Public Universities and their Independence

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Context: Recently, JNU asked for the CV of Romila Thapar, the historian, and other 11, so they could evaluate their body of work and decide on continuation as Professors Emeriti, wage war between administrative freedom of the Universities and the political interference.

Relevance: GS 2 Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources.   

What is Professors Emeriti?

The objective of honouring academics for life was actually an objective in the charter of JNU. For some reason, the process had been discontinued. The process, often long-drawn-out, involved consulting people within the university and in universities abroad on the eminence of the people chosen for the honour. Once approved, it took it to the academic council and the executive council. These honours, are for life. 

Higher Education System of India

Universities in India are recognized by the University Grants Commission (UGC), which draws its power from the University Grants Commission Act, 1956.

In addition, 15 Professional Councils are established, controlling different aspects of accreditation and coordination.

Problems or Issues faced by Public University

  • Hostile vice-chancellors who also tend to be underqualified,
  • Narratives of sexism and sexual harassment,
  • Labelling of students from minorities and vulnerable sections as seditious,
  • Violence against dissenting students and teachers,
  • Subverting of statutory bodies and processes, and
  • Victimising teachers and bringing in expensive technocratic fixes for a non-existent problem.

It also helps that, in the same breath, any criticism of the government and its policies is dubbed anti-national.

This is a picture of problems public university campuses in India are fraught with.

Importance of Public University:

  • Public Unversity is funded by the government thus public funding of higher education is the only way to ensure that students from all kinds of socio-economic background can access it.

  • The function of universities, especially public universities, is, to put it very grandly, to think critically on behalf of society.

  • Universities are meant to be distinct from society so that space can be used to experiment with ideas, to be critical knowing that you are in a protected space.

Threat to public University:

  • Regarding Autonomy of the universities.
  • Policies without a coherent roadmap, policy confusion and a lack of a larger vision.
  • Political interference, as in the process of appointment of VC and other higher authority, the involvement of political leaders create a rift between ideologies.

Way out would be that the dissent in the youth and ideologies should be critically evaluated and liberty and freedom should be incoherent with the Constitution of India. Higher education is to be seen as a means of fostering a democratic, equitable society it must be governed through democratic decision-making with the inclusion of all stakeholders in universities.

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