The Narendra Modi government just opened India’s doors for foreign universities — Yale, Harvard, Princeton — to set up campuses in the country. The announcement was made at a press conference on 5 January held by University Grants Commission chairperson M. Jagadesh Kumar. According to media reports, “a foreign university intending to set up its campus in India should have secured a position within the top 500 in overall/subject global rankings.” It means that all these top universities of different countries will now eye new campuses on Indian soil. Obviously, courses will be taught in English with a globally competitive syllabus.
Isn’t it surprising that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government has allowed universities to teach courses of their choice in English?
The same government has been repeatedly saying that Hindi should be made the medium of instruction in higher educational institutions and the syllabus based more on India’s culture and heritage. The Centre is trying to force Vedic and Puranic studies into university syllabi.
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Look at quality of education at home
The moot question is: Who will study at Indian universities in Hindi and who at foreign universities in English? Will foreign universities teach in Hindi with Vedic science, mathematics, and humanities as ‘global’ civilisational sources?
“The foreign university/HEI [higher education institution] will have to give the undertaking that the quality of education imparted by it at its Indian campus will be at par with that of the main campus in the country of origin, and the qualifications awarded to the students in the Indian campus will be recognised and treated as equivalent to the corresponding qualifications awarded by the foreign HEIs in the main campus for all purposes, including higher education and employment,” UGC chairperson Kumar added.
He also stressed on the autonomy that foreign universities would enjoy in India. “We are focusing on providing as much autonomy as possible. So there is not going to be any interference at all from the UGC from the operations point of view of setting up a campus in India, other than in terms of academic programmes and infrastructure in the campus,” Kumar said.
What about the quality of education in Indian universities and the employability of graduates? If the Modi government wants to further divide the country on caste and class lines with its ‘national’ versus global education, India will go back to a dark past. Shudras, Other Backward Classes (OBCs), Dalits, and Adivasis will be unable to access modern educational institutions. The benefits of reservation will amount to nothing. For the children of the productive classes, the Union government has Vidya Bharati — the network of schools run by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). With such an education model, the RSS and BJP want Indians to become followers of the ‘great’ ancient civilisation and see advanced production, modern science, distribution of resources, and equality as ‘un-Bharatiya’. Varna-centred human relations and living in ashrams will become the ideals of society.
Meanwhile, foreign and Indian private schools and universities will educate the children of the elites and ruling class in English with Harvard, Oxford, and Yale syllabi that would connect them to the West and beyond. They will become the real vishwagurus or world leaders. Union Home Minister Amit Shah is the face of this ‘Hindutva nationalist’ education for India’s poor agrarian youth and Jagadesh Kumar that of global education for the country’s ruling class.
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Not enough criticism
The secular and liberal Dvijas (twice-borns) do not lose much in this dichotomy. All of them know that their children would not be taught the Hindi-medium Vidya Bharati syllabus. Their criticism of teaching methods and pedagogy will remain vague — with no focus on the language and content — but they will talk about ‘quality’ education. What that quality would be, nobody will know.
Congress educationalists will not fight this model because they are responsible for formulating poor educational policies in the past — one reason why there are fewer English-educated intellectuals among the Shudras, OBCs, Dalits, and Adivasis.
For Muslim and Christian minority intellectuals, this educational divide may not be a bigger problem considering that a large number of Muslim students study in madrasas and Christian students in missionary schools, though they are dying. Even the Shudras and OBCs, who have been denied educational opportunities, aren’t bothered about the issue — a large number of them are hoping that Modi will deliver them from historical bondage as he is reportedly the first OBC prime minister with a Hindu samrat image.
India’s regional parties, too, do not take English-medium education for the masses seriously as that may go against their own linguistic chauvinism. OBC and Dalit organisations are more concerned about their share of reservation than the quality of education.
The systematic backward push of the rural agrarian masses with the hypocritical education system of the RSS-BJP would have to be checkmated only by equalising school education in terms of both language and content. English-language instruction in all government schools with a superior and modern global syllabus alone will address the inequality that the Modi government’s education system will create.
The agrarian masses won a small victory by forcing the government to withdraw the draconian 2020 farm laws but never realised that their children are in greater danger with the RSS-BJP education conspiracy. Most of these foreign universities are likely to buy off the masses’ lands to set up their campuses without ensuring that their children get enrolled into them.
The ruling dispensation is planning to dismantle the educational potential of farmers’ children who would have a bleaker future due to its policies. Those from reserved categories who remain in government sector will suffer from inferiority complex once privatisation comes into full force.
The RSS and BJP will turn India into an Indralok where the elites will enjoy the benefits of global education and the Hindi-educated rural youth will become its gatekeepers.
Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd is a political theorist, social activist, and writer. He has been campaigning for English medium education in rural and urban government schools of India since the last thirty years. Views are personal.
(Edited by Humra Laeeq)