Mess in higher education: Slow poisoning of public universities

Students enrolled in colleges rarely attend classes. Governments have been high-handed. Appointments are all political as well as corrupt. Overall, higher education has been reduced to a farce

NH photo by Vikrant Jha
NH photo by Vikrant Jha

Apoorvanand

It’s impossible to generalise about universities. There are central universities like JNU, BHU etc. which get talked about. But far more numerous are state universities as well as degree colleges. Then there are deemed universities like TISS and IISc. And now you have hundreds of private universities.

State universities have been in a crisis for a long time. But there is never any discussion in the media about the mess in state universities which is at least 20 years old. They simply don’t have the resources to ensure a decent education. In most colleges in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Bihar and indeed across the country, there is a severe shortage of teachers and most teachers who are there are on contract.

NH photo
NH photo
While there are about 71 lakh students (19.88 %) enrolled with different types of universities, more than 2.6 crores of students (74.19 %) are enrolled in the various types of colleges. The rest 5.93% (more than 21 lakh students) are studying in various stand-alone institutions, which are non-degree awarding institutions outside the purview of university system. (Source: MHRD, 2017)

Higher education has been reduced to a farce. Because students enrolled in colleges rarely attend classes. They choose to study somewhere else, in coaching institutes, polytechnics or they utilise the time in farming or in business. Colleges have been rendered largely meaningless.

Governments have been high-handed. Some 35 years ago, a large number of colleges in Bihar were upgraded and post-graduate teaching was introduced in them. It generated a sense of expansion and elevation but PG teaching without facilities like libraries, laboratories etc. was useless.

Appointments are all political. Not only political but also corrupt. Some are also charged money for their appointment. Vice-Chancellors and Principals are, hence, already compromised. Even otherwise their hands are tied. The freedom of appointing faculty does not lie with universities. It lies with various agencies. Then what are the VCs doing? Are they gatekeepers? And, state universities are not autonomous even in making curriculums and syllabus.

Our society is also responsible for this state of affairs. It expects merely legitimacy ( credentials) or employability by way of a university degree.

Universities are said to be failing here because they are unable to produce employable graduates. But studies across the world have shown that whenever education is pursued for employability, chances of employment actually decline. Strengthening general education and thereby skills is the way forward but there is growing indifference over general education.

It’s because colleges and universities are associated with young people that political parties show interest in controlling the space and recruit unthinking political foot soldiers. Their interest is not in increasing resources or improving standards.

The elite of course cannot care less. They can afford to send their wards to expensive private schools or abroad. The largest number of ‘foreign’ students in the United States, after China, is from India. It is ironical because many members of this elite were themselves educated in government colleges.

Universities are said to be failing here because they are unable to produce employable graduates. But studies across the world have shown that whenever education is pursued for employability, chances of employment actually decline

A crop of private universities have also surfaced with ambition to be world class. They offer higher salary to faculties and not surprisingly, therefore, faculty from public funded universities are moving across to private universities. But even when the best faculty moves away and there are departments which have lost all their faculty to private universities, there is no discussion.

The last few years have seen a desperate RSS doing everything it can to gain control of the universities. It has always suspected that universities have been the bastions of left and liberal ideas. That is why it wants to wreck these universities from within. For example, in JNU, they are doing it through the VC. Most of the appointments are now being offered to those who subscribe to the RSS’s ideology.

Research ideas which fit into the so-called frame of nationalism are being approved, not others. It is not research but propaganda generation. Soon enough our books and materials will not be cited by scholars and research related to our past will be done outside the country, I suspect. Indian universities will become a backroom for generating intellectual coolies.

While the issue of universal access to higher education has been resolved, public universities have collapsed. That has made the access largely meaningless. Because SCs, STs and women have entered a barren land. It is treachery. And these sections cannot even complain because they have finally got an opportunity.

Research ideas which fit into the so-called frame of nationalism are being approved, not others. It is not research but propaganda generation

Delhi University runs on the basis of Delhi University Act, which nowhere mentions UGC or MHRD. So, why does MHRD keep poking its nose? Why are they sending two-three circulars to DU every month? Why should MHRD tell us to erect a bravery wall where statutes of Pram Veer Chakra winners will be put? Why should MHRD tell us to place a defined size of the national flag? Why should they ask us to run Swachh Bharat Abhiyan? Why should they keep sending these circulars?

UGC has no business to tell us how we should plan our curriculum. Their work is to ensure that standards are maintained, they have a role to oversee. Their job is not to tell universities to appoint professors.

If the university does not need a professor in a department, and they just need assistant professors, then let the university appoint assistant professors. But trust the UGC to insist that never mind your requirement, you will have to appoint a Professor.

Apoorvanand is a writer, commentator and Professor in Delhi University

As told to Vikrant Jha

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