Gone are the days when universities and institutions of higher learning had been the prominent centres of an outpouring of ideas in intellectual circles of the country. Indeed most of these institutions then happened to be pivotal points as regards the production of new ideas after rigorous debates and discussions among teachers, researchers and students and all other intellectuals in the society.
That they always did perhaps due to their deep commitment and passion for satisfying their unending quest of knowledge which is obviously all-pervasive and boundless. This way the universities and higher academia always remained devoted to pursuing unfathomed knowledge with a view to disseminate distinct ideas for the common welfare of the entire humanity. Fortunately, the government of the day never interfered into the autonomy of the universities and other such institutions of higher education and that always motivated and promoted free and impartial intellectual churning among learned professors and researchers thereby producing rare milestones in the field of knowledge.
The great Indian philosopher and former President of the country Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, M. Vishvesharaiya, J. C. Bose, Amartya Sen, Bipin Chandra, Andre Beteille, Jayant Narlikar, Gopi Chand Narang, Irfan Habib, Arvind Panangariya, Abhijit Banerjee are just few distinguished authorities who have been the products of such intense intellectual exercise and academic rigour and firm devotion that led them to create landmarks, well recognized by the whole world.
But why has such a glorious past of the Indian universities declined to an abysmal level that the entire higher education has become directionless and is unable to respond to a plethora of diverse socio-economic and political challenges and crises with the country is fraught with? Also, this system is unable to attract the best talents in India who are migrating to foreign universities and such other institutions for sake of the best education available and after completing their term they settle down there to benefit the host country. Obviously this kind of brain drain is the major challenge for our country. And so has declined the calibre and eminence of the most of the higher academia in all over the country who are simply doing their duties in a most casual manner which is devoid of the spirit and zeal that had been deeply ingrained among intellectuals and scholars in the past.
Many reasons may be assigned to this sorry state of affairs which have, in fact, erupted into a gradual manner during the long course of past decades since independence. Earlier education was considered to be a noble profession and those joining this profession had a vision as well as a mission to find out something new and meaningful which was still unexplored, with a view to serve the country and also the whole world. For them, teaching and learning were inspired by the ancient system of seeking and then imparting knowledge among their disciples who must, in turn, carry on the rich tradition uninterrupted and thus humanism and human values may be cherished in the light of eternal and universal moral values. This is why the teacher-taught relation was highly respectful and teachers always enjoyed a distinct honour in the society, which perhaps none, except the king, could achieve in their temporal existence. In such a conducive environment, the universities and other institutions of higher education in India utilized their autonomy and state-funding to attain new horizons of academic pursuits and excellence. Indeed, the universities sustained as institutions of higher learning and research just because they always promoted merit and they employed the best talents of the country into their campuses. That obviously proved fruitful and the universities rose to the pinnacle of academic excellence in every field of knowledge.
But, over the years, engaging of merit was substituted by nepotism where university faculties and authorities targeted the academic positions to serve their families and relatives and used various kinds of unhealthy practices towards their selfish ends. With mounting corruptions of all kinds in campuses, be it selection of faculty members or utilization of infrastructural grants, or awarding scholarships to the needy student or harassment of research scholars and many other academic and administrative irregularities creeping consistently upwards, the stage was set for the government to regulate different areas of autonomy enjoyed by these institutions and universities so as to systematize their functioning in order to promote the very purpose of higher education in the country. And this way bureaucratic control over them gradually went on increasing and today almost all institutions of higher learning, barring few exceptions like premier institutions of excellence viz IISC, IITs and IMMs etc., are under rising government control in one way or the other. As a result, these institutions are unable to define their own vision and mission and have been simply following and upholding the policies and political programmes of the government of the day. Now governments not only appoint ideological cronies as vice chancellors or directors, who happen to be the chief academic-executive officer of an university or an institution, but they also influence appointments of the faculty-members, besides monitoring syllabi and curricula making in these institutions so as to mould even the thinking patterns of the coming generations with a view to nurture their political policies and programmes.
Further, given the predominance of economic concerns and power-centric structure of Indian society, the younger generations are mostly allured to civil services which are indeed the abundant source of un-accumulated power as well as unaccounted money. Unfortunately, teaching profession is today considered as a last resort for young people who, after failing to enter into civil services or their prior failures in getting admissions into engineering or medical or management education, turn towards higher education which offers a relatively better pasture. As obvious, such a rejected lot can’t perform well as teachers or researchers because they lack the required enthusiasm and commitment which is required for a devoted academic as well as a researcher. This is why they don’t take interest in teaching and research and instead indulge into unionism and money-making, apart from doing all kinds of non-academic activities.
Against this backdrop, evidently much needs to be done to revamp the higher education system in India. First and foremost, the role of teachers in nation-building must be adequately recognized and hence their services ought not be utilized in non-teaching duties like, facilitating general elections, administering polio drops or door to door counting in national census etc.. Their respect and honour must not be diluted vis-à-vis bureaucratic and administrative wrangling. The autonomy of the institutions of higher education, particularly as regards designing of curricula and focus of research, must not be eroded and their financial condition must be consolidated by the governments. What is urgently needed is a healthy public debate comparing the major and conspicuous differences between Indian and well-known world-class universities that may perhaps set a direction for bold structural reforms in the higher education in the country. As the goal of education should be the creation of a knowledge society including world-class universities in the country, the role of information, as well as Information Technology, assumes considerable significance. Evidently, Information Technology, if utilised properly, can help-grow students tremendously and foster their learning process, particularly in the prevailing Corona crisis. In fact, the present-day students prefer classes that use modern technology that they demand in support of learning. As evident, there is a rising preference among them for digital libraries.
Thus, to ensure survival and growth in this neck-to-neck racing business environment, the institutions of higher education are required to monitor their performance periodically and must make necessary changes and modifications to adjust with the changing circumstances. And to participate in the global community of institutions of higher learnings as a competitive partner requires enormous reserves of determination as well as vigorous efforts. As expert comments: “Even while taking as a benchmark the models developed and refined in the core industrial societies, the middle-income countries must not give up their own indigenous cultural-intellectual traditions. At the same time these countries must try to remain relevant to the global intellectual community and also careful so that they may not become a victim of any emerging neo-colonial threat today.” Now, in a rapidly advancing world where educational possibilities are endless, the system of higher education must adapt itself to contemporary requirements and respond to new challenges in a dynamic and vibrant way with a view to explore new vistas of unexplored knowledge in the larger interest of the global humanity.