TRACI organised the second in its series, on the topic “Higher Education in India: Issues and Challenges” [A Students’ Perspective]. The first discussion revolved on the very calling of the university as against the challenges of the day. The second conversation was led by robust and young scholars from the five major universities and institutions in Delhi: JNU, DU, IIT-D, JMI and Ambedkar University. The event was also moderated by another young researcher from JNU. The following is an excerpt of the conversation.• In spite of the fact we are having a discussion on Higher Education in India, there seems to be a gut feeling from at least three of the panellists that there is a compromise not only in the fact that our education is very outdated, but compromises are also visible in the quality of educators. Hence, there is very little or no critical engagement on the subjects of study. At the post graduate level, with a vast syllabus to cover, students seem to be caught in a rat race. No wonder, they stated, are there criticisms that our students aren’t employable; life skills are indeed negligible. The universities have become nothing more than mass factories of students without employable skills.
• The ‘sanskritisation of education’ in India, seems to have very less resistance from many of the universities with exceptions though. There are neither protests nor concerns raised by students in particular. They seem to be sucked into the system, not realising that they aren’t making a critical enquiry. One area, that was pointed out, was how many of the ‘dalit’(sic) languages that was once included in the learning are slowly and silently removed. Ideology plays a key role in the life of the university faculty. In fact, they are divided over these lines as well. Many such faculty members influence the research rather that giving room for free expressions, raising the very important issue of academic freedom in conducting research. The issue raised by at least two of the panelists was also about how there is very little space for discussions with the faculty and as such the right to dissent is rarely accommodated.
• While one of the scholars referred to how the faculty members are so engrossed in their own paper publication, he was concerned that with little guidance, researchers tweak their work to get it published in major journals. The issue of faculty members themselves engaging in corrupt and wrong malpractices to have papers published was also raised. This is in addition to innumerable instances of plagiarism. The brutal question ‘if our premier institutions are under performing’ is little thought about.
• Funding malpractices were referred to by the panelists, and many also shared that scholarships that are earmarked for the students were not given in full, and in one instance, used by the professor concerned to buy gifts for his own.
• For students who come to institutions that has a lot of engagement around the ideologies and the issues about prevailing dispensation, one scholar emphasised that a lot of scholars when exposed to a myriad of ideologies lose their sense of identity. Unless they come from contexts that has a lasting influence on who they are and continue to have a sense of belonging to their own communities, identity based on their self, sex, ideology, etc get blurred and questioned, which in turn develops a sense of aloofness and alienation. In such situations as Christians, we are not there, but are rather onlookers and even critics. Since political lines and ideologies are being redefined, students get confused, become vulnerable, and this leads to chaos, depression and a sense of loss of dignity. If education fails to give a sense of identity, isn’t all learning like chasing after the wind?
• With the government having a high handedness in the university administration, it does not appreciate critical thinking especially when academia questions the functioning of the government. Universities unfortunately are experimented upon by whichever party is in power. Appointments by the state based on their interest than by merit is the biggest challenge. The access to good education should be regardless of cost. Additionally, the practice of ‘deprivation points’ which was existent in universities like JNU, enables students from underprivileged and remote areas not only to get admission, but also study in some of the best universities. Today the practice of deprivation point is discontinued. The question ‘if higher education is used to maintain status quo of caste, class and other divisions in the society’ was raised.
• One of the challenges of higher education is a high prevailing sign of depression. It was a matter of concern to learn that the schedule of one of the premier university psychiatrists is always fully booked. One in every third student would have had a visit to the psychiatrist! But every year, the reported cases of suicide does not spur the university to get beneath the surface issues and it continues to remain a taboo to even discuss about it. The support system from close communities fails to address the issue and it ends up isolating the students. The lack of adequate support system is also accentuated by the pressure of performance and over competitiveness amongst the students themselves. This is seen more so with research scholars. The need for more full time counsellors was emphasised.
• The end purpose of education is often measured in economic terms. Any society that measures education in economic or corporate terms, is because of the fact that societies measure success in very economic and monetary terms. Education as a transformative experience is denied. A study of different societies will reveal that even affluent and first world societies are conservative in nature. Hence, good education and lot of money doesn’t mean we are living in a just society. If so, some of the evils of our society including caste should have been a forgotten past. Caste equation still continue in spite of education. The end purpose of education therefore should be justice. It’s indeed a question of turning our perceived worldviews upside down.
Five major questions on discussion:
1. Is the absence of a student union in a university necessarily a good thing?
2. Dissent at what cost?
3. How can we/students help each other in the event of depression and environment which has lost the sense of identity?
4. How can we practice passive-activism and what are the possibilities in a university campus?
5. How and what can be done to bridge the gap between the Christian students movement eg. UESI or churches method of engagement as against the students experience and learning?
Moderator: Aren Longkumer (JNU)
Panelists: S. Wiselyn Amy (JMI), T. K. Khuveio ( Delhi Univ), Unsanhame Mawkhlieng (IIT-D), John Bonion Nayak (Ambedkar Univ) & Lozaanba Khumbah (JNU).