Redefining University Education in light of NEP 2020

University is a place where people go in search of knowledge and wisdom, ideals and values, get engaged in the serious task of pursuing knowledge, investigating truth, cultivating high ideals, and imbibing right values
"I submit that University is not the ivory tower of the sanctified scholar but a watch tower for the scrutiny and appraisal of the forces having impact on our social life."
"I submit that University is not the ivory tower of the sanctified scholar but a watch tower for the scrutiny and appraisal of the forces having impact on our social life." File/ GK

Universities are the laboratories of educational and intellectual innovations. It aims at individual emancipation while showing respect to the value of goodness, efficiency and excellence tempered with vigorous pursuit of truth. I submit that University is not the ivory tower of the sanctified scholar but a watch tower for the scrutiny and appraisal of the forces having impact on our social life.

It is the business of those who direct and teach in Universities to ask themselves seriously : Why are the times “ out of joint” with them? Why do the students seem drifted and intolerant? Why people are intrinsically unhappy and victim of free floating anxiety inspite of material plenty? Why forces of  social  cohesiveness are drifting apart and a deep mistrust and suspiciousness defines our relations ? Should university teachers be mute spectators of these heart-wrenching  happening or face the issues courageously.

Our universities have generally considered the imparting of instruction to be far more important than the formation of right attitudes. In the modern world which is dynamic the “single track “mind is peculiarly out of place as an instrument of adjustment. During my interaction with the students I asked them what are the objectives of university education and gave them an assignment to write an essay on the vision and mission of their university.

While evaluating the response sheets of the students I found maximum number of students are in a state of mental inertia , they could not put their argument in a coherent manner and their sentences were framed in cuts and bits with no logical connectivity, a reflection of intellectual shallowness. 70% of the  interacted  students  narrowly viewed  the objective of education as vocational efficiency and offering job-oriented courses.

Special arrangement

In the light of new education policy 2020 Universities should be committed to the creation of a system that would provide the right kind of an atmosphere  where new ideas would flourish  so that an inquisitive learner finds the right ambience to have a mind that is opened by wonder rather than one that is closed by dogmatic belief.

What this world requires is the alert and quickened  mind which can grapple with new problems as they evolve –neither naively embracing all that is new nor lazily cherishing all that is old, but weighing both in the scales of critical intellect. I am convinced that development of such an intellect must be regarded as the highest goal of university education.

My point is that when people lack vision they perish and it is essentially the function of the university to give them vision of better things –vision which is ingrained in scientific temper rather than clouded by mental stupidity and sloth. The evil that is in men comes of sluggish minds which are nurtured in a cocoon of self-centeredness.

If through our universities we can develop the twin qualities of a fearless intelligence and an all-inclusive charity there is some likelihood of retrieving humanity from the pit into which it has fallen otherwise against stupidity the very gods are powerless and when it is allied to narrowness and intolerance by choking the voice of dissent the results are inevitably disastrous.

Intellectual freedom in our universities must be defended at all costs. When university students are not inspired with the thought of adventuring with ideas  or the desire for the intelligent study of social problems but confined to passing certain prescribed examinations like NET/JRF  for getting appointed as lecturers the entire objective of university education is defeated.

A  university  is  a  place  where people go in search of knowledge and wisdom, ideals and values  and  we  should  expect  the  stakeholders to  be  engaged in  the  serious  task  of  pursuing  knowledge,  investigating truth, cultivating high ideals, and imbibing right values.

A university fails in its primary task if it allows its students to develop obscurantism in thought, dogmatism in belief, narrowness in vision, and coarseness in manners. If the university gives shelter to the forces of falsehood and darkness, where shall we look for truth and light? 

It is unfortunately true that our generation has not been exemplary in high standards of orderliness, discipline, and integrity and there is a growing coarseness, vulgarity and apathy in our public life. With muzzled voice we are witness to the instances  where truth is suppressed without any feeling of guilt and falsehood is displayed with pride; where merit and intelligence are discarded and incompetence and stupidity are rewarded ‘where guilt is protected and innocence is allowed to  suffer without any qualms;  where extravagance in public expenditure is allowed to co-exist with privation and  starvation, and where advocacy of high principles in public is accompanied by narrow-mindedness and pettiness in private life. Our mind is obsessed with material values and  these have numbed  our finer sensibilities and distorted our vision.

There is no revulsion of feeling when we are  confronted  with  vulgarity;  no  aching  of feeling of hearts  when  we see  poverty, sorrow,  and  suffering; and no scruples in sacrificing public  good   for   the  promotion  of personal interests. Having banished God and religion both in our public and private life, we have not yet discovered substitute controls to curb our animal desires and to elevate us to a higher and nobler plane of life.

If in this climate the younger generation, instead of dedicating themselves to the fulfillment of high ideals, turn to cynicism we should not find fault with them.  Nor is it any use blaming the older generation. In their youthful days they had their share of suffering and sacrifice. If they now show signs of exhaustion, it is the responsibility of the younger generation to take up the torch.

The real problem before us is how to get out of the present situation which is killing the spirit and the creative urge of youth. There is no easy road to human progress and youth must be prepared  to undergo pain  and  privation  in carrying  on  a  relentless struggle against  those evils which corrode our society.  

One is often required to make choices between narrow personal interests and the  larger  interests of the community. The claims of the family and relations compel one to compromise one’s ideals of integrity and character. 

If we yield to these pressures and temptations  as many men and women are doing  today,  we may satisfy our  narrow  personal  interests  but  by  doing  so  we will  further   vitiate  the  atmosphere. If we are genuinely interested in arresting the moral degeneration of our society, instead  of emulating evil, we have to develop in our lives an integrating principle which will harmonize  conflicting interests. Youth gets into difficulties because it yields to momentary impulses without  reflecting  on  principles  and ideals. 

If people give even a moment’s thought to the consequences which  may follow hasty action there would be fewer  crimes. Our   education  is incomplete  unless  you  have developed the habit of reflection, of weighing pros and cons and balancing conflicting interests,  before jumping into action.  The habit  of reflection acts  as a  check or  censor when any interest tends to exceed bounds. 

Like a sentinel it watches every passing interest or impulse examines its credentials and permits its entry only if it is not in conflict with the totality of interests. The story of human civilization is the story of a continuous fight against the forces of tyranny, fanaticism, ignorance, poverty, and disease. There is no dearth  of idealism among  our  youth  but they lack the will to translate  it into action. 

They become apathetic and in the absence  of  strong  inner  resistances, yield to temptations. In times of crisis the majority of people  respond to the call of their leaders  in  a  spirit  of  enthusiastic  dedication   but they revert to egocentric behavior when  they find that a spirit of service is lacking among their leaders.      

The real problem before universities today is, therefore, to  develop  greater  moral   strength  among  the youth  so that they may not lose heart  even when they have to  drive  a  lonely furrow. It is likely that  in  the  struggle against  evil the individual may suffer, but through his sacrifice  he will release forces which will help in  the  regeneration of society and ultimately lead to the victory of truth and goodness. 

For strengthening the  moral  fibre of  our  youth,  it  is essential that while  they are at the university they should have a clear picture of the society of the future and of their own role in shaping its destiny. In order that they may be inspired to dedicate themselves to the realization of the goals and purposes formulated by society, youth must also have a share in the assigning of these goals.  

They will show a sense of responsibility only to the extent that they are convinced of the worthiness of the goals they pursue. If they are regarded by their teachers as creative individuals they will, in turn, provide the power which will energize the social machinery.

The failure or success of a university should, therefore, be judged by the extent to which it releases the energies of youth for a creative and useful life. The struggle against evil is incessant and formidable.

When we find that in spite of our sincere efforts, the forces of evil are becoming more powerful, the best of us may lose courage.   There are occasions when we feel forlorn, but these are the moments which test our strength.  

If we have developed sufficient resources, we can always fall back on them in times of crisis and draw strength and inspiration from them. At  the university there are opportunities  to develop the inner resources and vision which enable one to face difficulties with fortitude,  to remain calm and unperturbed  in sorrow and  suffering, to maintain mental poise when faced with failure and frustration,  to exercise self-restraint when there are temptations, and to pursue one’s goal  with tenacity.

It is the privilege of man alone in all God’s creation to tap his inner resources when there is no light  in the outside world. These inner resources cannot be developed all of a sudden. We have to cultivate them early in life as cultivate our body and muscles.

Both knowledge and goodness must be pursued simultaneously, since the former without the latter is dangerous just as the latter without the former is ineffective.  While you are in the temple of learning you have not only to pay obeisance to the goddess  of learning but also to offer sacrifice at the altar of the goddess  of goodness.

The human race has taken thousands of years to reach the present stage of civilization. The beast in man is still alive and raises its monstrous head again and again with a threat to destroy the civilization. In  the short span of life our generation has not only to consolidate the gains of thousands of years but with vision and strength of character we have to take civilization one step further.

If you allow the beast in you to overpower us and indulge in passions and activities which degrade human nature the process of civilization will come to a halt and we will delay the dawn of a new era in which man will be nearer to God than to nature. The choice is ours; but do not forget that the stakes are high. 

If the universities throw a searchlight inwards, they will find that the depersonalization of the relationship between students and faculty members is an important factor which is responsible for the present unrest.  

Many Teachers consider themselves as “employees” of the university and there is neither identification with the institution nor emotional commitment to work for it.   Furthermore, the academic courses which students pursue have no relationship with pressing national or international problems and fail to  give them real meaning and purpose in  life.

With renewed faith we have to  reconstruct the very foundation of university life by making it morally sensitive to the conditions of our time and by continuously invoking the participation of faculty members and students more and more towards a community of effort and purpose.  

This requires a reconsideration and revision of the social and human organization of university life. In the post-independence period our main emphasis has been on the training of skilful administrators, engineers, scientists, and technologists,  but  we have done little to improve the character  and integrity of men.

The greatest  need of our society today is not merely to produce able  administrators and  professionals  but  men who have the courage to be outspoken  in the face of  political  pressures; who will be able to resist the temptation of using their office for  personal  gain; who will be highly sensitive  to moral  values and who can differentiate between justice and injustice,  good  and  evil in  sharp  outlines. The universities in our country  have remained aloof too long from the main currents of public activity.   

As a result of this isolation,  scholars  spend a good deal of their  time in conducting research in trivial subjects but vital matters relating  to  public  administration, economic issues, and international relations  which deeply concern  the future  of our   society  are   hardly   touched   by  them.   Universities must   be   more   society-oriented   if   the health   of   both universities and society is to be restored.  

They must occasionally   come out   of   the   rarefied   atmosphere   of intellectual abstraction and become observers and critics of our society.  Universities in the modern world have to strike a balance between involvement and withdrawal. With all the knowledge and wisdom of  the  past at  its  disposal it should be in  a position  to inject into  our present anemic society,  a vision of the future and to  function as a midwife  for the  birth   of  a  new  society.  

The challenges which intellectuals face  today have to be met not merely by the intellect but also by moral integrity, and a  clear awareness of  the  true   purpose  of human life  to build a  new social order. To conclude the ideal of the university as I visualize it should be the creation of a vigorous intellectual and cultural environment where the best and most creative minds will find a welcome refuge for their rigorous research and where a constantly renewed stream of young men and women will be trained to be send out as the heralds and prophets of progressive social , political and moral values.

They will be engaged no doubt in their different and specific callings but to the performance of all their work- whether social, vocational or political -they will bring a characteristic attitude of mind which will think and act above the statistical plane of profit and loss- an intelligence that is keen and intolerant of hypocrisy, an empathetic heart disqualifying face valuation. This argument justifies the dire need of establishment of Department of Philosophy at our universities .

Note: Dedicated to my teachers Prof A .G Madhosh, Prof A .H Zargar, Prof G R Malik, Prof M. A Khan , Prof M I Mattoo, Prof M .Y Ganie   & Prof Tasleema Jan, Prof Shafiqa Parveen, Prof Neelofar Khan, Prof Nahid Ruhee

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