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Ideologies and Their Impact on Higher Education

As universities across the country face tumultuous times, it is pertinent to take note of a new rhetoric around these driven by ideology. Public universities of a good standing and long history are increasingly being targeted as spaces harbouring “seditious activities.” Privatisation in higher education is making new inroads, and exacerbating coercive inequality among the youth of the country. It is to be examined if this is a manifestation of the dominant right-wing ideology.


The concepts “left” and “right” can be traced back to the pre-revolutionary France, to the year 1789 to be precise. The group of people who sat on the right side of the president, that is, the nobility and the clergy, supported conservative ideas, whereas the group on the left side of the president, that is, the bourgeoisie, urged and fought for change (Bertolin 2016). Thus, began a dichotomy between the left and the right. This dicho­tomy is a widespread phenomenon now. World over, political parties are characterised as leftists, right-winged, and several variations in between, such as centrist, centre-left, centre-right, and so on.

Broadly speaking, the left supports ­socialism, and the right can be said as associated with capitalism. However, left-liberal regimes have been ruling in capitalist nations for years. Hence, this distinction may seem as being too rudimentary to hold true in a complex contemporary society. Nevertheless, the ideological differences between the left and the right are clearly articulated through their policies. For instance, the left is liberal, pushes for change, supports state intervention, and focuses on social problems. On the other hand, the right is conservative, supports hierarchy and private ownership, and dissociates itself from redistributive policies.

Impact of Ideologies

In the light of the recent policy developments such as the draft National Education Policy, 2019 (NEP) and debates about the quality of higher education, it is important to take into account the ­impact that ideologies may have on higher education policies in the country (Gill and Singh 2019a). Simon Marginson (2018), professor of higher education at the University of Oxford, states that ideologies can have profound effect on transformations in higher education. An ideology dictates whether institutions of learning will be state-supported or privatised, or whether education will be considered as a social good or a commercial service. For education to be considered as a commercial service, it would have to be considered as a business, the trustees as businessmen or ­entrepreneurs, and students or parents as users of service. Such a notion emph­asises on paying for the service—better the service, higher the service fee.

This notion marginalises the emancipatory power of higher education, as well as the developmental needs of students and teachers. It is this school of thought that leads to a severe opportunity cost for students, especially the ones with underprivileged backgrounds. Underprivileged students fail to gain ­access to private universities. Thus, they remain devoid of experiences that are “sold” to students who can afford them. These experiences include being taught innovative courses by competent faculty facilitated by the latest tools and technology. Hence, this particular section of underprivileged students depends upon either subsidised public universities, or non-elite private institutions for their educational needs.

Current Ideological Atmosphere

There have been many developments in universities across the country, inc­luding a sustained assault by declaring a few universities as “anti-national” spaces. This rhetoric paved way for the arrests of several scholars in Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), mass protests by students at Jadavpur University, and so on. These institutions, which have consistently attained top National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) scores and rankings according to the National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF), were ironically branded as grounds of seditious activities. Moreover, the implicit eligibility criterion for vice-chancellorship at Indian universities as the ruling party’s or its parent body’s affiliation has marked a rush of entry of the right-wingers into the inte­llectual spaces in the country. One such example has been Gajendra Chauhan’s appointment as Film and Television Ins­titute of India (FTII) chairman, trigge­ring a 139-day protest by students, questioning Chauhan’s qualifications.

The impacts of right ideology on higher education institutions are there for the nation to witness. The recent protests of Banaras Hindu University (BHU) students against Feroz Khan’s appointment as assistant professor of Sanskrit, ultimately led to his resignation. The crux of the matter is why a Muslim was not ­allowed to teach Sanskrit at BHU? The professor in question has resigned, and is currently rendering his teaching ­duties at the Arts faculty.

It is also pertinent to note how the right ideology manifests in the form of excessive privatisation in education. Six institutions were given the tag of “institutions of eminence” by the previous government. The eligibility criterion for such a tag was the position of institutions in top 500 universities in the first 10 years of setting up, according to ­either QS World University Rankings or Shanghai Jiao Tong University rankings. Rightfully, Indian Institute of Techno­logy (IIT) at Delhi and Bombay, Birla ­Institute of Technology at Pilani, and Manipal Academy of Higher Education were chosen, since they are exemplary institutions that have been imparting quality education since over 50 years. However, Reliance’s non-existent “Jio Institute” came as a surprise since it bagged the “institution of eminence” tag without even having set up. Such crony capitalism promoted by the right-wing? goes against the basic tenets of education.

Higher education is moving towards a direction where it is seen as a commercial service, wherein the focus remains on serving the interests of entrepreneurs and economy (Ball and Youdell 2008), especially in the prevalent neo-liberal economy. With privatisation having given a greater push, the public university is being targeted as “anti-national.” As pointed out by Guru (2019), the public university has unintentionally become a hub of mostly underprivileged students of the society. This seclusion robs under privileged students of discursive opportunities, which have a potential for transforming them, thus leading to a ­coercive inequality (Guru 2019).

This coercive inequality has also manifested through sub-standard private higher education institutions, which mushroomed due to the unruly policies of All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) and University Grants Commission (UGC) in the last two decades. These private institutions (also called as demand absorbers), initially provided access to such students with restricted access to education due to socio-economic factors. However, post-McDonaldisation (Hayes and Wynyard 2002) of these institutions, they are facing a huge loss in student admissions, and subsequent irre­levance today. Seventy-eight percent of higher education ­institutions are being run by the private sector (MHRD 2017). However, these private unaided institutions are being pushed into penury at the cost of providing inclusiveness, which is further ­affe­cting the quality of education being provided.

On the other hand, low admission fees at JNU has been an enabler for students across socio-economic spectrum to pursue higher education. However, a sudden 600% fee hike, citing a severe fund deficit, sparked a series of protests against it. The situation raises the question: Has education ceased to be seen as a public good? Does it qualify as a commercial good? Has economic growth taken precedence over social justice?

Finding the Middle Path

Markets may lead to a productive economy, however, one cannot overlook the negative influences of its dominance in areas of judiciary, health and education (Sandel 2012). The Delhi University Teachers’ Association (DUTA) has criticised the NEP 2019 for “blatant(ly) handing over education to the markets” (Press Trust of India 2019). However, ­recent trends in the private education sector have established the fact that, clearly, the market does not have all the answers. Moreover, a subsidised higher-education system is not a sufficient condition for transformative education. Thus, it is vital to find a middle path, between economic and social poles, between technical and humanistic tendencies, between private and public, and so on, to address the issue of coercive inequality.

This can be done by redefining quality in private higher education through a transformative approach (Gill and Singh 2019b; Harvey and Green 1993). This requires: enabling students to become emotionally stable, increase in self-­confidence of students, development of students’ critical thinking, increase in self-awareness of students, enabling ­students to transcend their prejudices, students’ acquiring knowledge and skills to perform future jobs, and increase in their knowledge, abilities and skills. This transformative approach focuses on developing the huma­nistic dimension in education by creating individuals who are reflexive, critical thinkers, and ­socially responsible. The idea is not only to empower students through transformation, but also to enable a change within the higher education institutions to encourage the process of student transformation (Cheng 2016).

In the path of such a transformation, the right-wing ideology can be a major impediment, and is capable of undoing the very purpose of transformative higher education. One such example is the forced entry of the Delhi police at the Jamia Millia Islamia University campus, where students had been protesting against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019. Tear gas cannons were fired in closed spaces such as the library, thus leaving several students grievously injured. Similar violence was also reported at the Aligarh Muslim University. These events led to a ripple effect, wherein students across universities in the country, such as JNU, Panjab University, Jadavpur University, IIT Bombay, Central University of Hyderabad and Tata Institute of Social Sciences started protesting against police violence.

The protesting students at several ins­titutions of higher learning are indicative of their ability to think critically, ­independently, and transcend prejudices (some of the key dimensions of transformative higher education institutions). However, an intriguing aspect of these protests is that the students were mostly affiliated with public universities. Does this mean that transformation, if any, in the private institutions has been superficial? Does privatisation only further the cause of the right-wing ideology? Hypothetically, will the students of the “institution of eminence” as the Jio Institute has been declared, gather at the ITO ­(Income Tax Office), Delhi and protest against an ideology that corrodes the power of transformation and emancipation of education?


Ball, S J and D Youdell (2008): Hidden Privatisation in Public Education, Brussels: Education ­International.

Bertolin, J C (2016): “Ideologies and Perceptions of Quality in Higher Education: From the Dichotomy between Social and Economic Aspects to the ‘Middle Way,’” Policy Futures in Education, Vol 14, No 7, pp 971–87.

Cheng, M (2016): Quality in Higher Education: ­Developing a Virtue of Professional Practice, Rotterdam/Boston/Taipei: Sense Publishers.

Gill, S and G Singh (2019a): “Public Values and the NEP,” Economic & Political Weekly, Vol 54, No 34, pp 45.

(2019b): “Developing Inclusive Learning Environments at Management Education Institutions,” Academy of Management Proceedings, p 10197.

Guru, G (2019): “The Cost of Opportunity in Higher Education,” Economic & Political Weekly, Vol 54, No 48, p 9.

Harvey, L and D Green (1993): “Defining Quality,” Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, Vol 18, pp 934.

Hayes, D and R Wynyard (eds) (2002): The McDonaldization of Higher Education, Westport, CT: Bergin & Garvey.

Marginson, S (2018): “And the Sky is Grey: The Ambivalent Outcomes of the California Master Plan for Higher Education,” Higher Education Quarterly, Vol 72, No 1, pp 51–64.

MHRD (2017): “All India Survey on Higher Education 2016–17,” Department of Higher Education, Government of India.

Press Trust of India (2019): “Draft Educational Policy Hands Over Education to the Markets, Says DUTA on NEP,” India Today, 27 July.

Sandel, M (2012): What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets, London: Allen Lane.


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Updated On : 14th Apr, 2020
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