Unveiling the New India

By Oeendrila Lahiri, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, 4Humanities International Correspondent

At a time when advanced countries such as the US and UK are drastically cutting down on education funds and especially attacking humanities, India seems to have managed to keep itself in the good books of all educationists.Why, even Obama cites it as an example to be followed. But India’s attitude towards education is experiencing subtle changes as it gains increasing prominence in international politics.

As a rising power in the subcontinent, India can only hope to use its massive population to its advantage. But this was always the logic of the nation. What is new?

Over the last decade or so, however, the logic has shifted, as it has everywhere else in the world. And as everywhere else in the world, India’s explicit turnaround from a welfare-oriented state to a neoliberal state has a lot to do with it.

The country is most keen to invest in higher education. The recent budget for higher education has increased by 34% for the year 2011-2012 and the government has set a goal to increase the university enrolment rate from 12 to 13 percent by the year 2025 when, it is estimated, 75% of its youth will be employable. The thrust,  therefore, is now towards producing an effective work force with managerial and technical skills. The drive to vocationalise secondary education and the establishment of the National Skill Development Council further corroborate this trend.

Of the Rs 52,057 crores (USD 11.5 billion) allocated for education, less than half will go to primary education. The bulk of the remaining funds, however, will be invested in technical and management institutes such as the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) and the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), which are premier institutes in their respective fields.

A grant of 200 crores (USD 44 million) has already been granted to one of the IITs; this is swift considering the tiers of bureaucracy and years of proposal writings a normal university or college has to go through before government funds can be accessed. The 15 Indian Institutes of Technology will receive a total of $1.25 billion while the University Grants Commission, a central body for funds allocation to all the universities of higher learning in the country, has been granted only $ 1.16 billion. (See http://www.universityworldnews.com/article.php?story=20110312091927423)

India is also poised to establish a hundred more universities in the coming year or so. One of them, the international SAARC-oriented South Asian University, will start this summer without any of the traditional humanities disciplines. The focus as of now is primarily on economics , law, management, international relations and computer science.

On another note, colleges with humanities and the social sciences are on the road to privatization, which not only means that syllabi will be tailored according to the funding policies of the donor but also that they will be dictated by foreign memorandums of understanding. The fate of the humanities, therefore, is not unpredictable when we look at these circular assaults on their survival.

Private and traditional business tycoons have been donating to the humanities to foster a ‘global understanding.’But is building and maintaining internationally recognized curricula enough? Is it also a part of the whole ‘India has arrived’ business? What can such degrees and education come to when state roles are being handed over to non-state actors funded by the likes of the World Bank? And most importantly, in a world which is progressively more interconnected not just through the market but also through conflict, how can we, as a country, not believe in sustaining the intellectual tools to act and live better?

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