Universities today are as national as the Flag or the Anthem. They are expressions of the national idea, carriers of national message and embodiment of national achievement. Their places in international league tables make headlines in newspapers and politicians speeches, they form a key part of the national strategy and when they attract students from afar, it's counted as an export.
This is perhaps all too obvious from the outside, but not so much from the inside. One may see, in the university's diverse student bodies, some kind of microcosm of humanity; the faculty may, in keeping with the enlightenment spirit, think they belong to a republic of letters. The international conferences, part of an academic's cycle of life, are portals of those wonderful communities of interest, where a shared disciplinary language - at least temporarily - reconfigure the ingroups and outgroups.
This is all very ephemeral though, a cultivated feeling than a persistent reality. That transnational solidarity of conferences are funded by national exchequer or endowments of various kinds and the shared language of knowledge is more often about reaffirming the superiority of a group of nations over others. Some academics and some students may still perhaps raise the voice of protest - think that it's their duty to protest - when the State overreaches; but these protests, more often than not, are about identities of different kinds than for the outdated goal of human solidarity. The minority groups are treated as minorities, the international students as immigrants (more and more so as the state intervenes to define that status) and the university, a property of the taxpayer. That is indeed the reality of modern universities.
We may spin the tales of the wonderful times when global communities came together in quaint towns with purer intentions and nobler hearts, but the expulsion of Chinese students from American universities or the plight of Nigerians in Indian and Chinese campuses represent the reality more closely than those of aristocratic Austrians in Cambridge between the wars. That vision of flat-world campuses - from a time when the world was more white, gendered and privileged - is a poor fit in our age of mass higher education, global value chains and consumer-facing universities. That knowledge is created through interaction and collaboration is obscured in our obsession with genius and the cultural obsession with the lone inventor. And, thereon, to the myth of national genius and universities being the training ground and temples for the same. Its post-war contributions, often very multi-national, multi-racial, contributions, have been simplified into the neat story of universities as national treasures, an integral and enabling part of the military-industrial-educational complex.
There are indeed national variations of the nationalisation of universities. The military-industrial-educational complex is a developed world thing, lately adopted with some brutal efficiency in China. Otherwise, the poorer countries often limited themselves to the first two elements, building extensive military-industrial ecosystems but outsourcing the educational part back to the metropolitan masters, in harmony with their own foreign-educated elite and their ideas of the world. In these countries, universities are national but engaged not in the nation-in-the-world project but rather of making-the-nation project. That makes them virulently national, an element of the pedagogic project of modern nation-making, while at the same time a subservient entity of the world university system and its assumption that the poorer nations are just underdeveloped versions of the richer ones.
Hence, my paradox - can there be Indian, Filipino, Vietnamese or even for that matter, Chinese or Korean universities? The nations are involved in extensive projects of conceiving, funding and competing through these universities, shaping the universities with intrusive national legislation and integrating these closely into the system of national symbols and messages; and yet, the whole project centres around an inadequately interrogated borrowed concept from European enlightenment to enable the idea of territorial nation-states. The universities, in this context, are extensions of the state and national in that limited sense; but they are also outside the context, an institutional form inherited as a legacy of a colonial past, a marker more of an unsettled debate about what higher education ought to be. It's been, as a colonial project, an institution imposed from outside for cultivation of a colonial elite, and therefore, even in its nationalising variety, the poor nations conceived their universities as a tool of legitimisation, against a standard imposed from outside, rather than one of creation of knowledge.
As a final point, therefore, in considering the universities and their roles in the society, it's worth distinguishing the state and the nation and sees the universities as potential fields of conflict and negotiation. I shall claim that there is no common experience of the university and no common idea, and it's the context of dynamic adjustments of state and nationhood that shapes what a university is, and can be.
Popular posts from this blog
A friend has recently forwarded me a quote from Lord Macaulay's speech in the British Parliament on 2nd February 1835. I reproduce the quote below: "I have traveled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and, therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native self-culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation." The email requested me to forward me to every indian I know. I was tempted, but there were two oddities about this quote. First, the language, which
Introduction : The Business of Gift Giving Business gift giving has always been common and contentious at the same time. Business gifts are usually seen as an ‘advertising, sales promotion and marketing communication medium’ (Cooper et al , 1991). Arunthanes et al (1994) points out that such gifting is practised usually for three reasons: (a) in appreciation for past client relationships, placing a new order, referrals to other clients, etc.; (b) in the hopes of creating a positive, first impression which might help to establish an initial business relationship; and (c) giving may be perceived as a quid Pro quo (i.e. returning a favour or expecting a favour in return for something). The practitioners of gift-giving generally argue that doing business is often an aggregation of personal interactions and relationships, and gift-giving should be seen as a natural way of maintaining and enhancing these relationships. ‘Business gifts, especially one given in the course of the festive s
Buzzwords have disadvantages. Right now, experiential learning is one, and that means we put the label on everything and it stops to mean anything. Also, this means reasonable conversation about experiential learning becomes difficult - at times such as this, either you preach experiential learning or you are traditional, antiquarian and hopelessly out of touch. But, overlooking the limitations of experiential learning can cause big problems. Experiential Learning does many things - putting practice at the heart of learning is an important paradigm shift - but not everything, and it is important to be aware what it does not do. Usually, we equate the terms Project-based Learning (the method) with Experiential Learning (the idea) and Learning from Experience (the ideal), treating them as one and the same and using the terms interchangeably. Any talk about distinctive meaning of these terms is usually seen as pedantic, but really represent very different ideas about education.
Today, Helen Goddard, 26, a highly popular music teacher of a City School for Girls, has been sentenced to 15 months in prison. Her crime was to carry out a year long lesbian affair with one of her pupils, who appeared in the court and admitted that the affair was consensual and it was she who pressured Helen into the affair. For Helen, a bright musician and a devout Chistian, this is an extraordinary lapse of judgement. Also, she was teaching in the £13,000 private girls only school in London. She was surely aware what the consequences of her action will be. The fact that she still could not stop herself tells us that lovers do not always act rationally, something we always knew. There is more in this affair than personal tragedies. For a start, this has all the dramatic elements: a bright, beautiful teacher more in Julia Roberts mould [as in Mona Lisa Smile], a stiff upper lip school [not unlike Wellesley] and a story like Notes On A Scandal with an added twist. Indeed, Helen
In most societies today, making profits are accepted as moral, if not especially praiseworthy. This was not as obvious as it appears today – people used to be embarrassed about making a profit not so long ago. Crazy as it seems today, it is worth thinking why it was so. Profits, as economists will put it, is the reward for risk-taking, for putting a business enterprise together in the pursuit of an objective. In this definition, remember, profits are not what it is commonly understood to be – the gross middle-line towards the bottom – but a figure net of entrepreneur’s earning [wages for his labour], dividends and interests on borrowed capital, and provisions for building and other physical assets [a sort of rent, offsetting what these assets could have earned if leased out]. This pure profit – surplus – accrues to a business as a reward to its organisation, for the act of entrepreneurship itself. Economists were divided on how this surplus comes about. The conventional wisdom was,
Introduction Erna Petri née Kürbs, a farmer’s daughter from Herressen in Thuringia, arrived in Ukraine with her three year old son to join her husband Horst in June 1942. Horst, an SS leader inspired by Nazi ideologue Dr Richard Walter Darré, settled in the plantation of Grzenda, just outside today’s Lviv, to become a German Gentleman-Farmer. Erna saw Horst beating and abusing the workers in the plantation within two days of arriving there, which was, as Horst explained, necessary for establishing authority. Erna joined in enthusiastically, settling into a combination of roles of ‘plantation mistress, prairie Madonna in apron-covered dress lording over slave labourers, infant-carrying, gun-wielding Hausfrau.’  However, there were clear rules in the plantation, and Erna was very much expected to play the woman’s role of being a Cake-and-Coffee hostess. When four Jews were caught in the estate while trying to escape from a transport to a death camp, Horst told Erna and her female
I wrote a note on Kolkata, the city I come from and would always belong to, in July 2010. Since then, the post attracted many visitors and comments, mostly critical, as most people, including those from Kolkata, couldn't see any future for the city. My current effort, some 18 months down the line, is also prompted by a recent article in The Economist, The City That Got Left Behind , which echo the pessimism somewhat. I, at least emotionally, disagree to all the pessimism: After all Kolkata is home and I live in the hope of an eventual return. Indeed, some change has happened since I wrote my earlier post: The geriatric Leftist government that ruled the state for more than 30 years was summarily dispatched, and was replaced by a lumpen-capitalist populist government. Kolkata looked without a future with the clueless leftists at the helm; it now looks without hope. However, apart from bad governance, there is no reason why Kolkata had to be poor and hopeless. It sits right
Introduction: Hastings in the history of Indian Education Whether or not one includes Warren Hastings in the history of Education in India is a matter of perspective. If writing the history of education means writing the history of schools, the impact of Hastings' administration would be quite limited. If anything, the rapid implosion of local rulers in Eastern, Southern and Northern India during Hastings' tenure had meant a bleak period for the indigenous education system, as patronage and funds would have dwindled away for many of them. The Company administration really concerned itself with the schooling of the natives only after 1813, as Nurullah and Naik rightly pointed out ( see my earlier post ) and one can legitimately start the story at this point. However, if history of Education in India is to encompass the transformation of Indian Scholarship, on which foundation the new, colonial, system of Education would be built, the story must start with Warren Hast
The ‘Why’ Question? Adolf Hitler was appointed the German Chancellor by President Von Hindenburg on 30th January 1933. This was an extraordinary turn of events. Previously, President Von Hindenburg consistently refused to appoint Hitler the Chancellor, despite the impressive electoral performance of NSDAP in July 1932, Hitler’s uncompromising demand of the Chancellor’s post and a repeat election in November 1932 which failed to break the deadlock. Explaining his refusal, Hindenburg wrote in a letter on 24th November, “a presidential cabinet led by you would develop necessarily into a party dictatorship with all its consequences for an extraordinary accentuation of the conflicts in the German people.” The question ‘why’ Hitler was appointed Chancellor, despite the President being acutely aware of what might follow, is therefore a significant one. The NSDAP had election successes throughout 1932, and was already the biggest single party in the Reichstag and various Landtags acros
There is no other city like Kolkata for me: It is Home. The only city where I don't have to find a reason to go to, or to love. It is one city hardwired into my identity, and despite being away for a decade, that refuses to go away. People stay away from their homeland for a variety of reasons. But, as I have come to feel, no one can be completely happy to be away. One may find fame or fortune, love and learning, in another land, but they always live an incomplete life. They bring home broken bits of their homeland into their awkward daily existence, a cushion somewhere, a broken conversation in mother tongue some other time, always rediscovering the land they left behind for that brief moment of wanting to be themselves. The cruelest punishment, therefore, for a man who lives abroad is when his love for his land is denied. It is indeed often denied, because the pursuit of work, knowledge or love seemed to have gotten priority over the attraction of the land. This is particularly
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.