Higher Education in India

— On Sun, 5/11/08, VBSUDR  wrote:
>To: agniirk@…, ammanmadan@…, amman@…, “Prof. Krishna Kumar” ,
>Date: Sunday, May 11, 2008, 3:05 PM

> Dear Friends,

> Higher Education in this country is in
>deep crisis. On the one hand, there is a
>gradual loss of purpose in the Institutions
>not directly linked to the market and on the
>other resources are drying
> up for the> academic institutions. It is
>difficult to exactly pin point
> the reasons for this. In the present
>context the role of academics is being
> redefined.
>In this scenario it is worthwhile to explore
> the role of
> Higher Education and academic activity in a society.

Well, I must say I am glad someone is finally doing this. I recall a time 25 years ago, when I used to repeatedly harangue my colleagues in Poona university, (under a tree, outside the canteen) to organize a countrywide debate on the purpose of higher education. No one knew. And no one was interested. They all regarded their job as a means of livelihood, and were ready to do what it took to better their livelihood.

After independence we simply continued with the Western model of education without assessing how a Western education would serve our  purposes (beyond saying things like it would help us get rid of sueperstitions). [No one thought it might implant alternative superstitions. The point here is not Macauley, but the historical reasons for the development of the education system in Europe, since the 12th c., which reasons are irrelevant to the majority of Indians today, from whom higher education is anyway divorced.]

Education in India did serve the purposes of the middle class (and higher castes) by (a) allowing them to integrate with the West, and (b) fetching them comfortable jobs which separated them from the majority of other Indians.

Since the stakeholders (teachers, students, parents, officials) were never clear of the reasons for higher education (beyond the idea that it would fetch the educated a comfortable job, and allow them access to the metropolitan centre) why blame the private sector or the market today? Is it that the market is worse than the British? If the linkage to the West was not alarming for so many years, why is the linkage to the market alarming now? Is it that the market threatens the caste-structure of the middle class? Is it less dignified to prepare students for a job in the private sector than it is to prepare them for a job in the government? Capitalism de-skills; but is an engineer or lawyer, or teacher, or an MBA or MCA more de-skilled than a BSc or an MSc?

If the earlier state of higher education was not alarming, why is the change alarming?

Besides, it is not quite true that the state is retreating from higher education. The government has just announced schemes for about a thousand crores to expand central universities. It is also expanding IIT’s, setting up ISERs etc. The TIFR budget has gone up to 700 crores. IISc has similarly got large grants. The pity is that most of this money will be used as a means to extend patronage: it will increase the influence of our lifelong science managers and their gangs, because few people even now have any clear idea of what we hope to accomplish by  ending that money. If the management lacks vision, just spending money will not fetch any results.

What is the vision at the top? The other day Dr Kapila Vatsyayana raised a question in parliament, asking what was being done for science education in the country. The answer was that many engineering colleges had been opened, and others upgraded!

To highlight the other key issue, I attach a short excerpt from a talk (”Harmony principle”) I gave at a recent meeting at IIAS, Shimla, on “Samvad and Swaraj”, in memory of the late Daya Krishna and Ramu Gandhi.

In a newspaper(?) article Azim Premji opined that current parental attitudes towards children’s education were wrong. He did not explain _why_ they were wrong. My book The Eleven Pictures of Time, does explain why, though the argument requires some background (since it uses Arrow’s impossibility theorem).

So, as I see it, the other primary issue relates to values. The above talk related to the complaint I made to Daya ji that no Indian philosopher in recent memory had articulated a contemporary normative ethic or a new system of values (as I tried to do in the above book). In the absence of any thinking or debate about values in India, there is no agreement _except_ on the capitalist value of making money, so how can there be agreement about any other objectives of education?

C. K. Raju

excerpt from Eleven Pictures of Time, chp. 9 on Time as Money, pp 343-344

The equation time=money has dimensions which extend far beyond the value of punctuality and the difference between work and play. With all human time having been equated with money, it becomes ‘natural’ to plan human life in exactly the same way that one plans a monetary investment. The moral law now takes the form, ‘live so as to maximise the expected present value of future lifetime income’.

One can observe this transformed moral law in the way of life of the Indian urban elite. It is ‘good’ for a child to study rather than play, because it is the study which contributes to the lifetime income …

The choice of a career is dictated exactly by considerations of lifetime income, rather than aptitude or interest, or even happiness. The much lamented collapse of values in traditional societies like those in India and China is a consequence of this transformed moral law…

excerpt from “Harmony Principle”

Capitalism redefines “utility” quite simplistically as money.
Consequently, those people who follow the capitalist ethic, spend their lives maximising the present-value of lifetime income. 

It is easy to see the everyday consequences of this capitalist ethic. Children spend their time studying not playing. This happens not because study makes these children happy, but because they (or their parents) think study is the way to get a better-paying job later. Not too many people object to studying by rote, since study is not intended for knowledge. College students today are quite explicit about the connection between studying and a job. Even in an applied field like computer programming I have had a hard time convincing post-graduate students that knowledge is more important than a degree in getting a job—but, of course, it is undisputed that the object is to get a job.

Children study since study increases the expected lifetime income: because they want to earn more, not because they want to learn more, and they typically see a certificate or a degree as a passport to a job. Natural biological urges are set aside for the sake of this objective.

This childhood training in suppressing  natural desires helps people to squander also their youth: they continue to slog to  become managers, or programmers, or doctors or engineers. Having got their job, they want to ensure a better-paying job, so they continue to slog on the job, through middle age, and neglect their family and health. Why do they do all this?

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