Have a vision and define your vision

higher eduUniversities define the image of a country and a society. Now, the Indian universities are caught in a trap as usual. The RSS and the BJP are said to be indulging in their pet trade. The RSS and the BJP are liberal and somewhat superficial forces of the westernized Indian view point. You see, the Western intellectual tradition is so strong, based on the Greek, Roman and the Renaissance and European Enlightenment traditions, that India as a modern nation, born out of the very Western traditions, has to seek a new Indian intellectual tradition by a rational, liberal and let us not forget, a robust secular tradition of a tolerant and multi ethnic society.

Universities must foster new knowledge by pursuing sciences, philosophies and humanistic studies. This is a big task and a big challenge. Rulers are cast in a great moral responsibility in the exercise of power and let us hope there are humility and a self-critical examination of what they are doing. This will find acceptance in the peer universities across the nations.

Just now I read a New York Times article by Aatish Taseer on the Right-wing attack on universities. It was in fact just a brief article on a dissident Professor and the Vice-Chancellor of the Banaras Hindu University. The VC seems to be an ‘unqualified’ RSS nominee from what I had read.

The whole burden of the article is to show how the RSS, an offshoot of the rise of the then 1925, when Mahatma Gandhi was emerging and the then right-wing forces came out with a muscular Hitler-inspired alternative polity with the organization of the RSS with its own special drills and other practices that now led to the emergence of the BJP as a political force. What does the future hold for India, Indian education and culture? Education changes and cultural forms to create a Hindu Rashtra are all in the air.

Now, as for the Indian higher education too, there are certain disturbing trends. It is this aspect we are concerned with. Are the Indian Universities in decline or on the upswing? The BJP HRD minister herself is in many controversies though she had taken some steps to bring to book certain high profile VCs for their serious lapses. This aspect we have highlighted and also applauded her action. But that apart, there are many issues on which there are very negative trends.

First, the standards in universities are deteriorating. There is not one big name, one scientist or a scholar of repute who had commented on higher education. In fact, there have been certain high profile exits. Prof. Amartya Sen, the Nobel Laureate went out of the Nalanda University as Chancellor when he found himself in disagreement with the Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi.

Eminent scientists like C N.R.Rao, Bharat Ratna, the atomic energy expert went out and remain quiet. Second, certain recent trends, defying the guidance of UGC norms in governing the universities, some state government, notably TN, have appointed VCs completely ignoring all norms and even decency those who have no qualifications and in one case, a Central University, saw a VC indulging in plagiarizing the thesis etc.

Much more sad and helpless is the situation of the Governors who are the Chancellors who had to sign on the dotted lines of the Chief Ministers’ whims and fancies of candidates who, more and more indulge in high corruption. It is no more a secret that VCs’ posts are ‘bought and sold’! What is this state government who admit in the respective high courts that they do overlook the UGC guidelines! How many times one can go to the judicial intervention in such matters like university administration.

University autonomy has become an irrelevant word. Editorials had been written even in the local language papers. Corruption in higher education had reached at all levels of the universities. Now, one more new factor is the emergence of private universities. What this entry of new profit-seeking universities would do is another question. All over the world university education had been a public-funded activity. The front line research had been done by state-funded universities and lost special independent labs.

So, we have to follow certain historic trends in the evolution of higher education and frontline research priorities. Higher education is where states can’t act independently. It looks by certain present political trends that one day the state government might even argue that state universities are the domains of the states and no interference by the center is acceptable.

Federal right over the states’ rights? It looks like that! Already some states are protesting against the centrally-mandated exams for IIT and Medical courses. In a democracy like India where uneducated and utterly unsuited individuals come to occupy the  chairs of the Chief Minister and other ministers who lord it over such portfolios like higher education anything needs to be justified.

We saw how the tag of classic Tamil was turned and twisted to glorify certain individuals and that led to ridiculous anomalies! Certainly, the time has come for concerned leaders of thought, scientists and scholars, historians and other men of knowledge and integrity must cry a halt to further deterioration of higher education in India.

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