ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846
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Governmentalising the Research Mind

An enlightened government ought to enlarge the frontiers of research and not promote official thinking.


During the last five years, the National Democratic Alliance government has not shown any inclination to promote deep and diverse thinking in the institutions of higher education. Their myopic educational vision militates against the very idea of university where the researchers are free to enjoy the life of the mind. The latest of these attempts in subverting the idea of the university, to curb its autonomy and to scuttle the research mind, was the resolution passed in a meeting of the vice chancellors of all central universities, the Ministry of Human Resource Development, and the University Grants Commission (UGC) on 15 December 2018, to make research in these universities fall in line with “national priorities.” Some of the universities, such as the Central University of Kerala (CUK), did show extraordinary promptness in implementing the resolution. This resolution seeks to undermine the deliberative processes where several academic bodies participate in finalising the research topics. Such a resolution, thus, is anti-intellectual inasmuch as it seeks to undermine the very democratic dimension of how research shapes up.

The conditions put forward by this resolution are clearly an attempt to make research scholars abide by a particular notion of nation, which in a misconstruing way gets equated to the government, sans all the cleavages, inequalities, injustices, and discontents it embodies. Any differing view or dissent in any form, then, by default gets tagged as destructive to the nation, which the government confuses itself to be. The history and social reality of sections that remain out of the purview of such national priority are being erased from the National Council of Educational Research and Training textbooks. If even research gets limited in this way, then it will become hard to contest the majoritarian view and to remember that there are indeed many discourses of nationalism, and conflicting and differing ideas of nation.

There are enough deterrents in the present university system to discourage offbeat research and to defy standardisations. The additional condition to discourage research in “irrelevant areas” may fend off the university departments to encourage research that is not considered “safe,” such as analysing the “benefits” of demonetisation, or socio-environmental costs of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. Moreover, in research, what matters more is not relevance, but the significance that an issue holds for the researcher, the academic community, as well as for the larger society. Research ought to remain meaningful to the researcher. Ideally, it emanates from the questions that drive the researcher’s mind and life. It is a pursuit one undertakes, and asking a question is the first and defining step of this journey, if it is to be driven by curiosity and an attempt to express, exercise, and hone one’s creativity, criticality, and reflective sensibilities. Thus, a researcher needs an atmosphere where any and many questions could be asked.

The resolution, by directing researchers to “select” from a pre-prepared shelf of topics, defeats the purpose of research itself: to strive to know beyond what is given, or made to appear “worth knowing,” and to ask fresh questions recognising the silences in the existing scholarship. If spoon-fed and dictated to, either by the market or government interests or even by the prevalent academic fads, research loses its spirit. With routine, safe, and conformist topics, what will be the need to carry on research at all? Further, the value of a research university is not only in its ability to respond to immediate concerns, but also in engaging with ideas that go beyond the limitedness of the present.

A circular like the one issued by the CUK adds to the fear forced onto the public universities, and indicates that research funding could get restricted to select areas approved by the government. It implies that funding will either dictate ideas or remain unsupportive of critical thinking. The earlier declaration of 60 universities and colleges as “autonomous” also indicated an intention of the UGC to reduce funding and push universities to fend for resources themselves and, thus, open up to commercial courses and corporatisation. Cutbacks in funding to various social science centres is a step in the same direction. It is indeed unfortunate and damaging to the nation’s interests, as serious research in social sciences and the humanities is mostly confined to few public universities, and is much needed to enrich diverse understandings of society.

Steps to police research are surely detrimental to the freedom to read, write, imagine, dream, think, and express, which researchers ought to have in a university, as should people in a democracy. If the ruling regime will start defining what and how scholars should think and study, and encapsulate research in its limited understanding of nationalism, universities might end up producing only what the government and, by extension, corporate interests demand. To nurture conformist research or to follow monologues and monocultures pushed by an authoritarian regime is not the mandate of a university. Rather, it is to provide a space for research that engages with plurality of ideas and world views, involves imaginations of better societies, different politics, and diverse ideas of nationalism and nationhood.

Updated On : 2nd Apr, 2019


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