The Idea of a University, a compilation of essays by teachers and academicians, is a book “located in this particular moment of history, when universities are coming to terms with the demands of nationalism,” writes Apoorvanand, the editor of the book, who is a professor of Hindi at the University of Delhi. As campuses become increasingly prominent political battlegrounds, the essays in the book seek to examine a range of subjects that concern these spaces, from the current challenges to academic freedom, the history and evolution of Indian universities, the role of educational institutions and impact of market forces, among others.
In the following excerpt, Mohammad Sajjad, a professor of history at the Aligarh Muslim University, analyses the “social histories” of the academies of higher learning in a bid to trace the evolution of the challenges facing India’s universities. Charting the decline of rural and district-level institutions as a “linear progression of migrations for better quality institutions,” Sajjad rues the ruination of provincial universities by casteism, communalism and the insular self-interests of academics. Questioning the relevance of India’s elite institutions to the social and economic challenges facing Indian societies, Sajjad writes that the lack of socially relevant research and teaching has contributed in part to society’s disaffection with “our respectable institutions.”
Expansion in the number of universities has happened more in response to the need to become socially inclusive. Simultaneously, it has also asserted the needs of the heterogeneities with regard to the purpose behind setting them up. For instance, some universities have been set up with region-specific concerns of research, enrolments and recruitments, besides undertaking documentation of ethnographic details—customs, traditions, socio-economic and educational status, dialects, languages, etc—of the local communities.