Life at a public university has more benefits than you can count on your fingers. Subsidized biryani, sprawling lawns for afternoon naps and hot chai. More books than you could read in a lifetime and free wifi that only seems to run on people’s devices, never on yours. Along with this, you get free access to scholarly articles and journals. In return, you need to submit a few assignments and make a few presentations.
Most of these perks are funded by the University Grants Commission (UGC). These valuable benefits are rarely paid attention to unless they’re taken away. Recently, the Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union (JNUSU) claimed that the administration has cut library funds by 80%. This would lead to cancellation of journal subscriptions after December as the funds will be slashed from 8 crores to 1.7 crores. These journals are used by students for research and examinations. While the JNU administration denies these claims, it’s hard to imagine the argument has spun out of nothing.
A few years ago, I wouldn’t pay have paid much heed to a fund cut like this. My presentations in graduation were mostly based on spotty citations and questionable facts. Google Scholar and I were strangers. During my graduation years, a classmate wouldn’t even bother to remove the hyperlinks from the Wikipedia page she downloaded. She vehemently denied it in front of the examiner. To this date, she maintains plausible deniability.
Now, imagine someone who’s studied in this environment is put under the supervision of scholarly teachers. After graduating with a Bachelors in Commerce, I went for Masters in Journalism. Now, the teachers here don’t accept anything that doesn’t come from Google scholar. If that isn’t enough, one needs to cross-check the claims with other scholarly articles. A few migraines and sleepless nights later, I finally became accustomed to the research way of life. Though, not without resistance, I must admit.
But this got me thinking. I revisited a few concepts I had skimmed on Wikipedia during graduation. Interestingly, these journals not only introduce you to heavy concepts but also help you develop arguments. Reading academic journals and articles makes you think and develop new ideas in ways you never thought you could.
We spend years in the education system absorbing everything it has to offer. Rarely do we get to reflect upon it or question the knowledge that comes from a higher source. For instance: ‘The RBI is an autonomous body.’ Why is it an autonomous body? Why is it critical that it remain an autonomous body? The textbooks won’t answer that. We go about our lives reading concepts and frameworks without questioning them.
Journals are key to critical analysis and especially important in the formative years of a student. So, when JNU decides to cut funding for journals, it puts a curb on this critical thinking of its students. It may be signed off as an ‘arbitrary decision’, but it is quite a systematic move. When students don’t engage with new dialogue and discourse in their fields, how will they develop their own critical analysis?
A critical mind refuses to engage with fake news and propaganda. A critical mind is a dangerous thing towards generating homogenous citizens, who will only absorb and never reflect. But it’s also about what is feasible in the long run. If one wants to Make ‘Minds’ In India, one must encourage those minds to critique and think.
Students enrolled in central universities like JNU are potentially some of the brightest minds in the country. They deserve to have access to all the information available, whether it is in the form of journals or books. Years later these minds will draw on the fodder of their critical minds, not the subsidized biryani. The administration would be wise to not cut funds on this essential fodder.