Why Collaboration between Varsities and Private Industry will be a Catastrophe for Social Justice Projects in Higher Edu Research

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Recently, Mamidala Jagadesh Kumar, chairman of the University Grant Commission (UGC), wrote an article, “How universities and industry can collaborate,” which advocates that higher education institutions and industries should establish a mutually beneficial relationship. Particularly, industries in specific fields should partner with research groups from diverse universities within the common field to stay updated with new research advancements.

At first reading his opinion, it stands as a substantial and desirable intervention in the larger discourse of making research more solution- and practical-orientated. However, prior to this, we must understand that public institutions primarily manage higher education research, and allowing private stakeholders in this field will produce an exclusive ecosystem where researchers from marginalised backgrounds cannot participate.

Several policy and institutional interventions have been made during the last decade based on the liberal education model. One could find ample evidence that since the BJP government came into power, they have been keen to transfer the regulations and management of research to private players and reduce state-based research funding.

For instance, the Central Government discontinued the Maulana Azad National Fellowship (MANF) for minority students and pre-Matric scholarships from classes I to VIII for students from the SC, ST, OBCs and minority communities. The series of such state-led decisions should not be seen only as an agenda to propagate the ideological commitment of the ruling BJP government; instead, we should see such interventions in the broader politics of privatisation of education and production of exclusive learning institutions where the mechanics of neo-liberalisation will keep away marginalised communities from accessing the higher education research.

Such exclusionary and discriminatory attitudes towards marginalised groups also uncover how the central government is reproducing inequality by allowing private stakeholders in higher education research. In this article, I attempt to highlight the two critical concerns of higher education research that have received inadequate attention from stakeholders. First, why are fellowships and grants to conduct research still important agendas among the marginalised research community? Second, how will the growing privatisation of higher education in India dismantle the egalitarian ethos of the education system?

Why Research Fellowship Matters

For a long time, MPhil/PhD researchers from marginalised backgrounds have been demanding to increase their fellowship amount. From the Twitter campaign to the Occupy UGC movement, fellowships have been an important agenda for progressive students’ solidarity groups. The recent announcement by the UGC of increasing research fellowships can be considered a welcoming step to ensure financial support to researchers in higher education institutions. However, the fellowship amount is still comparatively lower than other research institutions in the global North.

In the last two decades, we can find a significant change in the demography of students’ social backgrounds in higher education primarily because of affirmative action policies. On the one hand, affirmative action policies have reduced the structural and institutional barriers for marginalised caste students to enter higher education institutions.

On the other hand, the post-entry conditions still need to be addressed. In this context, the fellowship has emerged as a significant support system that encourages students from marginalised castes to enter the predominantly casteist space of higher education research. However, the ongoing structural attack on research fellowships and funding is evident enough to argue how anti-social justice central government is.

To maintain the caste status quo in university spaces, the central government is trying its best by holding the disparity in fellowships, making technical institutions exclusively a protected space for socially privileged students, and privatising educational institutions. In doing so, the government attempts to reproduce exclusion and segregation among researchers along the socio-religious identities. For instance, when Rohith Vemula was protesting for social justice at the Hyderabad University campus, the university administration suspended his Rs 25,000 fellowships, which forced him to commit suicide.

Many reported incidents present the exclusive landscape of higher education research. One could argue that doing research in India is only possible when you are strong enough to support your financial status during your studies. Many marginalised students shared about the delay in the sanction of fellowship, where they are supposed to wait months to get their fellowships. There is optimism and trust in the public education system where marginalised groups live in the hope that the state will ensure all possible ways to access higher education Institutions; however, the current government seems to promote privatisation in higher education where accessibility of education will depend on the individuals' social-economic capitals.

Privatisation of Higher Education Research vs. Social Justice Project

In the post-1990s, India witnessed the retreat of the state from welfare politics. However, the degree of retreat has been more significant in the past decades when the ruling government has made several policy initiatives and decisions that have changed the structure of higher education institutions in India. The growing number of private universities and liberalised models of higher education evidently support the argument that the future of social justice in higher education will be a utopia for marginalised groups. Statistically speaking, India’s roughly 43 per cent of higher education institutions are private and deemed, and the rest belong to state and central-funded universities and colleges.

With such a considerable number of private institutions, the research intakes in such institutions are limited and closed for marginalised social groups. As of now, private institutions in India are not obligated to implement constitutionally mandated affirmative action policies; students from SCs, STS, and OBCs are solely dependent on publicly funded universities and institutions. In this context, the state’s disassociation from welfare measures like fellowships, grants, and institutional support to marginalised groups will lead to the reproduction of social inequality in institutions of higher learning. The neoliberal higher education model is detrimental to institutional diversity and the inclusive representation of marginal groups in knowledge production.

The Way Forward

In order to establish a knowledge society that is welcoming and egalitarian, we must ensure that individuals from marginalised communities have significant representation and recognition when it comes to accessing research institutions. To achieve this goal, the state must intervene in the allocation of financial support, such as fellowships and grants, to researchers belonging to socially marginalised groups. This will enable them to participate in research activities without financial difficulties during their research work.

- Author Vidyasagar Sharma is a PhD Candidate at the Faculty of Sociology, Bielefeld University, Germany. His research focuses on affirmative action policies, belonging, higher education and social justice.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this text belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or policies of any institution or organization associated with him.

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