There is a fundamental change happening within universities, starting with the radical gap between the public and private universities. Apparently, private universities are primarily market-driven, in the sense that they focus on equipping students with certain skills that are directly applicable or required in the market, and where the students become potential employees with skills that can be exploited by the companies in return for barely dignified wages and other facilities. The trends are visible where students are considerably unsatisfied with their work and seem too exhausted and alienated from what they do, but this is not something that concerns us here. What we are talking about is related to the changing nature of the very idea of a university, and its function for the nation.
One of the fundamental merits upon which the private universities attract students is the radical divide between the public and the private universities, in terms of infrastructure and practical knowledge designed to develop students for jobs. As indicated earlier, private university-run programs seemingly train students to immediately adopt skills and become labour in the market. It’s like handing a gun to a person during a war, without informing them of their fate.
The two popular areas are management and engineering, where engineering stands for all courses that provide easy convertibility of students into skilled laborers and operators of various technologies. One could say that these private universities are trying to command education in sciences and commerce, whereas they are miserably failing in the study of humanities and social sciences.
These universities claim to constantly upgrade their syllabus, according to the market, and are hence thought to be more practical in delivering results as opposed to public universities, which often have an outdated syllabus. Public universities seem to have become filled with a shortage of infrastructure, poor quality of teaching, excessive politics, and no output for the good of our nation. Public universities have therefore become both a site of strong resistance and change. Protests in public universities, to me, are indicating that they are not able to do what they should be doing, which is studying and reflecting upon the society, not just necessarily by taking to the street but by allowing themselves to exhaustively read, analyse, and write about the changes.
But what exactly are they resisting and what exactly is changing? The most fundamental impulse behind creating universities, or any institutions run by humans like hospitals, banks, religious shrines, and temples, etc, is a spirit in the benefit of not just humanity but also the nature we inhabit. While the study of sciences and commerce helps us understand, deal, and manage our world effectively, the humanities have, for a long time, sought to record, study and analyse the impacts that science has caused upon our planet.
It is this spirit that animates the subject of humanities, it attempts to record, systematise, reflect, and analyse the impact of humans upon the earth and is hence, a more philosophical approach towards things. It doesn’t, however, mean that it lacks practicality. It has the vision which science cannot have, for science is never fully aware of its potential effect on the planet and life forms.
One classic case is that of diabetic patients and their status in biology today. They have become permanent consumers of medicines, where neither the companies nor the people involved in manufacturing these drugs care about the seemingly cruel nature of these medicines, which instead of curing the patient, makes them a regular customer who keeps buying their own life from science.
It is this cruel nature of the impact of science that humanities, as a subject, partly deals with, in subjects like sociology, anthropology, and economics, and not to mention literature, which continues to be a faithful mirror to the progress of human societies. Public universities like DU, JNU, and Ambedkar University have been known for their great contribution to humanities, and it was only for this reason that IITs were provided with a department of humanities and social sciences, so that science can benefit from the insights in humanities and social sciences and become complete. The fee-hike in IITs could lead to the less economically privileged students to drop out, and the divergence of their talent towards these private universities. These private market-driven universities can become even more productive in the shallow tasks they perform.
Sadly, the decline of these public universities and now the recent attacks on IITs show how difficult it is becoming to continue the study of social sciences and the humanities, because mindless technology is the sole desire of modern societies. It is not profitable to think of a permanent solution now, because the problem itself has become profitable, hence, it is really beyond our control now to provide a solution.
With the decline of these universities, a great thinking tradition is dying which is leading us to worlds beyond repair, because the problem is what keeps these worlds in motion. The fundamental change in universities today is a shift from a wise humanitarian-thinking to a more short-sighted market-driven thinking. Money is the ultimate symbol of modern’s India’s status. Values and history must be kept away, and those who bring them out must be publicly humiliated on the fourth pillar of democracy, which really, has become the Roman Colosseum where the authority displays its ludicrous spectacle of power for the slaves they are training.
One can no longer go to college to talk about dreams, aspirations, and a bright future for the nation and society. Universities, therefore, cannot make their students feel anything except the bitter truth about the modern world. There is a ruthless struggle to rise above each other, and yet, contribute nothing significant, but just end up degrading each other even more. Where the environmental crisis has started strangulating masses already, our public figures are still worried about how much they can make from announcing sales on Amazon and Flipkart, and how much gains can be made in politics. Public figures, who almost own the nation today, are terribly silent on environmental issues. Where can one find the true university in this ruthless society, a university which studies the history, cultures, and the sciences to suggest more humane ways ahead in the future?