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Politics killing India’s higher education system

India’s higher education system has many problems but politicians are uninterested in solutions

editorials Updated: Apr 26, 2016 20:57 IST
Higer Education
HRD minister Smriti Irani told Parliament on April 26 that IITs have been asked to teach Sanskrit to facilitate the study of science and technology as reflected in its literature(Hindustan Times )

In India, teachers are often used for a variety of work that has nothing to do with their core expertise. You’ll find them manning election booths or collating data for census and other enumeration exercises. But now even students will not be spared from ‘helping’ the State, and the frontrunner in this novel development is Gujarat.

The BJP-run state government has given a list of 82 ‘preferred’ topics to universities for doctoral theses. The list includes central and state government programmes such as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pet Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, and the Gujarat government’s Kanya Kelavani, Gunotsav and MA Yojana. If PhD students don’t find these topics tempting enough, then there are several others to choose from: A Comparative study of Sardar Patel Awas Yojna and Indira Awas Yojana; Education of minorities — A critical study; Gujarat: Good governance for growth, scientific management and development — A critical study of existing pattern and future course —A policy suggestions (sic) and so on so forth. In other words, PhD candidates --- who are supposed to come up with their own topics after researching them well ---- are now being nudged towards “pre-determined topics”. So they really don’t need to spend time on the process of arriving at a topic, it is already there on a platter. It is still not clear if this topic list will be linked to scholarships; a carrot-and-stick scheme to ensure that there are enough takers for these hopelessly boring topics.

Read | PM Modi wants overhaul of higher education regulators

Defending the government’s move, one of the V-Cs said that the information gathered by students will help the state rectify the loopholes in the development programmes. Those who argue on such lines have forgotten that analyses of government-run programmes are primarily the work of specific agencies and students cannot be forced to do the evaluation work, unless they opt to do so on their own.

The other argument in favour of the government’s move is that there is a trend among students to select subjects for thesis research that were not “relevant”. It is sad that a V-C thinks that relevance is the only reason why students must get into PhD programmes. Obviously, they have missed the purpose of higher learning: It is not about relevance but about breaking new grounds, challenging old assumptions and a scope to pursue issues that they are passionate about. When it comes to such unnecessary tinkering of the higher education system, the central government, as we have seen, is not far behind.

Read | What’s missing in the Indian ranking for varsities?

On Monday, HRD minister Smriti Irani told Parliament that IITs have been asked to teach Sanskrit to facilitate the study of science and technology as reflected in its literature.

Read | IITs asked to teach Sanskrit language: Smriti Irani

India’s higher education system has many problems ---- mismatch in supply demand, mushrooming of low-quality institutes, funds crunch, shortage of teachers ---- which need more than some heavy-duty and long-term solutions that require time and intense involvement. But some politicians it seems are incapable of doing such a deep dive and are only too keen to keep certain constituencies happy. The recent announcements of Gujarat and HRD ministry prove it all over again.