Politicisation of campuses must end & focus must return to academic activity

Rohit Chandavarkar
Monday, 6 January 2020

Most technology experts firmly believe that almost all of the new innovation that one sees happening inside the defence forces in America or even organisations like NASA, comes from the university campuses where there is intensive research happening all the time. The post graduate courses in physics, chemistry, mathematics, management, agriculture, economics and many other subjects encourage students to get into innovation and research and this gets utilised by industry, corporate world and public sector. Why cannot India build such a model in academics? Are we only focused on campus politics and fighting over ideological differences?

The brutal attack on students at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) campus on Sunday night has shocked the nation and damaged India’s image in the academic arena all over the world. The way female and male students as well as some professors were hit by goons has been condemned by all political party leaders. Allegations from both sides of the political or ideological divide are thick and fast. It is not clear who actually did this. The police in Delhi will do the investigation to reach to the bottom of the case to find out who was behind this. But one thing is obvious and that is that India’s image has been damaged globally by this incident, as world media has been running the visuals of the attack and its aftermath.

Do our students and parents who are paying for their education deserve this? In a world which already has so much uncertainty and insecurity over economic slowdown and lack of jobs and other problems, do our students have to face even physical insecurity inside the campus? Why are many of our educational institute campuses now looking like political battlefields? What is the future for our children and their parents who might be worried about deterioration of situation at campuses of even reputed institutes? There are questions that are haunting students, parents and even teachers in all parts of India.

In the developed world,  we see a completely different situation. Thousands of Indian students want to go to American or European universities each year. They experience a completely different atmosphere there. These universities have never been politicised like our Indian universities. In America, there are over 300 universities. The focus at most of these universities is on academics and mainly on research. 

Most technology experts firmly believe that almost all of the new innovation that one sees happening inside the defence forces in America or even organisations like NASA, comes from the university campuses. The post graduate courses in physics, chemistry, mathematics, management, agriculture, economics and many other subjects encourage students to get into innovation and research and this gets utilised by industry, corporate world and public sector. Why cannot India build such a model in academics?

Arguably hardly any innovation (which industry can use) comes from public universities in India. Instead they make headlines for student’s agitations and campus elections.  Has time come for India to think about banning political parties from floating their wings at colleges and universities? Are the students unions (not one particular but all of them) doing more damage to the campuses than they are doing good to them?

India is proud of it’s democracy and the society should have vibrant political debates. Perhaps campuses of educational institutes are also not an exception to this. But if too much time is being spent first on political debates, then on agitations and then that results in senseless violence, something is going wrong.  Can that be allowed to continue?

The need of the hour is to de-escalate the tensions and restore peace. But in the long term, it is also needed that campuses have apolitical atmosphere. Students should be going to colleges and universities to study and learn, not to agitate and face insecurity all the time. The government and the opposition must do whatever it takes to achieve this.

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