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Neoliberal, post-modern ideological 'hijack' of India's higher education system

By Paramjit Singh* 

Education, under the rule of late capitalism, is institutionalized into helping the rich prevail at the expense of everybody else. If we try to locate the education system through a historical materialistic perspective, then it is designed to meet the interests of the economic and political ruling classes of any particular time.
From time to time, internal and external forces bring about changes in the economic and political ruling class or in their ideology which automatically transpires into changes in the education structure. With the advent of neoliberal capitalism in India in 1991, the crisis in the education system has deepened. The mounting crisis is an outcome of two important changes.
First, the subjugation of the education system, educationists and students under the economic logic of capitalism that is neoliberalism. Second, their subjugation under cultural logic of capitalism, namely postmodernism.
Neoliberalism and postmodernism have together created a scenario where the young students are convinced that there are only two alternatives available; first is the cult of existing power structure where the student builds brick by brick a lucrative career, working as an open associate of the ruling classes, while the other is the nihilist cult of short-lived reactions, where students immerse themselves into dazzling but directionless rebellions.
Neoliberalism has transformed higher education into a profit earning commodity. This commodification of education in India, is richly rewarding for the capitalists given the size of Indian higher education market. Each year, millions of young students (or customers) enter this market to get education.
Now, the price (fee) of each type of education is determined by the possibilities of employment under the neoliberal capitalist system. In this context, new courses are regularly introduced and the curriculum of existing course revised as per the requirements of the labour market. Neoliberalism has given birth to an intensive competition among those who are inspired to become a part of the capitalist economic system.
In this context, neoliberal ideology has successfully replaced the ‘interest’ of students and parents with the cost of degree, time required to complete it and rewarding employment possibilities (mostly in terms of material or power) after attaining the degree. Bulk of the students are victims of the economic logic of late capitalism. They enter into esteemed colleges and universities to earn a degree that can take them near to the economic and political ruling classes.
One group of these students take the aspirational road to become a civil servant. Each year over a million young aspirants appear in these exams to become a part of the coveted bureaucracy. In these exams neoliberal logic of filtration works. From appearing to becoming a part of bureaucracy their number falls from millions to hundreds.
Subsequently, the aspirant turned officer – with honorable exceptions – is seldom able to break away from the rigid and rigged system, perhaps ignorant of the fact that under the capitalist system, not only the bureaucracy but the political class too is recruited to serve not the common masses but the economic bosses.
The fate of the second group of students taking routes to material richness other than bureaucracy is more or less the same. In-fact, there is perhaps roughly an equal proportion of institutionalization of employees to serve and strengthen the economic elites in the corporate sector, in politics, in the media (from paid news to fixing deals) and even professional service firms (consultants who aid tax evasion to those who lobby for it) and so on.
While neoliberalisation of the education structure in India has transformed a majority of the students into associates of capitalism through its economic logic, there are still those who want to fight the system and not be enslaved by it. At least not directly. For them and their kind, late capitalism has employed another strategy that has targeted the curriculum in higher education.
This strategy represents the cultural logic of late capitalism also known as postmodernism. The 1980s were the boom time for postmodern ideology in Western education. This movement, first seized the higher education systems of North America and Western Europe and then gradually spread to the third world countries including India.
Crisis of higher education is an outcome of disappearance of critical pedagogy and any real discourse on broader struggles against capitalism
In addition to Ihab Hassan, who was one of its principal propagandists, the work of Foucault, Derrida, Lyotard, Deleuze and Guattari has strengthened the foundations of postmodernism in higher education. Since 1991, the invasion of Indian higher education by postmodernist thinking has resulted in and intensified the all-encompassing individualism – personal freedom has overshadowed societal wellbeing – a mindset or temperament that necessarily makes one believe that liberty is closer to selfishness and economic inequality is not so bad.
Despite their disagreements, postmodernist discourse negates metanarratives, presented by Hegel, Marx and Freud, to understand the dynamics of societal progress as an integrated whole. Hence, postmodernism is nothing but an anti-thesis of grand narrative. With metanarratives, ethics and value, and any appeals to ‘truth’ scuppered, postmodernism reflects a certain celebration of aimless anarchism in the contemporary pedagogy.
Hence, postmodernism, like in other parts of the world, has made education in India more consumerist, fragmented, media-saturated (hyperreal) and pluralist. The postmodern thinkers present this whole new narrative in a special sophisticated language that exudes a sense of superior intellect.
It attributes the highest importance to ‘language’ in educational and theoretical discussions. Indeed, it has transformed teaching and research in India into a depthless, ideology-free, history-free, fragmentary, heterogeneous, surfaced and individualistic discourse.
In postmodernist methodological discourse that rules over the contemporary education system in India and elsewhere, economic exploitation, economic inequality, poverty, misery, class analysis and class struggle, which are central points to understand the capitalist system have disappeared and replaced by issues of identity, race, caste, religion, gender, free voice, personal freedom, environment, etc.
We would like to emphasize that there is no doubt that all the above issues are important and need to be addressed. But the fundamental problem is that, when postmodern methodology is employed to understand these questions, it divorces the intellectual discourse from the egalitarian project of progressive emancipation of society and ends up in radical separatism.
Since 1991, a group of teachers, researchers, and students in Indian universities who want to make the Indian society a better place to live in, have been hijacked by this ‘false consciousness’ created by postmodernism.
They follow the postmodern mode of protest and dissent which is acceptable to the economic logic of late capitalism because their dissent neither comprehensively critiques nor challenges it. The progressive teachers, researchers and students think that they are struggling for social change and no doubt they are, however, the root cause of all the problems i.e., capitalist system does not effectively become the subject of critique in their struggle. Because capitalist system is not a subject of their critique, the alternative to capitalism is also not a subject of their debates, deliberations and struggles.
Hence, the crisis of higher education in India is an outcome of the disappearance of critical pedagogy and any real discourse on the broader struggles against capitalism which is the root cause of all oppressions.
The neoliberal and postmodernist ideological hijack of the Indian higher education system has been exploiting (both economically and mentally) teachers, researchers, students and in a way the whole society. It has not only transformed education into a tradable commodity but also diluted the path of discourse from fundamental to surficial questions.
In this whole process, on one hand, the crisis of higher education system is deepening and on the other, capitalist system has escaped from discourse and critique. It is important today, for intellectuals, teachers, researchers, and students to see beyond the veil of postmodern ideology and the charms of neoliberal capitalism.
In order to bring higher education out of crisis, we need an alternative paradigm that can bring back critique of the capitalist system into intellectual discourse. For this, we must carry out a radical revolution in our ideas through a long, painful and difficult re-education.
---
*Assistant Professor, Department of Economics, Panjab University, Chandigarh. Inputs: Pargat Singh

Comments

Bernard Kohn said…
Many people who write interesting articles like Paramjit Singh, on education
make wordy yet interesting analysis, but offer NO PROPOSAL OR POSSIBLE SOLUTION.
This is a worldwide dilemma, but strong in India....
He, in his article could refer to all kind of existing educational alternatives! But no, the article just end there!
We could imagine thru the Counterview blog that we could initiate a debate.
Education is such a critical subject, now becoming wordy, wordy, and more wordy, away from doing, figuring out, investigating...., manual dexterity which also initiates thinking!

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