Tuesday, December 24, 2013

We need campuses that inspire - Hindustan Times

    We need campuses that inspire

    Little would have been thought in 1869 by the initiators of the move to establish a college for a “better means of education” at Allahabad that it would become an imposing institution in its own right.Their efforts led to the founding of the Central College, which eventually developed into a university and it contributed ever since in the development of our nation. Its cosmopolitan spirit attracted students from all over to transform them by its alchemy. The great names that have been its products and have served the society at large in various capacities are far too many to be recounted. Every great name is only another addition to its halo of inspiration for the coming generation. This halo has been its biggest asset. 

    What makes a university good or great? Is it its faculty, or its infrastructure, or the academics, or its excellence in extra-curricular activities, or the researches conducted by it? It is all these, but something more. It is its atmosphere to inspire. 

    Allahabad University turned 126 years of age on September 23, 2013 but not a speech could be delivered leave alone festivities. 

    Instead, screaming police sirens, slo g aneering students, and whimpering citizenry marked the milestone. Wordsworth’s lines (in a different context of course) come to mind to express the feelings – ‘Where is it now, the glory and the dream?’ 

    University of Allahabad typifies the condition of our higher education. The QS World University Rankings published recently had miserable news for India’s education system. Around 11 Indian institutes featured in the top 800 of the global list with the highest-rank going to IIT Delhi which was placed 222 in the list. The fact is that our universities are plagued by many ills. 

    The curricula of various disciplines do not allow for interfaces and have an exclusivist nature. The curriculum is not revised regularly and is divorced from the social milieu. It, therefore, fails to sensitise the students to the conditions of the world outside of their own. 

    This malady has only deepened with the setting up of ‘deemed universities’ for narrow disciplines.
    Though they may be excellent in the technical sense, the students of professional courses generally lack knowledge of society, economy, politics and culture. 

    Universities have been failing to act as spaces where students emerging out of their adolescent worlds realize the existence, and the need to respect, the geo-cultural diversities. The standard of researches has nothing much to say of, particularly in humanities. In fact our academic environment is not conducive to indulging in research activities for the love of it. The setting up of many elite bodies exclusively for research is reducing universities to mere teaching and examining bodies. 

    The universities are also facing a paucity of teachers, though academics is one of the best paid jobs. The reason is the non-academic ambience of the campuses which makes the best and brightest in the country choose other professions. 

    The earning of a living, rather than learning and developing the art of living, has become the sole motive of our higher education. 

    We are acting simply like cogs in the big machine of economy, a mere resource and, no wonder that even the controlling ministry is not called the ministry of education but, the ministry of human resources. 

    On the bright side, our universities have been a precursor to many positive changes in the world of education and society.But we need to further this quality when the most felt loss is in the degeneration of values in the society at large. Developments in any sphere are useless if the value system is weak.As Tagore said in his essay ‘The Educational Mission of the Visva- Bharati’- “Great civilizations in the East as well as in the West have flourished in the past because they produced food for the spirit of man for all time; they tried to build their life upon the faith in the ideals, the faith which is creative.”Understanding the world and ourselves, through rigours of reinventing, re-examining and reconsidering, is the essence of a university.

    We need to emphasise the perpetuity of these essential foundations- the immortal spirit of openness, inquiry and access that have defined and must continue to define our universities. We are terribly in need of campuses that inspire. 

    • 24 Dec 2013
    • Hindustan Times (Lucknow) 'Xpressions'