Earlier this month, three foreign academic publishers sued two foreign websites for copyright infringement in a case before the Delhi High Court.
Elsevier, Wiley, and American Chemical Society, among the world’s largest publishers of academic papers, wanted the court to block Sci-Hub and LibGen, the largest providers of ‘free downloads’ of their content in India.
This case is important because it can have a significant impact on the broader research, academic and education environment in India.
Education entitled as basic human right:
Education neither a privilege nor favour but a basic human right to which all are entitled to be. “In our culturally plural society, education should foster universal and eternal values, oriented towards the unity and integration of our people. Such value education should eliminate obscurantism, religious fanaticism, violence, superstition and fatalism.”
India’s huge pool of young people might be considered its biggest strength. Unfortunately, India is far from having its act together when it comes to figuring out how to educate these young people.
Government data suggests that only one out of every seven children born in India goes to college. What’s more, the nation suffers from both a crippling quantity, as well as a quality, challenge when it comes to higher education.
Applying “global” standards to higher education:
- The recent litigations against Scihub and Libgen by Elsevier, Wiley and ACS bring us to a moment of many realisations about control and governance of knowledge in academia.
- In the latter half of the 20th century, globalisation led to the imperative of applying “global” standards to higher education.
- As global standards have been unofficially understood as the prevailing practices in American and European institutions, this has posed a serious dilemma for institutions in the global south.
- Such parameters are often not compatible with the educational systems that have historically evolved in countries like India, with a colonial past and a persisting “non-industrial” present.
- Precise point-based measurements currently applied to measure knowledge production appear to be misplaced in knowledge ecosystems of the global south.
- Moreover, the larger question, whether such precise measurements, akin to parameters measuring industrial productivity, help in assessing the relevance of knowledge created and disseminated in any societal context, including those with an industrial culture like in Europe and America, remains unanswered.
- In India, UGC has been the regulatory body responsible for maintaining standards in higher education, while addressing challenges of globalisation.
- Processes of UGC mandated “standardisation” have in particular impacted social sciences and humanities research in Indian universities.
- Over the years, UGC has linked institutional funding to ranking and accreditation systems like NAAC and NIRF.
- In order to evaluate institutions, these bodies have evolved “objective” criteria, which rank universities based on faculty research measured by citations in global journal databases like SCOPUS.
- In comparison, importance granted to research outputs like books or other forms is declining.
Need of the Hour: Regulatory and governance reforms:
- Restructure or merge different higher education regulators (UGC, AICTE, NCTE etc.) to ensure effective coordination.
- Amend UGC Act to give legislative backing to regulatory structure.
- Allow foreign institutions to operate joint degree programmes with Indian institutions.
- Link University grants to performance.
- Select Vice-Chancellors of universities through a transparent & objective process.
Broaden the scope of Massive Open Online Course (MOOCs) and Open and Distance Learning (ODL) to provide access to quality education beyond geographical boundaries.
All central universities should develop strategic plans for getting into the top 500 global universities rankings in the next 10 years.
Funding to these institutions should be linked to performance and outcomes through the MHRD and newly constituted Higher Education Funding Agency.
The goals of the higher education, for that matter any education system of any country is expansion with inclusion, ensuring quality and relevant education.
To meet these challenges, there is a need for policy to identify the jet issues involved, to build up on the earlier policies, and to take a step ahead.
Indian higher education requires reforms, but the latter need to be cognisant of the reality of higher education in India.
Regulations without facilitation will merely bureaucratise the governance of knowledge without generating any pathbreaking insights.
While the UGC hopes to raise the standards to global levels, precarity of employment, longer teaching hours, a dismal student-teacher ratio, lack of sabbaticals, research and travel grants, access to research facilities and office space, adversely impact the research potential of teachers.
Unfortunately, in the era of the hegemony of finance capital, governments globally are under pressure to cut back on expenditure on public institutions, including educational.
“Regulating” research needs to be replaced with “facilitating” research, allowing minds to think and gestate.