JNU’s crisis matters much beyond JNU – Public higher education should not be compromised

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The JNU impasse is important not just for the JNU community. It is important for the entire country as it mirrors the watershed in India’s entire public education system. While central and state governments may not openly acknowledge their intention to privatise the public educational institutions, their actions indicate that they are least interested in rejuvenating the public education system.

The country’s political masters are elected on the assurance of improving governance in every field, which ought to include the public education system. The JNU impasse is a failure of JNU’s leadership. The series of events in JNU in the last few years demonstrate that there is serious mistrust between the JNU leadership on the one hand, and faculty and students on the other.

A world that does not understand the importance of higher education, including of liberal education, will always stand against the voice of JNU students and for that matter students of any other university. The fee hike at JNU is not a standalone activity, but a well-designed strategy of forces that are willing to cede public control of higher education. Fee hikes are also happening in various colleges of Delhi University and other universities across the country. Rather than filling out vacant posts in various universities, regularly updating the curriculum, strengthening the research ecosystem, university leaders keep experimenting heavily on the students.

India cannot afford to mess with the public education system for at least 50 years or so. Public education is the foundation of human progress. Investment in education is real and long-term. It strengthens ability to navigate and solve challenges humanity will face in coming times.

Universities like JNU, DU, Allahabad University, Patna University and other public universities have produced thousands of able ministers, bureaucrats, scientists, journalists, development activists and so forth. Two Cabinet ministers in the current central government are from JNU and there are so many serving in state governments.

JNU and other universities like it groom the overall personality of students. These universities are leadership labs, which provide a unique platform and environment to students from diverse regions and backgrounds and help them to become leaders in any area they choose. As a developing nation, India still needs to support the students that aspire to pursue higher education.

Investment in higher public education would always remain a wise use of taxpayers’ money. Else children of even taxpayers would end up repaying loans for many years, if they need to pay high fees as in Western countries. Indian public universities need leaders who believe in the wisdom of retaining and improving the public education system rather than privatising courses and hostels.

It is indeed hard for every citizen to understand the reasons why students are protesting. It is not wise to see JNU in its current form of protests and make a judgment. Look, instead, at the list of alumni JNU and other public universities have produced. They are not lesser nationalists in any way. They are serving across the country and humanity beyond geographies. Moreover, it’s not that the JNU protest is the first and last one by university students. Protests and strong differences of opinion are attributes of any democracy.

Higher education should not be politicised. History will not forgive us for our biases against institutions that are strong pillars of the nation building process.

The students of JNU should also understand that the entire nation has been watching them. They should definitely protest within the ambit of the law. It is very important for students of public educational institutions to also speak up whenever the quality of teaching is compromised, and not just around the issue of fees and hostels. The country is investing in citizens of tomorrow with good quality education, which they should never forget.

DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.

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