The Death of Public University


Forgetting the relationship between education and society and ignoring the required engagement between thinker theorists and innovators on one side and society on the other, the governments, legislators and people hypnotized by the neoliberal economy have came to an understanding that commericialisation/marketisation of education from first grade to PhD is the best way forward not for any appreciable societal transformations but to guarantee and the strengthen the existing social, political and  economic hierarchal superstructures and to control the anti-capitalist and anti-government opinions and voices which eventually contribute to the betterment of nation. Government as an agency of ensuring equality in society, uses its institutions as means of bringing equality and as well as channels of imparting essential amount of independent thought and understanding which would create a positive society with appropriative characters. But the neoliberal capitalist forces do allow the existence of such governments. At the most, under the pressure of the civil society, it allows those governments subject to its domination over framing the policy on education.

It is only off late Indian universities are performing social functions by broadening their objectives. From 1857 to 1970s, they remained as agrharas and from 1980s onwards there is a visible contribution of universities towards society and as they were accommodating the hitherto excluded. In western society, modern universities, from the 16th century revolutionised the western society in multiple ways. Indian modern universities have been controlled and were also not allowed to perform as centres of revolutions and reforms. Unfortunately, unlike the western society, India does not have long history of rational education. Most of the world famous universities in Europe started as religious schools by the Catholic Church to justify Christianity have become the centres of producing theories on the inner universe (body) and outer universe (space) which shook the foundations of the theory of creation. Theories of universe by Copernicus, Johennes Khepler and Galileo have challenged the pre-modern geo-centrism and human anatomy by Adreaus Vesalius has delinked metaphysical and saw the body as part of nature that could be mechanically understood in Pauda University in Italy are part of the scientific revolution have demolished the foundations of not only Christianity but also religions world over. Though they were started as religious schools, in course of time, the Renaissance and enlightenment have offered the opportunity to the scientific community coming fresh out of religious domination to challenge everything that religion presented as unchallengeable. Scientist, philosopher, engineer, garmarian and literary expert were all shouldering the responsibility of providing the rational/realistic explanations. From the 17th Century CE, the Baconian science has set new goals for knowledge which suited well to capitalism and imperialism and they intern set new goals for the applied or exact science and engineering. Despite the domination of capitalism on universities, they have maintained great amount of independence till the emergence of neoliberalism in the 20th century. Copernican Heliocentrism (theoretical physics) and Vesaliuius anatomy (medical science) set goals for the next three centuries of scientific research; Baconia science set entirely new goals to the science from 17th century. However, 16th century’s astronomy and anatomy and 17th century’s natural and applied science continues to co-exist in harmony. But it is the Baconian science which dominated the earlier in the proceeding centuries. For capitalism, from 17th up to 20th century and neoliberalism of  20th and 21 centuries, Baconian scientific utilitarianism is working well. Neoliberalism sees everything as worthy saleable commodity. Through its sophisticated economic strategies, it presents the very daylight robbery as a logical act of free and fair market forces. The planet and its resources, governments and its institutions and people and their rights, are made commodities and the servants of neoliberalism. This on one side and fascism on other both with defined objectives created a situation where not single thing and a single soul can escape from being sources of contributing to its wealth generation.

Started by the British, the modern Indian universities did immensely contributed to the growth of Indian intelligentsia who have laid the foundations for the modern India and made significant contribution to the national movement. Ironically, universities and the state have never been in a cordial relationship with both the colonial and national governments in India. Since intellectual fermentation that questions the status quo and injustice takes place in the university, it is natural that the state and university have always been in a confrontational mode as the latter considers being critical of the earlier is its natural social responsibility. In the evolution of universities, different agencies have been allocating different functions to them. Christianity created them to justify Christianity, enlightenment saw as them as producers of knowledge and promoters of reason and democracy. The universities have a higher moral and noble purpose existing to build a liberal and better society. Universities are defenders of truth, knowledge and principles. They were stewards of fact, logic and evidence and the protectors of liberalism and democracy. This is Renaissance and enlightenment Kantanian view of university. Capitalism has been seeing them as spheres of business (private university as an idea of selling education) and as well as servants who produces essential human capital (scientist and engineer as workers) as well as producers of required scientific and technological knowledge that would contribute to the growth of the capitalism. The nationalist/fascist forces have been seeing universities as centres of producing narratives to justify ultra-radical nationalist/fascist ideologies and also as centres of producing knowledge that is required for the nation building, especially military and large scale scientific and technological systems. Any opposition/criticism to the misuse of university by fascism would be considered as anti-national. Finally women, dalit-bahujans and adivasis are seeing universities as centres where they understand social hierarchies and superstructures, building identities, narratives, histories and traditions of criticism. They perceive university as a sphere of liberty, provider of speakablity and emancipation. In the Indian universities, at the moment, we are seeing two confrontations between two ideological forces:  neoliberalism and fascism/ultra-radical nationalism on onside and progressive forces and dalit-bahujan-adivasi forces on the other. First, dependence of the latter on the government and government welfarism reduces the demand for education as a marketable good. This works against the interests of  neoliberalism. Second, anti-fascist and anti-neoliberalism critique produced by the educated dalit-bahujan adivasis troubles both government led by fascist majoritarian forces and capitalism that works in tandem with fascist forces. It is this which is prompting the fascist government and capitalist forces to restrict the entry of the lower sections of the society as students, activists, faculty, researchers and administrators because their increasing presence is not only empowering them but also allowing them to emerge as a counter force against majoritariansm and capitalism.

Before neoliberlism and majoritarianism came together in 2014, the earlier has been doings its best in designifying the role of government as provider of education. United Progressive Allience (UPA) led by congress has opened doors for the privatisation of education from Kindergarten to PhD.  During the UPA II, congress, ironically has introduced the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 which came into force this year suppose to provide education to every child, in 2010 it has introduced the Foreign Educational Institutions (Regulation of Entry and Operations) Bill and in the mid of 2011 the same government made efforts to encourage private to dominate the collegiate and university education.  Kapil Sibal and Daggupati Puranthareswari at the helm of the affairs as minsters of Human Resource Development did not miss the opportunity to satisfy the desires of the neoliberal capitalist forces. The government itself has brought in a variety of autonomy which allows universities to govern themselves in all aspects i.e generation of revenue on their own by becoming servants of industrial capitalism, increasing fees increasing tuition fees for students across all castes and communities and seeking the help of the alumni. Preparing graduates as industrial labour and reducing their role as educated citizens who could contribute to the social transformations was one the main objectives of the higher education policy of the UPA. Therefore, educated graduates only as job seekers from colleges and universities that is the dominant perception is not limited to BJP led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) alone, but its foundations were laid by the congress in 2010. While in two centuries time (1857-2018), government has established 389 (342 state and 47 central universities), within nearly two decades, private universities have mushroomed to nearly 300. If the private universities grew in the pace, in course of two decades, the public universities would be eclipsed and could also be owned (through disinvestment) by the private.

Under the domination of neoliberal economy, the democratic governments are transformed into either authoritative or inefficient and the public institutions like universities have become the factories of producing readymade industrial labour who could immediately work. Every college, university and institution must refashion themselves to cater to the needs of industry. Understanding what is E=mc² is unimportant but creating a toothpaste tube with which the company or corporation can cheat customer is. Understanding modes of production and social systems is not important but producing manipulators of data is. From the second half of 20th century, this is what is happening to the university. But it became more aggressive from 1991 with liberalisation. Being in the helm of affairs in all educational institutions, the upper caste very successfully have transformed the mandatory reservation in teaching, non-teaching appointments and student seats allocation into a manipulated or controlled or forced to be implemented policy which resulted in the monopoly of higher education in the caste Hindus. Yet those from the lower caste whoever got through the walls of fortresses using reservation. They are being ranked, they are being questioned, their functioning quantified, their autonomy is violated, their funds are reduced, Understanding the universe, theorisation of human experience

From industry university cooperation in the last few decades, now the governments making efforts to delink universities from government and society where universities have been maintaining freedom and autonomy to perform functions as truth seekers society builders and promoters of independent thinking to the slaves of neoliberal capitalist forces and centres of producing narratives to justify fascism. In such  a situation, university would over night transform from truth seeking to a truth manipulating  and producer of knowledge that serves the needs of capitalism with very minimal or no contribution development of knowledge (science, technology, medicine, social sciences or humanities). A tailored knowledge would be produced by researchers and skilled workers who could be immediately work in the industry hard and soft would be produced by the universities despite there are such institutions are available to produce such technical/scientific labor. Today we are not able to see once existed difference between universities and institutions. There is no difference between polytechnic institute and a university in India today. The boundaries between them are blurred for bad. In many respects university is reduced to a level of institution to make it, perhaps, possible for the private entities to start universities with minimal sources and eventually to hand over the university to the private. Today universities are being started in every nook and corner like a private primary school. For the capitalism to benefit from the university as business proposition, it, first, invokes the monster called cost-benefit analysis to attack economically unviable knowledge i.e. humanities and social sciences. University do not carry the meaning it once had. On one hand we are seeing universities both by the government and private being started focusing on one area of research for example petroleum university and on the other we are seeing universities started only for commercially viable disciplines. Such a dilution in the idea, concept and functions of university is to bring every educational body into the service of the capitalism if not society and government. Along with there is also an underlying simultaneously executed process that is intended to keep those castes and communities who are supposedly costing burden to the government but eventually are not making any visible contribution to capitalism and its growth. In 2010, though the UPA government opened doors for private, it has not disturbed the reservation policy. In 2007, it has brought Centre of Study of Exclusive and Inclusive Policy (CSE &IP) to study problems of dalits and Centre for Women’s Studies for gender studies. These centres are under attack from the government now. For both fascist government and capitalist forces, these centres in the colleges and universities would not serve any purpose.  Therefore, the central government is threatening to close centres. Known as reservation in India, affirmative action in USA and positive discrimination in United Kingdom, these policies of emancipation have always faced criticised. In US of America, the affirmative policy designed by John F. Kennedy in 1961 was questioned by the Supreme Court in 2015. In India, the NDA government is not only attacking the  CSE &IP but also has made efforts to reduce SC, ST and OBC faculty in the public universities based on a infamous Allahabad High Court judgment in April 2017. The MHRD sent a directive to universities asked to follow department as a unit for the calculation of the roster instead of university. Now it is kept in abeyance due to serious opposition from dalit-adivasi groups.

Above all this, the ranking of the higher education institutions by the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) started in 1994 with the intention of generating policy for improving the quality of higher education has not made participation of ranking in mandatory. It is voluntary. But by connecting funds allocation with the accreditation and assessment, the government is forcing many institutions to join in the assessment and grading of the institutions with grades from A+++ to D. In 2015, the MHRD came with National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF) which is being also being used to coerce institutions into ranking for want of funds. Presidency College, one of the oldest in south India, which did not join in the NACC till 2016 has been forced to join in the accreditation in the same year as its usual funds were freezed. Jawaharlal Nehru University was also stayed out of the NAAC and NIRF for long time but recently it has to budge to the pressure of the government.

Ranking and grading the performance are prime tools of capitalist industrial working culture. If that is so, is education industry? Higher education, today, is oscillating between being the business proposition and service. Government under the influence of neoliberal economy would be interested, in course of time, would be interested in considering education as a business proposition instead of service. Neoliberal economy does not allow the government to be the servant its citizens. At best government would become its servant. If not, they work in tandem in reciprocal relationship. It is this reciprocality which has brought the capitalist forces into the policy making arena and it is this which has brought universities into arena of assessments supposedly by the government bodies but in actuality by the private or under the  terms and conditions or under their guidance. If we look at the process of accreditation and ranking, there is visible conspiracy where government in nexus with capitalism slowly reducing funding to higher education (to government colleges and universities) and push them into crisis of existence. Then the capitalist forces would come to save them and eventually own them. For example, the MHRD has created signed a deal with Canara Bank to set up Higher Education Financing Agency (HEFA) to finance higher education not to fund it. The process of privatisation is inherent in the very idea of financing. If the banks are going to finance higher education, higher education institution would have to borrow funds from banks on interest for which complete autonomy is needed. It is this autonomy; the government of India gave to 62 (5 central, 21 state and 26 private universities and 10 colleges) higher education institutions to decide their syllabus, to hire foreign faculty and admit foreign students, to incentivise faculty and so on. What is not openly spelled out is that all these institutions could evolve their policy of appointing faculty and students’ intake policy. Public universities are already having required autonomy that would be essential to maintain quality. Hence, this extra autonomy in the name of internationalising the Indian universities or to bring quality is nothing but to students and faculty from women, dalit, adivasi and religious minorities categories. While the accreditation, assessment and ranking which pushes universities to eliminate courses favoured by dalits, adivais and OBCs in humanities and social science courses, the financing and the new autonomy would allow them to close doors these sections as faculty, researchers, graduate students and non-teaching staff.  This autonomy is actuality is nothing authorisation of the upper caste university administrators to eliminate the presence of the weaker sections as they not obligated to follow the policy of the government’s reservation policy. Therefore, for these sections, the public university known from 1950s would not exist anymore. It is dead.

Dr. Y. Srinivasa Rao, Assistant Professor, Department of History, Bharathidasan University, Tiruchirapalli.


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