The strange case of global university rankings and need to decolonize Indian universities curricula

“In 2023, India topped the total overseas higher education expenditure at a whopping $60 billion, followed by China at $40 million.”

By Om Prakash Dwivedi

There is a thin line between fact and fiction. Yet, fiction can become fact, and fact a far-fetched fiction. Fact can be constructed and, therefore, can also be manipulated, whereas fiction mostly accounts for imagination and the subsequent hope for a better future. Much as we know about this, little we have done collectively to diminish the prejudiced facts that distort and marginalize the Indian higher education system, explicitly tying our imagination with the Western ideological underpinnings. Dominated as it is, largely by the Left-liberal narratives, Western theories and ideas continue to underline Higher education in India, misrepresenting its positionality in the global world. The reasons are not emancipatory rather are rooted in the self-serving agenda.

Such strategic narratology poses several pressing issues that need to be addressed to liberate the Indian Higher education system from the apocryphal storytelling of the West, aided and abetted by the distorted ranking systems. In fact, it would not be wrong to question such global rankings, which only work to position and embolden Western education higher up the ranks while diminishing and constantly questioning the ethos and value of the Indian higher education system.

- Advertisement -

The data available to corroborate this ongoing collusion between the ranking systems and neocolonial structures of higher education systems explains the higher rate of migration of Indian students to overseas countries in pursuit of a better education. As per the International Consultants for Education and Fairs (ICEF), “the number of Indian students enrolled in foreign higher education institutions (HEIs) is expected to reach 20 lakh by 2025, up from the 7.7 lakh students who studied overseas in 2023.” Likewise, the Business Standard points out: “In 2023, India topped the total overseas higher education expenditure at a whopping $60 billion, followed by China at $40 million.” In the same vein, the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM) mentions that “students choosing to move abroad for higher education cost India about $17 billion a year in lost revenue.”

The figure is overwhelming and so is the financial loss suffered by India due to this mass migration. Neither I aim to cast aspersions on the quality of higher education that Western Universities offer nor do I intend to subscribe to any model of rectitude. Western universities have their merits and one cannot contest that. My concern, however, is about the way narratives are controlled, constructed, and stoked, painting the entire higher education system in India in a negative and dismal shade, thereby offering an alternative to moving to Western universities.

Consequently, the modern Indian continues to be intrigued by the Western education model. The degree of fascination with the Western ways is such that such can easily qualify as its bhakt. Bhakti has various shades and colours. After all, bhakts can also be those who love to see and imagine everything white-centric. But our colonized ways of thinking have made us blind to this other colour of bhakti so deep-rooted and pervasive in our quotidian postcolonial life. Rankings legitimize and narrativize a rhapsodizing image of Western universities undermining Indian universities and Indian Knowledge systems (IKS).

Energized with this other side of the white bhakti, Ramchandra Guha claims that Narendra Modi has undermined the practice of science in India. In yet another piece, Yamini Aiyar, the chief executive for Policy Research, New Delhi Aiyar Yamini desperately tries to demonstrate the intellectual feebleness of India’s education systems to the leading UK journal Nature, by claiming that the “future of Indian Science is on the ballot.” When rebutted by the eminent writer and critic, Amit Sarwal, with facts, Nature was quick to divert its lens of critique to social sciences, which also turned out to be a flawed one, teeming with a sense of overdomineering and condescending prejudiced voice that cannot digest the rise of India on the global map.

This caricatured understanding of Indian universities is largely a result of our fanatical disavowal of Indian Knowledge systems (IKS). The mantle of certifying Indian universities and Indian intellectuals is still rooted in the West, a privilege granted to them. These virtue-signalling gestures and practices of Western ideology need broadside responses from our educationalists and higher education leaders. We need creative and dialogic spaces to disseminate and promote Indian Knowledge Systems to counter the sloganeering of the competence deficit that grips our higher education space.

The insularity of the West needs to be contested with the critical fecundity of the IKS. In my recent interaction with the visionary higher education leader from Lucknow, Er. Pooja Agarwal, emphasized the urgency to stand the scrutiny of the Western narratives by curating and promoting our narratives from the IKS. She expressed her concerns about the mental squeamishness towards our own history and culture and the subsequent veneration of the Western education system. Driving home the point of higher education regeneration in India, she expressed the need to be more rooted while treading the path of modernity, thus proposing a need to decolonize our minds, curricula, and pedagogy. The intellectual fortitude that Er. Agarwal advocates is sadly amiss in the ethos of our higher education model, barring a few scholars and leaders. How to trigger this decolonial moment? How to mark a shift and attention to our narratives?

- Advertisement -

The rise of the Indian higher education system needs not only institutional revival but also intellectual revival and, that should be done with a blend of modernity and ancient wisdom. Modernity needs to be wedded to ancient wisdom to ensure a sustainable model of the future. That is why the National Education Policy (NEP) promotes IKS. In his effort to sensitize higher education teachers and leaders about IKS, the UGC Chairman, Mamidala Jagadesh Kumar announced that “In collaboration with the IKS cell established by the Ministry of Education, UGC is now training 1,000 teachers from across India in IKS to familiarize faculty members with the nuances of the IKS. …We do not want IKS to be taught as a separate subject. It should be integrated into the regular curricula where possible.”

Can we have a decolonial movement in our universities – not rejecting any traditions based on their origin, but analyzing them to see if these models serve longer goals? Can we have open spaces for dialogical thinking in universities, debating epistemological tools available in different knowledge traditions?

Contributing Author: Om Prakash Dwivedi tweets @opdwivedi82. His interests lie in the field of postcolonial theory.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The Australia Today is not responsible for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information in this article. All information is provided on an as-is basis. The information, facts, or opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of The Australia Today and The Australia Today News does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

Support Our Journalism

‘Global Indian Diaspora and Australia’s multicultural communities need fair, non-hyphenated, and questioning journalism, packed with on-ground reporting. The Australia Today – with exceptional reporters, columnists, and editors – is doing just that. Sustaining this needs support from wonderful readers like you.

Whether you live in Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada, the United States of America, or India you can take a paid subscription by clicking Patreon and support honest and fearless journalism.