Insecurity dogs the Centre when it comes to higher education. And this expresses itself most comprehensively through Mr Murli Manohar Joshi’s latest vision of the enhanced powers of the university grants commission. The human resources development minister wants this body renamed as the “higher education development council”. The new name suggests executive and regulatory powers which go far beyond the mere allocation and management of funds. “Development” signals expanded ambitions — and given Mr Joshi’s credentials and principles, those committed purely to the maintenance of academic excellence will naturally feel concerned. Mr Joshi’s knee-jerk conservatism stems from his fears of alien invasion in the sphere of higher education. This results in greater intervention by the state in education, heralded by a rhetoric that is the most unfortunate mixture of officiousness and confusion. Mr Joshi’s iron hand will now fall on foreign universities which set up branches or work together with Indian institutions of higher education in the country. He is trying to push through the idea of equal partnership in such arrangements, particularly in the matter of investments. But such concern with the partnership structure and financial management of these ventures inevitably shades into and ends up as a resistance to opening up this sphere to any sort of competitive innovation, through the stepping up of hindering regulation and red-tape — in short, by increasing state control. And this has a direct bearing on the nature and content of the education provided by these institutions.
Ideology is therefore brought in through the back door. Mr Joshi continually talks about higher education in India having to keep up with the times and with global trends. But his attitudes to the entry of foreign universities and to the enhanced role of the UGC foster a regime that ends up obstructing competition and innovation. This keeps education, and the entire notion of academic excellence, well within the stranglehold of the state, which instead of minimalizing itself is actually elaborating its forms of interference in higher education. Mr Joshi has declared his resolve to ensure that the government does not abdicate its responsibility in the education sector. The government’s responsibility is to allow higher education to flourish unhindered in this country, without having to put up with meddlesome regulation and with bigotry posturing as high-minded notions of indigenous excellence.