Firstpost published an article today 1 on the fascination of Indian politicians for foreign academic degrees. The article suggests that it is not knowledge per se, that our politicians are after (no wonder there), but the apparent leg up in one’s social status that associating with the word ‘foreign’ gives, is what they seek the most. The article quotes sociologist Shiv Vishwanathan in order to arrive at the truth, “Foreign things have a status value which the swadeshi doesn’t”.
This is nothing new. From cars to booze to degrees, we Indians have been looking to the western world ever since the Crown took over our country’s administration. For economic gains and to suppress patriotic feelings, it was in the interest of the British Empire to encourage inclination for everything foreign. And that scheme worked well, especially with the affluent. As one of my History teachers in high school used to sarcastically say, “Us, kala kala Indians (dark complexioned Indians), them gorey gorey gaals (fair complexioned British); of course we thought them better”.
But then the Indians got over their slumber, ironically enough, largely due to the foreign education that enlightened the late nineteenth and early twentieth century middle and upper class intelligentsia, the effect of this renaissance trickling down to the masses, gathering momentum in the process, and presenting itself in the form of uprisings and revolts against the Crown. India even saw activism for boycotting foreign goods with the launch of the Swadeshi movement. The anti-British sentiments subsequently snowballed into our final struggle for freedom; the rest is history.
By 1947, India had seen the establishment of several educational and research institutions of repute, where notable academicians trained young minds in progressive thoughts of international standards. However, the fascination the Indians had with foreign education, faded not, especially for higher degrees, which were, as of then, not easy to pursue in the country. That is all quite understandable. India, after 200 years of bondage, attempting to take baby-steps towards development as defined by the western world, all on its own, needed time. And, the people were ready to give it.
The tragedy is, it seems, even after 67 years of independence, we are still waiting for India to deliver.
Why else, hasn’t this fascination for foreign degrees faded yet? If anything, it is on the rise, with the number of Indian students going abroad for foreign degrees increasing by as much as 256% in just 9 years (2000-2009) if we are to believe a 2012 IIM-Bangalore report2. One might, argue, if a nation’s politicians don’t consider degrees awarded by the majority of the national institutions valuable or worthy enough, what option is left for the common Indian, but to set sight overseas, even if that means the country losing out on US $17 billion on revenues annually2.
Now that we know why our dear politicos prefer ‘bilayeti’ over ‘deshi’, let’s try and probe a little deeper. Why don’t you like our national academic institutions, senor solon? The answer, it seems, is quite simple. They are not up to the mark. They do not provide ‘quality education’. Those which do have very few seats, and then again because of our reservation policies, it’s almost a gamble to try and get admitted2 (but that might not be a deterrent for the politicians; in all probability, they have quotas of their own).
There is no denying the merit in the argument. It is rather true; the quality of higher education being imparted in India, in the recent years, has had an inverse relationship with the quantity of higher education institutions being set up in the country, many of them government aided. Such severe is the crisis that a recent pan-India survey has revealed that 47% of the graduates in the country are ‘unemployable in any sector ’3.
There seems to be no end to this onion peeling, since now we must inquire into the reasons behind this deplorable state of higher education in India. There are several contributing factors, it seems, among them a prominent one being the lack of merit entering into teaching and research in the country4.
So, the wretched state of higher education in India is not because we don’t have talent to teach the students or conduct significant research, but because these talents choose, either not to take up teaching and research as their professions, or, in keeping with the aforementioned trend, to leave the country. And what maybe the reason behind this brain drain? As Vidya Naik, of NMIMS, so eloquently puts, “India definitely has the talent for original research at the highest level, but our institutions are ill equipped to support such talent – finance, facilities, incentives and ecosystems”4.
So, the root of all evil, so to speak, is gross negligence of India’s talent pool and the absence of proper encouragement for the few handfuls brave enough to venture into the uncertain and non-gratifying territory of teaching and research. And, surely enough, the repercussion of this policy, perhaps deliberately adopted by our government, is being felt, in the ongoing nationwide scholars’ protest5 – loosely termed the Hike Fellowship Movement.
So, is the government, really, deliberately encouraging brain drain? Preventing merit and talent from entering academics? It has been 67 years since our independence. Our government has failed to address our growing preoccupation with a foreign degree, in spite of incurring regular loses. This suggests a strong ‘Yes’.
Perhaps history has taught our government well. It has learned from the pages of the freedom struggle that the introduction of modern westernized education in the country was instrumental in bringing about the downfall of the British Empire. If, by encouraging talent in teaching and research, the government inadvertently sows the seeds of enlightenment among the young minds, who might, as a consequence, start asking uncomfortable questions, about our politicians’ ideas of democracy, and the functioning of our bureaucracy, the government might face an uprising, not unlike the one that got us our freedom. And nobody in power likes to get dethroned.
It is better, therefore, to put a dent in the country’s purse, encourage brain drain, and sit back and smirk at the desperation of the few striving scholars who in spite of all odds are passionately pursuing higher education in the country, eschewing the temptation of quick and assured incomes in the professional fields.
And, to mock their strife by getting a ‘foreign degree’ stamp, by any means possible – honest or otherwise.
Indeed, India is Incredible !!!
Note: The title bears the phrase ”Quiet Crisis”, which has been used by the National Knowledge Commission (India) to describe the current critical condition of higher education in India6.