THE WRITTEN history of University education in India dates back to ancient times when the leading centres of learning like Takshashila (seventh century B.C.), Nalanda (fifth century A.D.), Vikramashila (eight century A.D.) etc. flourished and attracted scholars from various countries. The brightest minds of the World flocked towards India for receiving higher education. Students like Kautilya, Chandragupta, Huan Tsang (China), Itsing (China), Panini, Charaka, Atisa Dipankara etc. attended these Institutes. Universities in India led in research in diverse fields including Philosophy, Economics, Grammar, Vedas, Astrology, Medicine, Ayurveda, Mathematics, Politics, Art of War, Law, Music, Dance, Psychology, Agriculture, Animal Husbandry, Geography, and Geology etc. India was a hub of Higher education for the World.
Similarly, the Seminars held in the state universities are of inferior quality, in which hardly any new proposals are made or any relevant papers are presented.
However, over the past few centuries, the University education in India has lagged far behind. Initially, due to the demolition of the prestigious Universities by invaders like Toramana, Bakhtiyar Khilji etc.; then, the role British colonists played in modifying the nature and type of higher education imparted in India; later, due to the inefficient governance and the political interference in the Institutions in independent India. The present lot of state Universities (most, if not all) is facing several problems, both in terms of students and the faculty.
In a typical state University, barring a few counted exceptions, the quality of faculty, especially who are a product of Indian university system, has remained very poor. Persons, who had been mediocre students, end up being second-rate lecturers/professors. Though the process of recruitment of faculty has improved with compulsory tests like the UGC-NET (University Grants Commission-National Eligibility Test), but these measures have proved inadequate to raise the bar, as still the emphasis has been on testing the ability to swot multiplicity of facts over the conceptual clarity of the candidates.
The Faculty in Universities indulges in playing politics against each other. They keep looking for opportunities of pulling others down to raise him/herself up the ladder. Like in other government departments, faculty employs all possible tactics like buttering the Head of the Department, pleasing the Vice-Chancellor etc. to get promotions or seek other favors over any performance based promotions and entitlements. At the same time, the faculty is also kept engaged in tasks like compulsory election duties during polls. In some instances, they are also appointed as wardens of hostels to look after the day-to-day affairs. They are also expected to organize cultural events in the University or individual departments etc., mainly at the cost of their research and teaching.
In the state Universities, the research quality is quite poor. Plagiarism is not uncommon. Recently, UGC notified to assess the quality of PhD theses for doctoral degrees awarded in the last decade, in the light of the degrading quality of research in India. Some professors, if not all, who examine the PhD theses, bestow the doctoral degrees to candidates with run-of-the-mill research by arguing that if she will make the scholar to re-work on her thesis, then in future, with an aim of taking vengeance, that scholar’s guide might reject the work of her scholar, hence, compromising the research in their attempt to satisfy each other’s egos.
Similarly, the Seminars held in the state universities are of inferior quality, in which hardly any new proposals are made or any relevant papers are presented. Such seminars remind one of the mid-20th century era, when scholars like David Easton had to proclaim that the Seminars in American Universities were of no benefit as they were unable to offer solutions to the contemporary problems of the society and he gave way to Behavioral Movement, which revolutionized the discipline of Political Science. Similarly, the Indian University education system needs a revamp, so that their research could help in solving the problems of the society.
Hands-on practice in the universities is only in the name as are the practicals and trainings in laboratories.
The University system has become a factory production system, especially the Engineering wings. The entire focus for the students has been to get marks with hardly any concern about learning outcomes. The students in the Universities are prepared to become, in terms of Sanjaya Baru, ‘desk-bound intellectual clerks’ over any scientists or intellectuals or even ordinary responsible citizens of the country. The numbers of Nobel Prizes, Booker prizes Indians have won in the last seventy two years of independent India reflect the prevailing state of affairs.
As trained from the beginning, most of the students start cramming the syllabus two days before the exam and come out with flying colors, without even properly understanding the concepts, and unfortunately, they forget most of the crammed part within a few days after the exam. The answer copies are still evaluated by prioritizing the length of the answer or the number of pages the student has filled over the quality of the content.
Hands-on practice in the universities is only in the name as are the practicals and trainings in laboratories. Theses are bought from the market like any other commodity, to be presented to anyhow obtain the degree. Also, in some Universities, corruption is a commonplace to clear the exams by cheating or to employ some other ‘jugaad’.
So, in the end, looking at the sorry state of affairs, some questions need urgent replies like – Can India reap the benefits of its demographic dividend whose window is shrinking fast? Can India get on to the track of higher rate of growth when its youth is improperly trained to face the challenges of the market? Can India stop the brain-drain to ensure that the best Indian minds work for India’s development and not for USA, Canada or Australia's?
Though successive governments have tried to fix the university system but the pace and the scale of reforms have fallen too short of what is required. The ‘New Education Policy’ of 2019 might help in setting the house in order and could bring life to the comatose university system but if drastic measures are not taken immediately, then it would be too late to repent.
Ramjot Sodhi is studying Political Science at Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar
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