The eagle of higher education in Bharat must be given the freedom to fly rather than remain locked up in the cage of restrictive official policies
Across the globe, people of Bharateeya origin do well,very often reaching the top of the social and economic ladder. Even countries where there is prejudice against those of a different ethnicity accept and welcome people from Bharat, so much so that very often, those who are from Pakistan or Bangladesh claim to be from Bharat. However, within our country, the situation is very different. Levels of poverty are high and success rates for startup businesses are much lower than they should be, given the talent that is found in abundance in Bharat. The cause of this is the colonial system of governance, which even after nearly seven decades ensures a chasm between the people and the state. This intellectual disconnect between the country and itsgovernment, especially the gap between the people and officialdom (including the politicians at the top of the administrative pyramid), is responsible for holding back progress. On May 16, 2014, when it was announced that Narendra Modi had won a majority of seats in the Lok Sabha, the expectation was that the 19th century governance structure and procedures of Bharat would finally get replaced by a construct that meets the need and conditions of the 21st century. Just as oxygen in the air is vital to life but is invisible, so should the agencies of government be almost invisible to the public, though working hard behind the scenes to ensure that life goes on in a fashion designed to ensure security and wellfare of the people.
The Mughals (and even more the British) blocked the people of Bharat from using their brains in the most productive manner. Unfortunately, even after Bharat became Independent on August 15,1947, both officials and politicians continued the colonial structure, for the reason that this could maximise their power over the people and hence the capacity to extort bribes.
Since the 1950s onwards, in schools, children were taught—and are still being taught—that freedom was not a right won by what Gandhiji called the “dumb millions” but a gift won by a handful of leaders on behalf of the nation. As a consequence, deep within the psyche of the people, a feeling of helplessness continued from the colonial era, combined with a governance system that gave the people very little discretion over their lives, continuing the Mughal-British tradition of such discretion being in the hands of the official machinery. Within the higher education bureaucracy, the focus is on control rather than facilitation, on uniformity rather than the encouragement of diversity, on obedience to their commands rather than creating aclimate for the flowering of individual initiative.
Now that Narendra Modi is the Prime Minister of Bharat, the country at last has a leader who has experienced poverty and hardship throughout of his life. Higher education is core to the success of Bharat. To ensure that the higher education institutions ensure quality in the hundreds of thousands of minds that they train, they need is autonomy. The world is changing too fast, and the country is too vast, for the MHRD (through the UGC and other agencies) to seek to enforce uniform policies across the university system in Bharat. Rather, universities – including central institutions—need to be encouraged to develop procedures and syllabi of their own to ensure high academic standards. Such freedoms are essential for excellence. What the MHRD needs to do is to ensure transparency in the process, so that the public at large become aware of the different types of scholarship on display. Quality Boards should be set up, some by the government, others that are private, and these should grade selected universities on their syllabi and the quality of teaching. PM Modi’s desire to have a fully Digital India should get implemented at high speed, as such a transformation would promote efficiency and transparency. Such a freeing of the higher education system from the strait jacket of MHRD-UGC control may seem a risky experiment, but the truth is that trust in the good sense of the people of Bharat is the best foundation of official policy. Other fields in which such a post-colonial trust by the official machinery in the people would add value to the processes of governance is the removal of secrecy from official documents.
Changing the way in which the university system is managed from the present centralised and colonial model to a 21st century system which gives freedom to individual institutions will create problems of adjustment for a few years. This is the unavoidable cost of change. There should be freedom to adapt and to evolve rather than follow a centralised pattern worked out by the education bureaucracy that is almost always out of date and unsuited to the needs of not only the future but the present also.
Secondly, the central universities (as well as IITs and IIMs etc) should follow a hybrid model, where 25 per cent of students get admitted on a separate track and pay fees at market rates while 75 per cent pay much lower or (in the case of the socially and economically disadvantaged) zero fees. The money collections made through such a method will help take care of the rising costs of quality education. At the sametime, private universities should be made to reserve 25 per cent of their seats for students from economically and socially weak sections. These should have a much lower fee structure, and the university should meet the cost of scholarships for half of such admitted students, while the others should get their fees and essential expenses met by the government. Next, there should be a writeoff of half the income spent on higher education within Bharat for purposes of Income-tax. The present method of tax collection is based on the colonial model, where the primary focus is on the funding of the bureaucracy and its schemesrather than on generating overall growth, which is possible only through innovative tax policies and lower rates.
Billions of dollars in foreign exchange are spent each year by parents on educating their children abroad.
The higher education system in Bharat is part of the overall structure of activity in the country, a structure still heavily suffused with the colonial culture. There will be voices warning against the giving of freedom of thought and action to institutions of higher education. Such people have no confidence in the people of Bharat. They see them in the same dismissive way as the former colonial power did.
It may take a few years for adjustment but most of such a necessary process will get completed within a year or two at the most. The eagle of higher education in Bharat must be given the freedom to fly rather than remain locked up in the cage of restrictive official policies that have their roots in the era of colonialism and which ignore the immense intellectual strengths of the people of Bharat.
M D Nalapat