Indian higher education continues to be crushed under a mountain of bad faith. Just contemplate the spectacle in its awful enormity. The regulator, the University Grants Commission, takes out a front-page notice against India’s foremost public university, warning against admissions in its four-year undergraduate programme (FYUP), as if this university were just another of those fraud universities against whom the public needs to be warned. This very same regulator sat silent when issues where raised about the four-year programme when it was first introduced. Delhi University itself had engaged in a travesty by introducing a potentially defensible change in its undergraduate programme in such ill-considered haste. The government, as always, spoke in forked tongues. The previous government refused to intervene on the ground of university autonomy, while secretly pushing this travesty through. The current education minister claims to want to restore autonomy to both the UGC and universities. But the UGC order clearly states that the the FYUP is being cancelled at the behest of the Central government. How much more duplicity can we have over autonomy?
But it gets worse. If the measures and counter-measures display a callous disregard for both procedure and substance, the men behind the measures have brought more indignity to higher education. Think of how offices have been denigrated: a vice chancellor who refused to listen to even reasonable voices on reform (and this government’s stupidity will now turn him into a martyr for autonomy), a UGC whose mediocre abdication has turned it into a post office of the government, educrats, that peculiar species which will tick off every programme so long as it is fashionable with government, and bureaucrats who do not understand the first thing about pedagogy have all conspired to create this morass.
The academic community has also presented an unseemly spectacle. There are some excellent and dedicated academics. But as a group, we come across as unbearably small-minded. We do not know how to handle disagreement and come to workable compromises that help progress. Our own divisions destroy our credibility in the eyes of the public, which sees us as self-serving, obdurate fossils. Our sheer ideological over-commitment belies belief. Some of the very same constituency that would have been glad for the UPA to use the UGC to overturn the universities order are upset that the NDA has done it; and some of the constituency that supported the FYUP has turned against it because the government has so decided.
And think of the laughing-stock we have made of ourselves. Would any half-serious education system treat such momentous decisions with such causal whimsy? Would you expect a major university to keep its students in such suspense, subject them to every consideration but pedagogy? The private universities that take non-refundable deposits for applying will be laughing continued…