Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Globalisation Of Higher Education

(Leafing through an old College Magazine, I came across this article I'd contributed. Thought I'll post it , 'cos I still hold the same views. Read on, if you have the patience. It's long, I warn you)

Some time back I attended a seminar on Higher Education vis a vis Globalization. A premier educational institution in the state had hosted it. The two-day seminar proved to be a very disturbing experience. It was revelation of how rhetoric can take a right about turn before our very eyes without us noticing it.

The meeting began with chief convener’s introductory speech on the ‘higher education Sector’. Yes, like public sector, private sector, energy sector, heavy vehicle sector, we now have higher education sector! Like all “sectors”, we have the producer, the stakeholder, the consumer, the commodity, profit and loss, and the eye ever straying to the bottom line!

During the entire course of the two-day seminar, no one spoke the social problems thrown up by globalization. No one spoke of the implications of globalization in a developing country like India. No one spoke of marginalization as an inevitable fall out of globalization. Not a word about formulating a Higher Education policy with the agenda to deal with the inevitable creation of a section of humanity that is likely to fall by the way side in the new order. No one had anything to say about redefining the function of higher education in India against the backdrop of the mammoth human crisis thrown up by the implementation of the triple slogan of liberalization, privatization and globalization.

But discuaaions revovled around the possibility of churning out youngsters capable of starting off with six-figure salary. God, when did this reduction of Higher Education to an industry take place? Needless to say, one does often see the product selling style of marketing education in the newspapers and at educational exhibitions. But this seminar was a platform provided by an institution which once took pride in giving leadership in inculcating social values though education; and to hear education being discussed in the language of trade and commerce alone, in paper after paper, by speaker after speaker – well , it came as something of a shock; it becomes hard to digest the fact that within the hallowed portals of this institution, all those noble thoughts associated with higher education were conspicuous by their absence, and education was allowed to be equated to mere technical expertise!

The modus operandi was interesting. Politicians and bureaucrats with their own axes to grind stole the show with their grand eloquence. While the minister waxed eloquent on his grand plan of transforming Kerala into an IT savvy state which can throw up that much valued human commodity for export, one bureaucrat spat fire and brimstones, and in high astounding terms spoke of the magnificent castles in the air that children should be taught to build, because in this cyber age these castles need no longer remain airy ones.

The outcome of the two-day programme was the ratification of the theory that mass production of highly competent professionals was the ultimate aim of higher education. All the teachers from the various colleges who came to attend the seminar were mesmerized by the sight and sound of the celebrities. No protests were raised from dissenting quarters for fear of being branded or ridiculed. Creation of individuals sensitive to human issues, social responsibilities of education -I shudder to think of the ripples of merriment that the very suggestion of these concepts would have generated in that charged atmosphere.

The papers presented by participating teachers dealt with the nature of higher education, the methods of teaching in the context of the IT revolution, globalization etc, etc. Excellently researched papers and well presented. But no one had anything to say of steering education, both higher and lower into a direction that would take the students in to the heart of terrible human issues that India of this century is bound to be beleaguered with on account of the inevitable course of liberalization that she had to take. No effort was made to enlighten this elite gathering of intellectuals on the danger of the chosen mode of development. No one drew attention to the deliberate and systematic attempts by the consortium of global corporates, to condition tastes and norms in order to successfully commodify cultures, women, poverty, everything. No mention of the need for a game plan to create a discerning mind in the younger generation in order to enable them to see through the discourse that assaults them from all sides. No word of caution against neo colonialism. Instead, all such fears were dismissed with celestial contempt as quixotic shadow boxing.

The seminar was a terrifying experience. If guardians of the high values of education speak this language and discard the other, it is time for genuine worry as to where civilization is headed. At that seminar, a silent consensus was arrived at on the definition of higher education as a tool for creation of human commodities for survival in the new order where many are bound to go under. After all isn’t that the law of nature, the survival of the fittest ? And social values are man made not nature’s or God’s, aren’t they?

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