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 Increasing Political Influence on Indian Higher Education


Indian higher education has a long history of intertwining with political agendas. This trend has intensified in recent years, affecting various aspects of academic life and compromising institutional integrity.


GS II: Polity and Governance

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Higher Education in India
  2. Influence of Politics on Indian Higher Education
  3. Consequences of Hyperpoliticisation of Education
  4. Mitigating Political Interference in Higher Education

Higher Education in India


  • Higher education in India is provided after 12 years of schooling.
  • India has the world’s second-largest higher education system with over 58,000 institutions.
  • Currently, 43.3 million students are enrolled in higher education, with 79% in undergraduate courses, 12% at the postgraduate level, and 0.5% pursuing PhDs. The remaining are in sub-degree diploma programs.

Popular Subject Areas:

  • Undergraduate: Arts (34%), Science (15%), Commerce (13%), Engineering & Technology (12%).
  • Postgraduate: Social Science (21%), Science (15%), Management (14%).
  • PhD: Engineering & Technology (25%), Science (21%).

Participation Rate:

  • The Gross Enrollment Ratio (GER) has increased to 28.4%, up by 1.1% from 2020-21.
  • Top regions with highest GER include Chandigarh, Puducherry, Delhi, Tamil Nadu, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Kerala, and Telangana.
  • Around 46,000 foreign students were enrolled in Indian institutions in 2021-22.

Influence of Politics on Indian Higher Education

Political Influence:

  • Higher education institutions have been influenced by political agendas, with politicians founding colleges to boost their careers.
  • Institutions were often created to meet socio-cultural demands, reflecting India’s diverse and complex society.
  • Governments placed institutions in politically advantageous locations to cater to socio-cultural demands.

Renaming and Appointments:

  • The naming and renaming of universities, particularly by state governments, are often driven by political motives (e.g., Uttar Pradesh Technical University, now renamed multiple times).
  • Academic appointments and promotions are sometimes influenced more by political considerations than by candidates’ qualifications and merits.

Autonomy and Freedom:

  • Several states show dissent over the appointment of state governors as chancellors for state universities.
  • While academic freedom norms have not always been strictly followed, especially in undergraduate colleges, universities have generally adhered to international norms.
  • Self-censorship is becoming prevalent, especially in social sciences and humanities, with academics facing repercussions for publishing controversial material.

Consequences of Hyperpoliticisation of Education

Undermining Academic Freedom:

  • Political influence may compromise academic freedom, pressuring faculty and students to align with political ideologies.
  • Example: Liz Magill, President of the University of Pennsylvania, resigned under pressure from wealthy donors and alumni after testifying about antisemitism.

Deterrent to Talent:

  • A politicized academic environment can deter talented students and faculty, hindering India’s efforts to become a global leader in higher education.

Stifling of Open Debate:

  • Dominance of political agendas in academia can stifle open debate and discourage the exploration of alternative viewpoints.

Increased Student Activism:

  • Politicisation can lead to increased student activism aligned with political parties. While positive in some aspects, it can disrupt academic life if overly politicised.

Erosion of Public Trust:

  • When universities are seen as pawns in political games, public trust in academic research erodes, weakening the legitimacy of academic expertise in shaping public policy.

Impact on Research and Innovation:

  • Politicians with short-term agendas may be less likely to invest in long-term research projects, stifling innovation and hindering India’s global competitiveness.

Reduced Workforce Readiness:

  • Employers value skills like critical thinking, problem-solving, and adaptability. A politicized education system that prioritizes ideology over these skills leaves graduates less prepared for the workforce.

Mitigating Political Interference in Higher Education

Strengthening Institutional Autonomy:

  • Encourage universities to diversify funding sources to reduce dependence on government funds.
  • Uphold academic freedom as a non-negotiable principle, ensuring free discourse and research.

Establishing Autonomous University Boards:

  • Establish boards to lead to higher research quality, especially in politically susceptible disciplines.
  • Strive for autonomous status to design innovative curriculums, seek diverse funding sources, and gain recognition as Institutions of Eminence under the UGC Act 2017.

Implementing Recommendations:

  • Follow recommendations from the National Knowledge Commission (NKC) 2005 and Yash Pal Committee 2009 to grant greater autonomy to higher education institutions.
  • Reform existing universities: update curricula every three years, use internal assessments, adopt a course credit system, and attract talented faculty.

Creating Independent Regulatory Bodies:

  • Establish an Independent Regulatory Authority for Higher Education (IRAHE) independent of stakeholders.
  • Implement an independent selection process for key academic positions based on merit and experience to reduce political influence.

Adopting the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020:

  • NEP 2020 recommends motivating, energizing, and building faculty capacity through transparent recruitment, freedom to design curricula, incentivizing excellence, and institutional leadership accountability.

Protecting Academic Freedom:

  • Ensure faculty have the right to engage in research and express views without fear of retaliation or censorship.
  • Implement clear policies and safeguards to protect academic freedom.

Autonomous Student Unions:

  • Ensure university student unions remain autonomous, elected by students without political party or authority interference.

Independent Ombudsman Mechanism:

  • Establish an independent ombudsman to investigate and address complaints of political interference, academic freedom violations, or politically motivated harassment.

-Source: The Hindu

June 2024