Observer Research Foundation Mumbai

Ideas and Action for a Better India

Higher Education: are we headless or being heedless?

Headless or Heedless

Headless or Heedless

Budgetary cuts, political interference, headless organisations, dissent and resignation among academics, threats to institutional autonomy — have been the highlights of the past year in education.

In the past few months, the government has been facing a lot of ire over the control it is exercising over appointments in higher education. Experts across fields have expressed dissent at political appointees to premier educational and research institutes in the country by the Ministry of Human Resource Development.

The latest comes in the form of Amartya Sen’s “no-holds-barred 4,000-word essay” in which he has accused the Modi government of trying to get complete control over academic institutions. The essay comes a few months after the Nobel prize-winning economist’s ouster as Chancellor of Nalanda University.  Sen withdrawing from the post was of course appalling, but hardly surprising to those who know of his public dislike for the BJP government’s focus on ‘economic growth-based’ policies.

“The scientific community has increasingly begun to perceive that the attitude of the Narendra Modi government in one year towards the science and technology (S&T) sector is far from encouraging. Scientists feel that there is an overall lack of interest in S&T and that the sector does not seem to be a priority for the government. This, in fact, prompted Bharat Ratna CNR Rao, who was the chairman of the Science Advisory Council under Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, to say early this year that Modi was only talking about development but had not come out with anything for science,” R Ramchandran had written in the Frontline. Ramchandran’s words were based on the resignation of Anil Kakodkar from Indian Institute of Technology Bombay’s governing body in March, the ouster of Parvin Sinclair, the director of the National Council for Educational Research and Training, in October last year, and the Prime Minister’s Office rejecting the appointment of theoretical physicist Sandip Trivedi at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) on “technical grounds”, among others.

A similar outcry is being seen over the appointment of Gajendra Chauhan as the director of the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII). Picked over cinema stalwarts such as Gulzar and Shyam Benegal, Chauhan’s selection is being opposed by the likes of Anupam Kher and Rishi Kapoor, who have come out in support of students. Sadly, the deadlock seems far from over.

A few months ago, expressing their anguish and concern over “the manner in which the state is intervening in higher education” teachers from several central universities in Delhi even put together a position paper, which was also “a considered response to recent policies and directives issued by the Ministry of Human Resource Development and the University Grants Commission.”

In her article on Catch News, journalist Soumya Shankar articulates the concern as: “What increases the discomfort around their political appointments is the absence of process. For the most part, many of these appointees also share an ideological belief that India would be better off as a majoritarian Hindu rashtra rather than a secular polity,” Shankar writes.

Bemoaning the control the BJP government is exercising over education, Zoya Hasan, scientist and academic writes, “Major changes are being initiated and pushed without actually consulting the professionals involved even though there is growing unease and opposition within Central universities to the new education policy and the manner in which the exercise is being done.” While opposing the idea of bringing into effect a Central Universities Act, Hasan stresses the need to preserve the character of India’s higher education system, “serving a large and heterogeneous population, should ideally support a diverse and decentralised system.”

If this was a sign of things to come, can we expect to see more student-led protests erupting across the country? May be it’s time for entire the community — students and teachers — to come together to revamp and re-energise our education system.

Compiled entreat by Shoumeli Das

Header image courtesy:
http://s0.geograph.org.uk/geophotos/03/69/33/3693326_66a627ea.jpg

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This entry was posted on 13/07/2015 by in ORF Mumbai.
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