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Just in time: Editorial on UGC’s withdrawal of designs for Narendra Modi selfie points

Partisanship by the academic regulator is likely to destroy educational content as well as the system itself. NCERT is altering school text-books according to the BJP's agenda

The Editorial Board Published 06.12.23, 07:10 AM
University Grants Commission.

University Grants Commission. File Photo

Pulling back from the brink is not always a sign of adventurousness. The University Grants Commission has withdrawn its direction to colleges and universities across India to set up selfie points on their premises for students and visitors to click selfies with the image of the prime minister in the background. These were meant to be uploaded on media platforms so that the ‘incredible strides’ made by the country could be shared with a sense of ‘collective pride’ by ‘harnessing the energy and enthusiasm’ of young people. It appears that strong criticism of the academic regulator for trying to promote the prime minister’s electoral interests just before the Lok Sabha elections has prompted it to pull back a little. That is, the selfie points are to remain but the ‘approved’ designs, each with Narendra Modi’s image together with representative pictures of given themes, such as internationalisation of education, unity in diversity, Indian knowledge systems and so on are no longer available on the relevant online platform. Although it is not clear whether new designs with Mr Modi’s image will return as background, for the time being the UGC seems to have stepped back from the brink of directing educational institutions to create armies of supporters for Mr Modi and his government.

Maybe the move was too blatant. The UGC is supposed to be manned by academic experts and administrators, not cult-builders. Its role is to ensure excellence in learning and richness in research, but it seems to be concentrating now on publicity for Mr Modi. That is quite unprecedented. Partisanship by the academic regulator is likely to destroy educational content as well as the system itself. The National Council of Educational Research and Training is altering school text-books according to the Bharatiya Janata Party’s agenda. The UGC is taking the next step: its stream of circulars and directives is gradually narrowing down the space for autonomy in higher educational institutions, which cannot reach their full potential without creativity and innovation. It is critical thinking that is the target, hence colleges and universities cannot be allowed independent territory for learning. Even though the prime minister’s image has been removed from the selfie point designs, that the UGC had originally wanted this shows that it has completely surrendered its role to Mr Modi’s brand of politics.

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