THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 04 JUNE 2019 (The changing idea of a university (The Hindu))

The changing idea of a university (The Hindu)

Mains Paper 2 : Governance
Prelims level : National Education Policy
Mains level : Significance and importance of the National Education Policy


  • The first proposal of this government to be made public was the 100-day action plan for education.
  • It includes framing a new National Education Policy, replacing the University Grants Commission (UGC) with another body, and adding 10 more Institutions of Eminence.

The purpose of education

  • While the media has extensively covered the attacks on institutions such as Jawaharlal Nehru University and Hyderabad Central University, and the violence unleashed by the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad.
  • The student arm of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, in some places, what is more long lasting is the way the BJP has instrumentalised education by binding it to the objective of creating skills and employment and making education useful for the market.
  • By doing this, it has hollowed out the whole purpose of education, which is to preserve and disseminate knowledge and generate new knowledge.
  • This is the first time in the history of independent India that common people have started looking at universities as spaces where their hard-earned money is being misspent. The business of knowledge creation itself is being perceived as extravagant and unnecessary.
  • So, if you look for the word ‘knowledge’ in the policy documents of the government, you are bound to be disappointed.

Developing critical thought

  • The very idea of pursuing truth and developing critical thought, which were seen as the role of universities, has gone into disuse.
  • Universities were spaces where all kinds of ideas, however dominant, were constantly examined.
  • The only aim of education is to be to mainly inculcate nationalism, as prescribed by the government, among students as well as teachers.
  • The government even circulated a list of research areas and topics to be kept in mind while preparing and approving research proposals.
  • This essentially means that there is no space for free inquiry in the field of higher education any more.
  • If we look at the research proposals approved by the Indian Council of Social Science Research, the Indian Council of Historical Research and even scientific bodies, we realise the thinning of this area.
  • Even the All India Institute of Medical Sciences recently held a seminar on ‘astrology and the medical sciences’.
  • This means that the very idea of science is under severe stress. Also, the stories of the pressure that independent research institutions are facing in the name of appraisal and scrutiny have not come out in the open for obvious reasons.

Withdrawal of state support

  • Apart from all this, public universities are being systematically weakened by the steady withdrawal of state support to them.
  • This is ironically at a time when the number of first-generation learners in the university space has reached a satisfactory level.
  • Universities needed more support to improve access to higher education. Unfortunately, they are now facing a fund crunch.
  • This leaves these students at a great disadvantage.
  • The government is firming an unequal hierarchy in the field by promoting the idea of Institutions of Eminence and keeping autonomy reserved for a privileged set of institutions.
  • Most public universities with a long tradition are kept out of it, thus demoralising their teachers and students.
  • Autonomy to such institutions has also been linked to withdrawal of state support.
  • Weakening the regulatory framework mechanism
  • The regulatory mechanism for the field of higher education had started to weaken during the UPA regime itself.
  • Directives from the government became frequent and regulatory agencies were used to route them to universities.
  • Directives from bodies like the UGC kept disrupting the functioning of universities.
  • From reservation in faculty appointments to norms for doctoral research and framing of undergraduate and postgraduate courses and syllabi.

Way forward

  • It has been a story of overreach and encroachment of the university space by the UGC.
  • Universities have also failed to assert their autonomy and have allowed the UGC to enter areas it is not supposed to.
  • Along with this we have seen a campaign to purge campuses of dangerous ‘anti-national’ elements.
  • Meetings and seminars have been held exhorting students to identify such elements.
  • Independent scholars are now being shunned by universities and the nationalism check is applied almost everywhere.
  • Publishing is part of the academic ecosystem.
  • Major publishing houses have started getting manuscripts legally vetted to avoid litigation and attack by ‘nationalist’ elements.
  • We can expect publishing to take a right turn under the new regime.

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Prelims Questions:

Q.1) Which of the following statements is/are correct regarding Fundamental Rights?
1. The state can impose restrictions on fundamental rights in an arbitrary way.
2. They are available to citizens and foreigners only.
3. They are not applicable to armed forces, para-military forces and police force.

Select the correct answer using the code given below:

(a) 1 and 2 only
(b) 2 and 3 only
(c) 1 and 3 only
(d) None of the above

Answer: D
Mains Questions:

Q.1) Do you think the education system in India is staring at a dismal future?