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Editorial

HT EDIT-Needless State meddling will harm higher education

March 27, 2019 06:21 AM

COURTESY HT MARCH 27

Needless State meddling will harm higher education
Choice of research topics should ideally be driven by motivation towards the subject
On March 13, the Central University of Kerala asked departments to create a list of topics for PHD research. This was being done to “discourage research in irrelevant areas” and bringing research “in accordance to national priorities”. The opposition used it to attack the Centre for trying to curb academic freedom. The university administration later said that national priority was meant to capture India’s economic, social and technological advancement. Even if it is taken at face value, and there are good reasons not to do so, there are deep problems with such thinking in a university. Who gets to decide whether a research topic is irrelevant? How relevant can research on aesthetics of ancient Tamil or medieval Bhakti poetry in Hindi be from a “national priority” viewpoint? Will a university risk being singled out for commissioning a PHD examining the collateral damage from demonetisation?

Choice of research topics should ideally be driven by motivation towards the subject, its potential rewards and resource endowments to support the project. Each of these frontiers is expanding as advances in information sharing bring the world, including that of academics, closer to each other. This is not the first controversy vis-à-vis higher education under this government. That the human resource development ministry shares the worldview of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) is a well known fact. The latter thinks India’s higher education sector has suffered from a prolonged institutional capture from leftliberals, which has prevented India from realising its potential. While the RSS and the Centre are entitled to hold such a view, their actions so far can only be compared to throwing the baby with the bath water.

In the name of promoting national interest, professional credentials have often been given a go by. It is possible that such behaviour has created perverse incentives for administrators to appear more Christian than the Pope by deciding PHD topics for students in larger national interest. Such acts will only worsen the crisis in India’s higher education.

 
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