news agencies tried to create a communal controversy by calling RCA a Muslim dominant centre, our sole purpose and goal is betterment of our nation," he said.
The Race To Get Into RCA
Mini Shukla, 25, Madhya Pradesh's Gwalior, joined RCA in November 2018. Her elder sister got selected in the 2019 UPSC batch after studying in the same academy, motivating Shukla to join too. "If I had not joined RCA, I would have never made it to the selection list. The pair group in the academy was instrumental in my preparation for the exam," she said.
Shukla appeared in UPSC for the first time in 2019 and could only qualify the prelims. In 2021, when everyone was confined to homes due to a countrywide COVID-19 lockdown, she again appeared and qualified this time.
"I have been to other academies but RCA has better results in comparison to other existing ones," said Shukla.
Her selection in RCA, she says, was the happiest moment of her life. "There is a cut-throat competition for selection in Jamia RCA. Everyone in my family was elated because of the education and environment a student gets in the academy," she recalled.
"We had brilliant teachers from AMU and Jamia's main campus. Both Muslim and non-Muslim teachers, best of their respective subjects, would be called for giving lectures throughout the course. It took our learning process to a whole different level," she said.
She credits her success to the environment the academy has created for the students in the last more than one decade where students from all corners of the country interacted with each other.
Like Shukla, 27-year-old Mohammad Iliyaas of Uttar Pradesh calls himself "lucky" for being part of the RCA. With a limited source of income at home, he had aspirations of joining the civil services from his secondary school. He could not make it in the 2018 entrance test for the RCA. However, after a year of hard work, he got selected for the academy.
"As it is a government funded institution, any student who comes from a financially poor background can excel in RCA. One has to pay around Rs 3,000 for food and stay, which is quite affordable," he told BOOM.
Tehseen, 25, from Karnataka secured AIR 482 in this year's UPSC. She appeared in mains examination from Mumbai but after qualifying, she decided to come to RCA. "Jamia has always been the top priority but it was too far from my place, so I choose Mumbai as my centre for mains," she said.
Her final interview was in Delhi and her priority turned into reality. She joined RCA for preparations for final interviews. "Everyone was happy with my decision to study in RCA because they knew the reputation and scope of this institution. There were students from many places, various religions, and different backgrounds that helped me in qualifying the exam," Tehseen told BOOM.
Unlike Tehseen, 26-year-old Areeba Noman was sceptical before joining RCA. Her earlier apprehensions were about the place and culture. But soon she realised that those ideas were not real. "I believe students who get selected for RCA are the luckiest ones," she said.
For her, RCA is a meritorious institute and helps students accomplish their goals. "It provides financial assistance, all the amenities and a safe place to live in. And when you do not have a burden of finances and other issues, one gets a chance to focus on studies only," Noman explained. "It's said that RCA is the Mecca of aspirants."
Who Teaches At RCA?
Although RCA has gained much recognition across the country, the institution is facing difficulties in arranging teachers for lectures. The UGC rates for classes are very low in comparison to what a teacher earns from private coaching institutions.
The RCA usually hires teachers from the outside, although sometimes teachers within the university also take classes.
"I have some friends who are teaching in coaching institutions so they would come on my request. Somehow we were managing so far. But it has been getting difficult for the past two years," said Mohammad Tarique, Deputy Director RCA and Associate Professor.
He explained that the recent results of UPSC is hard work of the institution done in the past two years, however he fears that the quality of education at the RCA will get affected if there is no timely intervention of the higher officials about the functioning of the academy.
"In 2009 I met Najeeb Jung (the then Vice Chancellor of Jamia Milia) accidentally after reading his interview in TOI in which he has expressed that he wants to do something for minorities in the field of civil services. Back then, I was teaching in Ranjendra Nager and was earning more than Rs 45 lakh annually," recalled Taique.
He had a similar idea — to uplift the minorities in India. He met Jung who asked him to join Jamia as professor.
"It was a difficult choice because I had to quit a private job where I was earning well. The pay was still less than what I was earning in private but I got a purpose. He (Jung) told me if we can make 10 -12 civil servants from Jamia, especially poor and Muslims, that would be the greatest service to the minority after independence," Tarique told BOOM.
"No other similar institution funded by UGC or ministry of minority affairs for social justices have such better results," he claimed.
However, he said, he is scared for the future of RCA. "If higher officials do not intervene into the functioning of RCA, it will get destroyed like Aligarh Muslim University and other institutions that were part of UGC program," he said.
In 2019, the RCA closed courses like B.tech, B.ed, NET and JRF in which more than 300 students are accommodated every year. "There were some steps taken by members of the RCA which were against the rules of the Ministry that resulted in UGC stopping funding for those courses," Tarique alleged.
UGC provides ₹85 lakhs annually to RCA for operations in the academy and RCA generates around ₹80 lakhs from the initial entrance test conducted every year in which more than 10,000 students apply.
"If we analyze the statistics of Jamia for the past three years, it is down sliding. But still out of 25 Muslims who qualified from various counts this year, 12 are from RCA," said Tarique.
He has proposed some ideas: Similar such institutes built in India and live classes from RCA to centres in various neighbourhoods where Muslims and other minorities live. "It will help students achieve their dreams," he said.
RCA accommodates students from more than 20 states and Union Territories every year. "It has a cosmopolitan culture. The true idea of India can be seen in one class room," Tarique said.
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