Are our universities deliberately placed in a state of confinement? Higher education spending has remained stagnant at 1.3 to 1.5 per cent since 2012. Interestingly, during this period, the education ministry has been asking higher education institutions to increase their service capacity by 25 per cent to implement the 10 per cent quota for economically weaker sections, while the finance ministry has been asking for a moratorium on the creation of new teaching posts. The anger is rising. Financial assistance to students at the central level has been reduced from Rs 2,482 crore in FY 2021-22 to Rs 2,078 crore in FY 2022-23. The financial allocation for research and innovation has also come down by eight per cent during this period.
Crisis on educational institutions
Actually, all the big educational institutions are surrounded by many types of crises. The financial crisis at the university level, lack of research opportunities for faculty, poor infrastructure and shrinking learning opportunities for students has made the situation miserable. The infrastructure of most of the universities, IITs and IIMs of the country is in shambles. Classes everywhere have more students than capacity, the situation is worse in terms of climate and cleanliness. The condition of hostels is also not good. The Higher Education Funding Agency (HEFA) has reduced its budget from Rs 2000 crore in FY 2020-21 to Rs 1 crore in FY 21-22 and now only Rs 1 lakh has been allocated for FY 2022-23 . Universities are being forced to take loans.
The UGC was allocated Rs 4,900 crore in 2022-23 as against Rs 4693 crore in the financial year 2021-22. As it is, most of the universities of the country are running in losses. Madras University saw an accumulated deficit of over Rs 100 crore and was forced to get a grant of Rs 88 crore from the state government. Financial crunch is being observed in 12 colleges of Delhi University. The allocation by the state has been reduced to less than half. For example, Deen Dayal Upadhyay College needed Rs 42 crore in 2021, while it was allotted Rs 28 crore. Faculty members of several universities like Sri Lal Bahadur Shastri Rashtriya Sanskrit Vishwavidyalaya, University of Delhi, Visva Bharati, Nagaland University, Jharkhand University and South Bihar have been facing delay in salaries for months. The financial crisis has led to a cut in the discretionary spending of universities. Many colleges in Delhi are unable to subscribe to basic databases and journals.
There is an urgent need to increase the financial allocation along with setting up a mechanism of grants/loans and uninterrupted subsidies for infrastructure. Universities also need to be free to use revenue options such as start-up royalties and advertising.
In the present situation, educational standards and procedures are not being maintained. Leaking of exam papers has become a common thing. The University Grants Commission’s National Eligibility Test papers were leaked in June 2021. The candidates told about such examination center operators who help them pass the examination by charging Rs 3 lakh per candidate. Recently, Veer Narmad South Gujarat University has conducted select B.Com and B.A. Rescheduled examinations for courses. All such institutions have failed to fulfill their basic responsibility of maintaining the purity of examinations.
India’s universities have historically been bastions of free expression and centers of nationalism. The Hindu College in Delhi was inaugurated by Madan Mohan Malviya. The college was the center of political debate during the days of freedom struggle. The students and teachers here participated in the Quit India Movement. The students of the college greatly helped in the resettlement of the refugees who came due to Partition in 1947. In support of the Quit India Movement, students of Queen Mary College of Chennai staged several demonstrations, boycotted classes and raised nationalist slogans against the Firangi government. A few years ago, students of JNU, BHU and Jamia Millia joined Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption movement and raised black flags against tainted ministers.
Interestingly, this delicate balance between the right to freedom of expression and nationalism has been promoted in different periods of governments. This is also because the country’s leadership has been aware of the role of universities in strengthening democracy and civil society. But it is no longer so. Freedom of expression on university campuses has been affected due to police crackdown on students in universities like JNU and Jamia. Students and faculty members are maligned as anti-national.
We need to adopt tolerance for diversity of views on our campuses. Our students have creative experiences and should have space to express themselves as citizens. How will our universities support critical thinking if freedom of expression is not promoted? The status of the country’s higher education institutions at the world level is very poor. There are only eight Indian universities in the top 500 in the QS World University Rankings and the position is almost the same since 2010.
India’s National Education Policy (2020) lays great emphasis on promoting critical thinking and problem solving, along with social, moral and emotional abilities and temperament. For this there is a need for an encouraging ecosystem with more funding, autonomy and tolerance for student/faculty activities with universities. Without it, talented Indians will go abroad and policy makers will continue to lament over ‘brain drain’.
Disclaimer: The views expressed above are those of the author.