Worrying times ahead: how the govt is curtailing freedom of education
Autonomy has always been a pipe dream for educational institutions in India. And while political appointments, rather than merit, have been the norm in the past, the current government seems to be taking them to an extreme.
As India celebrates 70 years of independence, one of the biggest concerns that needs to be addressed is the government's hostile takeover of educational institutions, because it contradicts the very freedom we celebrate on 15 August.
Jobs for the boys
Over the past three years, a lot of the government's appointments have been criticised for being based on political affiliation than on merit. Some of these appointees openly call themselves RSS men, while others have been affiliated to the Sangh and the BJP more implicitly.
The institutions they have been installed in range from India's public sector broadcaster Prasar Bharati to the premier journalism institute, Indian Institute of Mass Communication, to the Film and Television Institute of India.
In addition, centres of learning like the Jawaharlal Nehru University and the Banaras Hindu University have been given vice-chancellors whose agenda seems to be to quell dissent against the government and eliminate the space for scholarly debate and a multitude of opinions among students.
Premier research councils have received chiefs with little-to-no background in research and scholarship, and the situation has got so out of hand that the government hasn't been able to find a chairperson for the University Grants Commission – a hunt which is being led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's personal yoga teacher.
Then, you have the likes of the octogenarian chairman of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, who once claimed that Modi “greater than Gandhi – attached to Indian values, fiercely dedicated to the poor”, and “an incarnation of God”.
Don't want scholars, want a skilled workforce
Catch spoke to eminent scholars to understand just why this trend is a huge problem for Indian society.
“These are dangerous times we live in. What troubles me is that the civil society in general does not recognise what the government has been doing with higher educational institutes in the country. Not only have they placed people of similar political affiliation in all, and I mean all, educational institutes in the country, they are now monitoring everything – funding of institutions, subject matter, research subjects. Even reservations for students are being challenged,” said Ravi Srivastava, senior professor of social sciences at JNU.
“The truth is that in the long run, the government plans to privatise all higher educational institutes in the country. It talks of giving complete 'autonomy' to institutes, but what it actually does is cap government financing to public institutions. In state universities and education institutions in the country, self-financing has been going on for a while now, as they receive public funding to the extent of only 15%. What will happen soon is that institutes will have to resort to various sources of self-funding like increasing fees, temporary affiliations to private colleges, distance education, and increase in auxiliary fees like exam fees and processing fees. Over time, these institutes will have to be funded by private financiers. Can you imagine the kind of quality of education that we will be imparting?”
Ramesh Dadhich, former member secretary of the ICSSR and an eminent professor of economics, said the government had a bigger agenda in terms of higher education in the country.
“Institutes like JNU, ICSSR, ICHR, FTII, CSDS, Delhi University and Jamia Millia Islamia have always given rise to liberal ideas and a liberal way of thinking. The ruling party sees these institutions as left-wing and anti-government. Their attitude towards like institutions seems like one to cut down the political wings of dissenting intellectuals,” he said.
“The RSS is behind all decisions by the HRD ministry in terms of higher education. This government has no interest in improving the quality of higher education in the country. They do not want to produce scholars or thinkers; they want skilled labour which they believe will be more instrumental in improving our economy and GDP. Can you imagine a society that does not promote its researchers and thinkers and policy makers and planners? It is horrific to even think about it. That's where we are headed.”
Achin Vanaik, eminent political scientist and professor at JNU and Delhi University, said higher education in India was becoming more and more political.
“It is extremely shocking to see the glacial change in the education atmosphere in India. We think that the government does not care about education in the country. But that is not true. They understand the importance of education and the impact it can have on young minds. So they have very strategically used education to their advantage. When you can control the subject matter and information being imparted to the youth, you can, in a way, control their mindset. That is the brief the government is following in terms of education – eliminate dissent,” he said.
“By placing their people in educational institutes across the country, they are controlling what the students are exposed to. Soon we won't have dissenting individuals, but factory-created scholars who are hyper-nationalists and jingoists. This is happening in primary, secondary school education and higher education as well. There is no independence left in education in India.”