On January 17, Hindustan Times carried a report (Knowledge panel slams univ plan) that the National Knowledge Commission (NKC) has objected to the manner in which the UPA government has passed an ordinance that clears the path for 17 new central universities. The ordinance, the report added, also gives Human Resource Development Minister, Arjun Singh and his ministry, the power to appoint vice-chancellors, even before the bill comes up in Parliament for discussion.
It seems that the heavens will fall if these universities did not come up. However, we all know the reason for this tearing hurry. The government is unsure about coming back to power after the general elections and wants its favourites to be in powerful positions before it demits office. However, one thing is clear: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and HRD Minister Arjun Singh are interpreting the relationship between knowledge creators and knowledge societies differently.
While the PM belongs genuinely to that group that understands how knowledge is converted into useful assets and the freedom the knowledge creators need to do so, his minister believes that it is their privilege to direct the course of knowledge movement.
Personally, I have nothing for or against the manner in which Arjun Singh perceives the making of a knowledge society. But it is rather ridiculous that while you set up a panel to do a job, you ignore its basic recommendations.
Let us go back to the reasons why such a commission was set up in the first place. We were trying to compete with creative societies. Look at the number of Nobel laureate the United States produces and the number of original ideas we produce; or the free institutions they have and what we have to show in the name of intellectual freedom.
In India, our vice-chancellors are treated like dirt and are not expected to question anything the HRD ministry directs. In turn, they keep their subordinates more intellectually deprived. Our universities only prepare future politicians and not intellectuals. We don’t create knowledge. Left to us, we are happy with our millions going abroad for higher studies, and are even more happy when they do not come back and change the system. We are unwilling to give them institutions that are free from political interference. We are also unwilling to open institutions where intellectual freedom is key.
Look at the number of Indian youngsters who are going abroad for studies. Even half of what they spend outside in foreign currency could help us build a number of ‘free’ universities that will provide a fillip to making India reach the heights it had once attained during the Vedic age when ageless knowledge was created.
The HRD Ministry should look at institutions it has already created and the way they function. I suppose it would be very proud to have institutions like the National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE) or the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE). If this is what they wish to replicate, then they might as well forget about creating a knowledge society.
We hesitate to allow foreign universities to open their campuses in India but hardly mind if talented Indians refuse to come back from abroad. We cherish mediocrity and don’t allow a single institution to become a centre of excellence. If India, too, has to become a true knowledge society, then we too shall have to help our universities acquire individual personalities. Instead of 17, let us have only seven universities, but with facilities that a top-notch western university has. Let us free them of bureaucratic control. Let the universities appoint their own vice chancellors and be free to teach what they want to teach and function as professional entities.
R.P. Singh is President, All India Association of Teacher Educators