New Delhi: Universities are "dying a slow and painful" death in the face of utilitarian policies of the state and aggressive commercialisation of higher education, eminent educationists said today.
Highlighting the challenges faced by universities today, a group of educationists revisited fundamental questions regarding the concept of universities, at a seminar organised by Delhi University Teachers' Association (DUTA) here.
Assessing the crisis in academic leadership, former Vice-Chancellor of Lucknow University, Roop Rekha Verma said excessive regimentation taking place in universities was threatening the concept of them being the nerve-centre of creativity and leadership.
"Regimentation occurs at the level of administrations that are run on the basis of vested-interests, as well as the governments' constant attempt to appropriate all forms of decision-making, for their own benefits. There are too many examples of how perfectly vibrant universities have been sacrificed at the altar of cynical politics," she said.
Expressing her discomfort over the drive towards Private-Public Partnerships, Verma said it would smother academic freedom and inclusivity within universities by virtue of the conflict between public and private interests in higher education.
"The current reforms are manifestations of recommendations made years ago by the Birla-Ambani Report on Higher Education which did not engage teachers and students in its deliberations on the future of Higher Education," she said.
Agreeing with the view, astrophysicist Vinod Gaur said the "organic" concerns of teachers and students were largely being ignored by politicians and bureaucrats and would eventually affect the way universities' function.
JNU Professor Jayati Ghosh, while raising her concerns over the political dimension of reforms in higher education, said homogeneous standards of efficiency and resource optimisation were choking universities of their vital resources essential for their growth.
"Teachers are being kept confined in a 'guilt-complex' wherein they are being made to believe that their salaries and service-benefits are not commensurate with the quantum of work they do," Ghosh said.
"Pseudo-theory of efficiency and discipline fundamentally denies teachers the opportunity to exercise their creativity and academic freedom," she added.
Summing up the open-discussion, columnist and Delhi University Professor Apoorvanand said the fact that 4,000 teaching vacancies in the DU had failed to provoke an adequate and reciprocal public response showed that universities had gone somewhere wrong in attending to their relationships with its stake-holders.
Despite the general acknowledgement of grave difficulties threatening the survival of the university as an important and universal idea, teachers and students agreed that the event represented a timely intervention in the crisis which merit an intense collective search for alternatives.
Former Rajya Sabha member and ex-DUTA President O P Kohli also shared his views at the seminar along with DUTA office-bearers and elected members of the organisations Executive Council.