In India, people demand that there should be more universities. Why, they point out, India has only 600-odd universities, whereas United States as 6 times as many for one-fifth of the population? More universities, in their mind, equate with more education, and also economic success, as we live in 'knowledge economies'. So far, so straightforward!
I state this as an Indian phenomenon, but it is really a global view. Indians only demand so as the Chinese, the Malaysians and the South Koreans are stealing the march, building more and bigger universities faster. The Saudis, the Kuwaitis, the South Africans are all in it. I remember, as late as 2002, I was told in Bhutan that it did not have a college in the country as the Government was fearful that the student politics would destabilise the country; those days are long gone, colleges in Thumpu came up in due time - by 2015, the new government was floating the idea of a greenfield 'education city' and checking out in any international universities would be interested in starting a campus! This is based on a view of economic development powered by universities, which is an integral part of the narrative of growth through innovation and technology.
I want to take a contrarian view, and question what universities really do. This is not because I belong to the same corner as Charles Murray, who believes in the creation and preservation of a 'cognitive elite' with the exclusion of everyone else. Quite the opposite: I believe everyone has intellect - as Darwin would say, human beings only differ in zeal and capacity to do hard work - and the privileged have no monopoly on ideas and insights. My objection is to the automatic assumption - more universities equal more education - which has resulted in already disastrous consequences in India. And, I argue not for the suspension of building new universities, but a more thoughtful approach to it.
One final point: I make no presumption of special insight here. The questions I have in mind are rather obvious, but there is an obvious reason why they do not get asked: People in the universities are expected, by others but also by themselves, to ask questions about social practices, and they can hardly be expected to raise doubts about the social value they create. As it is, they are embattled, and such questions are seen as yet another intrusion from the 'neoliberal state'. I only ask the question because I am an outsider, and to me, the universities look very much a part of the apparatus of the 'neo-liberal state', though an appartus which seemed to have lost its usage and is in the danger of falling into disuse.
The recent history of the universities has been, I shall claim, parallel to that of democracy: Once a great hope of political inclusion, then a tool to deliver a good life and finally, an empty rhetoric with a track record of broken promises and faced with the gloomy prospect of populist onslaught. And, in this, there were perhaps three points of inflection: Once in the late sixties, when the Liberal State turned, and then again after 2008, when the populist revolts took hold in Obama, and now Trump, administrations in America. So, we are at a time of the second 'ruin' of the universities, which mirrors, but is different in substance from, the 'University in Ruins' Bill Readings portrayed in the 80s.
In fact, universities, expanded at great public expense since the 60s, became tools of the state policy more than ever; they served the state, justified it and in turn, were legitimised by it. Claiming monopoly on 'questioning', the universities shaped the 'public sphere' and defined what kind of questions can be, and can not be, asked. They became a sorting machine, more efficient than class, race, gender or lineage as they were more scientifically justified - a mechanism of universal stratification. Their non-bureaucratic bureaucracies took hold of all the key material abstractions and helped built the abstract materialism that they non-labelled with the 'neo-liberal' label. They crusaded to make an educational diploma the worth of a man, making inequality naturalistic through the illusions of talent and built a vast ecosystem of ranks and tests to subvert the political agency, perhaps irretrievably, and replace it with a consumer choice of identies - 'be what you want to be'!
It is this consumer promise of the university which is now broken. That illusion, which was always an illusion, that one can be what s/he wants to be, core to the proposition of an university education, is now lifting. That wealth is almost begotten by birth, luck or buccaneering, and never by an university education, is becoming obvious. And despite their sneering about wealth, it is universities themselves which made the pursuit of wealth a centrepiece of their promise (and still do): Their protestation now sound hollow and their claims of 'independent inquiry' is distinctly at odds with their reality.
This predicament of the university, as I said before, is much like democracy. Exclusion is only the other side of inclusion: It lies not just at the quest but as a concurrent reality. The universities, a thoroughly modern beast which only borrows the name and prestige of a very different medieval institution, were very much part of the democratic schema in the lofty imagination of some of its modern imaginators, but just as they stopped short of radical social change in their quest of democractic society, they let the pretensions of the medievalism and exclusionary spirit of meritocracy take over the university very easily. The student unrest in the sixties, which made not just governments but the also the academic bureaucracy uncomfortable, led the universities become consumer institution, just as democracy became a means to an end, a good life! And, once this failed to materialise, it became open season, for the privileged to push back, and root out even the last vestiges of the challenge to primacy of, well, birth, luck and buccaneering.
So, more universities in emerging countries is not a quest for greater education, but rather a quest for a new social ordering following the well-trodden path of the West. One perhaps forgets that universities can often result to less education, as the expansion of university system and formal education can often mean a decline of public and non-formal education, things like Workers' Education Association or movements such as Lyceum movement in America. From our vantage point, it may seem that these public education movements may be only filling the space left by lack of universities, and it is only natural that expansion of university education made such movements redundant. However, university is a different kind of education - regulated, restricted and rationed - and the decline of public education meant a less flexible workforce, as we have now. The hegemony of university education also means that we continue to see MOOCs, which serve the space left by public education, only a placeholder for college credit, again discouraging participation rather than encouraging inclusion.
The current loss of legitimacy of the consumer university perhaps open up a space for a new kind of institution. Call it an university if you like, but it is time to restore the multi-dimenality of education. This challenge is no different from the ones our democracy is facing today: The youth, who prefers to protest than to vote; the angry and the marginalised who impose all kinds of fringe politicians on the rest; the opportunists who channel the anger and steal the booty, are converging in a perfect storm where most people don't see how their views reflect in the state, and what the elected politicians do other than to become the placating agents of the state and justifying every unjust action in smooth words and right intonations. The new democracy, if one could be imagined, and the new university, if a relevant one can be perceived, would both have to engage with a sincerity, granularity and substance than the forms that we know now. But such a change does not happen unless the university administrators start to realise that the institution is adrift; and sadly, as they never asked themselves what they really do, they are as clueless as the politicians regarding what has really gone wrong.
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
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
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
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.
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,
India's employment data is sobering ( see here ). The pandemic has wrecked havoc and the structural problems of the economy - service sector dependence, uneven regional development and health and education challenges - are more evident than ever. Something needs to happen, and fast. To its credit, the government acknowledges the education challenge. Belatedly - it took more than 30 years - India has come up with a new National Education Policy. It is a comprehensive policy, which covers the whole spectrum of education and perhaps overcompensates the previous neglect by advocating radical change. As I commented elsewhere on this blog, it shows a curious mixture of aspirations, cultural revival and global competitiveness put under the same hood. However, despite its radical aspirations, the policy document often betrays same-old thinking. One of these is India's approach to foreign universities. The NEP makes the case for allowing foreign universities to set up operations in Ind
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
It's not often that I get to do things I like, but, as it happens, the lockdown came with a little gift. I was asked to develop, by an Indian entrepreneur with a strong commitment to education, a framework for a Liberal Education for one of his schools. And, as a part of this exercise, I was asked to develop a critique of Indian Education, if only to set the context of the proposal I am to make. I claim to have some unusual - therefore unique - qualification to do this job. I am, after all, an outsider in all senses. I have lived outside India for a long time, but never went too far away, making it my field of work for most of the period. I have also been outside the academe but never too far away: Just outside the bureaucracy but intimately into the conversations. I worked in the 'disruptive' end of education without the intention to disrupt and in For-profit without the desire for profit. Along the way, the only thing I consistently did is study educatio
Nations are ideas. We try to fashion them as territories. But how can a river, a mountain ridge or sometimes an imaginary line in the middle of a field can explain the wide division in the lives, thoughts and futures of the people who live on different sides? Nations are not the people too. Indeed, people build nations and become its body. But the soul of the nation is an idea: People come together on an idea to build a nation. While that's what a modern nation is - an idea - and that way exceptionalism is not an American exception, very few nations are as completely defined by an idea as Pakistan. There was hardly any political, geographic or military rationale of Pakistan other than the idea of an Islamic homeland in South Asia. [In that way, the ideological brother of Pakistan in the family of nations is Israel] This, abated by the short term political calculations of some backroom colonialists, created a modern state which must be solely sustained on that singular idea. Reli
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.