White elephants

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White elephants

Tuesday, 16 March 2021 | Pioneer

White elephants

Our varsities must not function in silos and there is a pressing need to bring about systemic changes

These are public-funded “white elephants”, a fiefdom of those who have been able to secure permanent appointment either on the basis of their talent or “otherwise”, as it offers terms and conditions – handsome salary, job guarantee, HRA, TA, DA and other perks – which the highly competitive private sector can hardly match. Most of the Vice-Chancellors are political appointees who are subservient to the cause of their masters and their single-point agenda is to appoint those who are either “recommended” or belong to a particular ideology. Earlier, the Congress and the Left ruled the roost, particularly in Central varsities, but now the BJP and RSS are in the driving seat. Our universities are fraught with nepotism, favouritism, bribery, financial misappropriation and all forms of corruption. These are the focal points of an ideological war among the faculty members but out of focus for academics. Crippled with inherent corruption and bogged down by incompetency, our universities have failed to keep pace with their global counterparts and stand nowhere in terms of research, innovation and generation of ideas. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has emphasised on reforming universities so that they can play a leading role in India’s development in terms of ideas, innovations, quality research and startups. These goals cannot be achieved unless those in the university system give up their complacency. We need to understand that our universities have a wider role to play than just being the mega centre of awarding degrees and handing out diplomas.

All hell broke loose when Nita Ambani, the Reliance Foundation chairperson and non-executive director of Reliance Industries, was made a visiting professor in the social science faculty of the Banaras Hindu University. A section of teachers and intellectuals are opposing it tooth and nail on social media and a few even argue that it is part of the Modi Government’s “hidden agenda to privatise public universities”. Those who join an Indian university as PhD research scholars know that more than their academic work, their servility counts. No surprise, completing their thesis and submitting research often takes longer than usual and they are considered “jhola dhone waale” (who carry the bag of professors). Armed with the tricks to deceive plagiarism tools and with leisure and pleasure of their guides, they somehow secure a PhD. Ironically, many of these PhD holders end up as teachers in colleges. Now, those who have paralysed the university system for years are alleging that it’s being privatised. Obviously, they are more concerned about protecting their vested interests rather than about the universities landing in private hands. However, it’s for universal good to abandon such unfounded apprehensions and move towards making our universities progressive. Our students can gain a lot from the experience of an industry giant or, for that matter, from bureaucrats, doctors, engineers, scientists, Army officers, young entrepreneurs and others who have excelled in their respective fields. Our universities cannot remain functioning in silos and there is a need to bring about systemic changes. The sooner it starts, the better it would be.

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