Education as a commodity

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Illustration : Mayanglambam Dinesh
Illustration : Mayanglambam Dinesh

Education has been converted into a marketable commodity and there is no dearth of sharks demanding their pound of flesh.

The fundamental poser that I would like to place at the outset is this: are the rules and regulations of the University Grants Commission (UGC) in relation to phd also applicable to the kith and kin of UGC officials? If we have someone at the helm of the commission whose wife’s case of phd award is challenged in court, then why this drama of regulations for others?

The quality of research in India has been adversely affected by linking a phd to promotions and increments or an essential qualification for being a lecturer and within these, two rules keep jumping up and down.

Since 1992, the UGC has been carrying out a joke by sometimes making mphil and phd compulsory along with the National Eligibility Test (net); then giving exemptions and then making them compulsory again. The basic problem is that today those who sit and plan in UGC council are themselves neither good researchers nor teachers. Most of them don’t have exposure to the university system, except their maharath in red-tapism.

It is not just a question of phds and degrees. India saw an overall nosedive in terms of quality education when former human resource development minister, the late Arjun Singh, flooded the country with deemed universities. That was followed by big investments by private players in higher education. And we all know the stories about what happened in Chhattisgarh. We had never believed in selling education. I, as a teacher, believe in imparting education.

The moment our policymakers converted education into a marketable commodity, there was no dearth of sharks ready to have their pound of flesh. Today, education is one of the largest industries in the country. In fact, educational advertisements put up by deemed and private university surpass the business advertisements of the industry in newspapers.

There was a time when highly revered academics used to sit on the UGC council. Thanks to Arjun Singh, even the registrars of private universities found their way into the council.

Quality in research is to be measured not by the number of publications but by the knowledge content of the publication. And again, the UGC became a laughing-stock when as per its epi system, a scholar of Hindi, if s/he publishes a journal from Nepal or Bhutan, will score 10 points, but if one publishes from Delhi or Varanasi, s/he will get only five points.

The ways in which deemed and private universities have flourished show that they are in it only to mint money. People from the teaching community are not above board. In many cases, before the thesis lands on the table for evaluation, there are telephone messages. Every thesis has a price tag. Agents representing universities operate in various cities, offering students a research degree for a sum of  25,000.

In the past 10 years, the UGC has promoted private players in education and let me assure you that no amount of regulation can change the scenario unless we change our mindset and encourage genuine research. The students want armchair research; the teachers want to boast about the number of phd scholars under them and everyone wants to be a ‘doctor saab’. One may become a ‘doctor saab’ but cannot become a scholar by paying for it.

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