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Harvards & Oxfords can come later. The Modi govt first needs to change its attitude

Neeraj Thakur | Updated on: 9 September 2017, 20:46 IST
(Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

Should India be surprised to not see even a single Indian institute among the top 250 in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings?

To have our rankings fall from where they were is worrying. Only 30 Indian institutes have featured in the 1,000 in the rankings, compared to 31 last year.

Juxtapose the fall in the ranking of Indian universities with the grand plans of the NDA government - to establish 20 world class institutions. The government plans to have dedicated funding for such institutes along with autonomy. A pink paper has been projecting this plan as India's quest for its own Harvard.

But the question is, can a country produce a Harvard or an Oxford overnight? Does the Narendra Modi government - termed the most anti-intellectual of all times by noted historian Ramachandra Guha - possess a magic wand that will give birth to an institution(s) that attracts the most talented students from across the world?

Before giving an answer in 'yes' and 'no', it would be pertinent to understand what makes a university world class. Money, for western institutions revered for their research and development, is only one of the many building blocks. Once the campus and state of the art facilities within are built with brick & mortar, great institutes require:

1) A culture of rationalism

2) Respect for the contrarian view

3) Sanctity of facts

Against rationalism

The Modi government, from day one, has been against rationalism. What more, it espouses unproven, irrational theories officially. No prime minister in the 21st century, no matter how advanced his country is in medical sciences, would dare quote a mythological text to claim a legacy in genetic science. Where in the world a ministry of health booklet instructs pregnant women to avoid meat, eggs and “impure thought” to deliver healthy babies?

No space for contrarians

The present government hates those who beg to differ. Those who can't help being contrarian are hounded by extra-constitutional bodies and faces threats for speaking their mind. The government, by maintaining its silence on the issue, only helps lumpon elements of the society in proscribing the intellectuals as well as commoners with a view against the ruling dispensation.

There is not even space to protest against the killing of intellectuals in the country. Finance minister Arun Jaitley, in his blog called protests of eminent writers against the killing of fellow writers a “manufactured revolt”, and a case of an “ideological intolerance towards the BJP”.

No respect for history and facts

State education boards have blatantly taken to changing history courses irrespective of whether they stand the scrutiny of historiography. Imagine an Indian history student studying in one of these proposed Indian Harvards writes a thesis on the medieval India and builds his argument from the corollary that Maharana Pratap won the battle of Haldighati against Akbar. Why would the university that publishes that thesis ever be counted among the top institutions of the world?

There is no doubt that the Harvards & Oxfords of the world need massive funding to come into being. But if funds were the only requisite for institutions of repute, the Middle East would have been home to many Harvards, but the sons of the Shiekhs of the Arab world still go to foreign shores to get their respected degrees.

First published: 9 September 2017, 20:46 IST
Neeraj Thakur @neerajthakur2

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