DU Dilemma: It is Neoliberalism on Offensive

Ravi Kumar

Apart from asking questions such as what was so wrong with the three year undergraduate course or with the annual academic system the developments in Delhi University need much more attention for two more reasons. Firstly, these developments will have far reaching ramifications for the future of higher education in specific and commodification of education in general in the country. Secondly, it reveals how battles against privatization and disruption of welfarist regime are being lost everyday.

Neoliberal Inroads in Higher Education

The developments in Delhi University represent the most aggressive face of neoliberalism in many ways. Firstly, it redefines the epistemology of ‘innovation’ itself, which emanates through a top-down approach rather than a decentralized practice of dialogic policy making. Ever since the issue of semesterisation it has become amply clear how the different instruments of state and decisions of judiciary combined produced an undemocratic ethos within academia. Otherwise how does on explain that the administration every time takes recourse to legal institutions – whether against strikes or for regimenting the teaching labour force?

Secondly, along with this a new avatar of the University system has emerged, which is otherwise also known to pose challenges to the established wisdom. It is an institution now where the administration (as a conglomerate of academics in power) dictates aggressively and undemocratically the new policies. It expressed through threats to faculty members if they dissented or refused to abide by the recent orders. This aggression is also evident when one is asked to make a course in two weeks time. Consequently, this does not leave any space or time for any deliberative process to take place. The new university becomes a site of authoritarian structures and value system. Surveillance using modern technology and traditional muscle power become prominent methods of control.

Thirdly, by becoming so it saturates spaces of democratic politics and expression or dissent. Symbolically, the Walls of Democracy and the increasing beautification around administrative power-centres are representatives of this increasingly non-dialogic space between those who administer and those who are administered. Hence, the darbars, where the common man is expected to grovel in front of the lord, only become a natural culmination of such a trend.

Fourthly, this is also the time when one finds an unprecedented allegiance of a section of the teaching community towards the administrative lords. It is apparent in the fact that the new structures comprise primarily of teachers who formulate and implement the repressive rules and run the University with a heavy hand. They hunt down the other colleagues. This allegiance is generally countered through a more powerful mobilization of teachers on the other side of the battle-front but that does not seem to happen and it remains a matter of concern. The required solidarities are ruptured as a depoliticized academia imbued with the same logic of an aspiring middle class facilitates the aggressive march of neoliberalism.

Lastly, this whole process is put into place to change the nature of what is to be taught and how is it to be taught. Critical aspects of education are increasingly being excluded, as the demand is more for teaching things, which can give one jobs. It seeks to put into place a system that would impart a new, safe and detheorised education, which would prepare mechanized skilled workers, if at all, for the new economy.

These are only some of the aspects of how neoliberalism can be seen in the ongoing developments in the Delhi University. Being one of the largest universities in the countries its move will become an example for states to follow and UGC has already indicated its support for it.

Lessons to learn

What is happening to the higher education institutions already happened to the school institutions in a certain sense. They were ruthlessly destroyed through putting an unsaid blanket ban on appointment of regular teachers. Their curriculum development and, in many cases, teaching itself is outsourced to private companies. Teachers are not consulted and socio-cultural or political contexts of the sites of teaching-learning are neglected in pedagogical and curricular aspects. In other words, there is a non-dialogic and undemocratic process in which educational institutions are run. When the lakhs of contractual teachers across states protest to make the system more accountable they are beaten up brutally. This has been continuing for more than a decade now.

The University system is under attack now. What to teach and how to teach is being decided if not by private companies as in case of schools then by a handful of people in Delhi University without taking into account the pros and cons of what kind of learning process will it produce. What kind of workers would come out of it remains to be seen. If the education system as a whole is under attack should its constituents such as the teachers not have built bridges and expressed more than mere sporadic gestures of concern. In the new situation the solidarity of the labour force (teachers in this case) is under attack. It is no surprise that the case for biometric attendance argues that if Delhi University had such a system in place the teachers would not have tried to “engage students and members of the public against proposed changes in the curriculum.” Inbuilt into these moves, which are endorsed by the state and its other instruments, is the idea to weaken and destroy all forms of solidarities within the system so that new policies could be implemented without any hiccups. With the growing number of private institutions (and lots of state institutions) one finds that the collective bodies of students and teachers do not exist. In such a situation, which will grow much more acute, it is important to realize for teachers that neoliberal stage of capitalism necessitates a much serious solidarity to encounter its aggression.