26 Feb HIGHER EDUCATION AND POLICY ENIGMA
HIGHER EDUCATION AND POLICY ENIGMA – Today Current Affairs
In India, enrollment in higher education and proliferation of colleges and universities is on rise, however their contribution to national development and improving living standards of our populace is limited. The government has taken many steps in the past to improve the standards of higher education. The National Overseas Scholarship (NOS) scheme administered by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment (MSJE) marks a significant threshold with regards to the marginalized students’ aspirations to gain higher education abroad. This scheme is aimed at facilitating the master’s- and doctoral-level education of candidates belonging to (i) Scheduled Castes (SCs), (ii) denotified, nomadic, and semi-nomadic tribes, and (iii) landless agricultural laborers and traditional artisans at universities situated abroad. For 2022–23, this scheme aims to offer fully funded scholarships to 125 candidates, where 115 seats are reserved for SC candidates and 30% of the total seats are reserved for female candidates. This scheme is applicable to researchers in the fields of humanities and social sciences, medicine, and engineering. However, the Department of Social Justice and Empowerment (DSJE) has recently introduced a specific rule that excludes subjects or topics that broadly come under the umbrella of humanities and social sciences from within the purview of this scholarship.
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Under the recently released guidelines of this scheme applicable for 2022–23, one of the mandatory conditions reads “[t]opics/courses concerning Indian Culture/heritage/History/Social studies on India based research topic shall not be covered under NOS.” This implies that students whose research work relates to the above-mentioned areas of study stand summarily excluded from the purview of this scholarship scheme. The same guideline further mentions that “[t]he final decision as to which Topic can be covered under such category will rest with [the] Selection-cum-Screening Committee of NOS.” The Hindu Analysis.
These new guidelines have an adverse implication for the higher education aspirations of students coming from marginalized communities. With discretionary powers vested in the selection-cum-screening committee, the candidates already stand the risk of facing exclusion if the substance of their research topic clashes with the world view of the current government. Moreover, since this scheme is primarily meant for low-income, marginalised students, the imminent aspect of prejudice and discrimination cannot be ruled out where arbitrary discretionary powers of a selection and screening committee are operative. However, these guidelines drop even the pretense of potential subterfuge and exclude a large portion of marginalized students from even applying to this scheme.
Hence, the new guidelines of the NOS effectively discourage marginalized caste students from pursuing research on Indian history and culture at universities situated abroad. It seeks to curtail the capabilities of marginalized caste researchers to make use of the universalistic horizon of a university to study topics of their own interests and desires, which would include topics that concern Indian history, heritage, and culture. The Hindu Analysis.
The current government’s orientation towards higher education suggests a policy paradox: on the one hand, the government seems keen to promote studies on Indian history and culture, and on the other, it denies students an epistemic or an intellectual opportunity to study about their own country’s history and culture at a foreign university. In a more general sense, the votaries of “Indo-centric” narratives have been opposing the study of “Western” ideas that, according to these votaries, intellectually misrepresent India. But at the same time, are not these policy efforts by the present government prohibiting students from marginalized communities to study various aspects of the history and culture of India abroad? What is the anxiety of the government? Is it that the present government does not trust the SCs and other marginalized caste researchers’ capacity to be objective in studying the subjects that the ministry has excluded from its guidelines? The political undertones of these new guidelines also reveal a shockingly callous attitude towards the research orientations of marginalized caste students as if their research is only aimed at bringing a “bad” reputation to whatever constitutes Indian history, heritage, and culture according to the world view of the present government.
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A scholarship meant specifically for marginalized caste students to pursue higher education abroad cannot reasonably introduce a criterion whereby such researchers are prevented from researching about their own marginalized status in Indian history and culture at an institution of their choice. Indeed, the rationale of these new guidelines do seem to point in the direction of restricting such critical scholarship from emerging outside India, where the government’s means of control and censorship cannot be extended easily. Ideally, the Indian state ought to encourage scholarship on the various aspects of Indian culture, history, and heritage at institutions situated in India as well as abroad. Indeed, such a pedagogical aim is visible in the establishment and maintenance of public educational and cultural institutions. Such institutions are primarily responsible for promoting the production of new knowledge about Indian history and culture. At the same time, the essence of the university or the vishwavidyalaya suggests that its intellectual breadth ought to reflect the concerns of the whole world. The moral horizon of universities is, by default, universal; it cannot be truncated with the idea of national borders and taboo subjects.