JNU student’s struggle against mandatory attendance is not a fight for special treatment to JNU but this is fight against a system which is not only logically flawed but also dangerous to innovations in academic excellence. Let’s start from the very beginning of the system of the attendance. Need of attendance comes only when you want to force a person to attend an event in which she is not interested. And if you want her to attend that event you have two remedies. Either force her through punitive means or make the event interesting. Both remedies are good according to circumstances. An individual makes choices on the basis of her preferences. A wage worker would prefer (or indifferent) $500 against 5 hrs of leisure. Hence if you want her to attend an event of 5 hrs or less you can enforce a fine of $500 for not attending the event and you will see her presence in the event.
But this punitive remedy doesn’t work with students who are mature. Here choices are changed. A student has three choices; leisure, class attendance or self study. Amount of leisure is exogenously determined by aspirations of the student. A student would like to spend her 10,12 or 15 hrs/day in study according to her aspirations. In a top varsity where students are selected on the basis of merit there is no questions of low aspirations. A student divides her available study hrs after leisure in two parts; attending classes and self study. Share of study time dedicated to attending classes is determined by only one parameter, productivity of class w.r.t. self study and is positively related. This relative productivity is function of quality of education disbursed in the class and absolute productivity of student’s self study. Relative productivity of class can be increased either by improving absolute productivity of class or by decreasing absolute productivity of student. Second option is certainly not a feasible solution. Hence we are left with only one solution and that is to improve absolute productivity of the class.
A rational student won’t like to attend a class which relative productivity is less than 1 i.e. productivity of class is less than that of self study. How can a person who claims to be a nationalist and well wisher of students and the university can force a student to decrease her net productivity, which is ultimate end of education. Productivity of all classes can’t be same and a student voluntary attend all those classes which relative productivity is more than 1. There is no need of any mandatory attendance unless relative productivity of a class is less than 1.
On the basis of above discussion we have two opinions. First make attendance compulsory at the cost of fall in student’s net productivity. And second is, make attendance voluntary and take measures to increase productivity of those classes which relative productivity is less than 1 to increase the number of students in the class. Voluntary attendance system is self improving i.e. even if no measures are taken to improve productivity of the class, in this system a fall in students’ presence in the class forces teacher to improve her teaching to attract more students. Voluntary attendance system is analogous to competitive markets in which teachers compete with each other to attract more students, which is only source of prestige for a teacher. Contrary to this, mandatory attendance is analogous to monopolistic market in which there won’t have any incentive to improve teaching.
This model is based on the assumption that students are mature, rational and have high aspirations, which is not a tautology. Thus before applying this model to any group of students we should check whether above assumptions are fulfilled by the group or not. School students certainly don’t fulfill first assumption. Undergraduate and postgraduate students of lower ranking universities in which lower merit students study doesn’t fulfill third assumption. But universities of higher ranking and research students of all universities generally fulfill all assumptions. Hence voluntary attendance is the best policy for all research scholars and universities of higher ranking. Exact number of universities which can be treated as high ranking universities differs from country to country. But universities representing top 5-10 (in my opinion)% of students of any discipline can be treated as high ranking universities.
Demand for voluntary attendance by JNU students should not be treated as special treatment to this varsity. But mandatory attendance in other varsities of high ranking should also be replaced by voluntary attendance system. This will not only improve quality of education in these universities but will also help them to compete top universities of the world.