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HindustanTimes Wed,26 Nov 2014
The charade of world-class education
Saroj Giri, Hindustan Times
July 06, 2014
First Published: 22:31 IST(6/7/2014)
Last Updated: 22:33 IST(6/7/2014)

Delhi University’s (DU) four-year undergraduate programme (FYUP) has been shelved in favour of the three-year programme. However, the thought underlying the FYUP is very much dominant today, even as some private universities are pushing it as the panacea for educational ills. DU vice-chancellor Dinesh Singh once called the opposition to the FYUP ‘ideological’. But the FYUP itself was ideological, part of the dominant mantra and diktat of the market and economy.

The diktat today is that everything has to be ‘world class’ and ‘global’. This often means a crude Americanisation of all things existing, imposing ‘new ideas’ and ‘innovation’ on society. There was never any attempt to understand the flaws and strengths of the earlier programme — only an arrogant craze to ‘change things’.

Singh and his acolytes loved to point out that the FYUP will make education job-friendly. But it will actually make the young mere cogs in the wheel of commerce. Only the well-off will do liberal arts and the humanities and engage in ‘critical thinking’, the rest should just enter the job market and toil for the growth model. Corporate capital is getting smarter and reflexive now as it wants to fund liberal arts, ‘critical thinking’ and ‘alternative knowledge’ and not just vocational courses.

Private universities undermining public institutions like DU and Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) are a reality today. Big capital promoting critical social thinking, and not just engineering or IT, will give rise to unseen perversities. DU colleges seeking autonomy will also be part of this same trend. All this amounts to poorer youth doing vocational courses so that they can keep things running for the ‘thinking’ elite.

Not that the earlier programme was innocent as it stood for the many vested interests of a kind of a soft statist secularist Left elite. The FYUP is the hand-maiden of a lop-sided and crude ‘growth model’ on which the country is tripping.

In that sense, the FYUP was in sync with Narendra Modi’s development agenda. Hence the BJP’s stance opposing the FYUP is a paradox. The BJP government has been led to this position not because of its own sound insight but owing to the power of the movement and protests against the FYUP.

The BJP’s Nalin Kohli’s view is that the FYUP is illegal (http://tinyurl.com/kfbtyw6), while Shashi Tharoor says that it is not (http://tinyurl.com/ol7xp23). Tharoor writes that the FYUP had been “presented to and approved by the University’s Academic Council and its Executive Council, that too by lopsidedly overwhelming majorities”.

Neither knows the real dynamics of how it unfolded. It was legal in a very formal sense, but underneath the seeming ‘overwhelming majorities’ was a sinister arm-twisting, favouritist game and (mis)use of executive power by the university. Tharoor uses the argument of institutional autonomy to justify not intervening against the FYUP — that is an argument made in tremendously bad faith.

The FYUP getting stuck when India (under Modi) is fast embracing the ‘growth model’ is indeed a paradox. Indeed, the opposition to the FYUP can easily be presented as the groaning tired voice of the old Left and public sector vested interests. However, the present vibrant movement shows that it is not just this old decrepit Left but a broad coalition of forces that are putting out an alternative viewpoint. The FYUP would have led to formalising the inequalities of wealth and power in society — this must be opposed and the poor youth must assert their agency beyond seeking employment and toiling for the rich.
 
Saroj Giri is a professor of political science in Delhi University
 
The views expressed by the author are personal


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