Higher Education Worldwide: The diversifying and multiplying scenario


By Amar Yumnam
Attending the Indo-Global Education Summit in Delhi during 4 and 5 of November of 2011 has been an enhancing experience personally as well as a depressing one socially; similar summits are being organised for Bangalore and Mumbai as well. We all know that the world is now going through one of the most difficult times in history with economic recoveries in the United States of America being slower than expected and fears of Europe getting plunged into a whirlpool of economic crises. But the silver lining is that the worlds of academics as exemplified by the various universities, particularly the ones in Europe and North America, are sustaining their academic spirits and refusing to be bogged down by the economic downturns. In this process, the universities in China are doing better than the universities in any of the emerging economies. It is rather that they are capitalising on the prevailing crises and consolidating their existence with stronger footholds on the emerging and yet to emerge demands of a fast changing socio-eco-technological world.  

Evolution to the Next Stage: Whereas I have been to quite a few universities around the globe witnessing their facilities, coverage, atmosphere for faculty and students and the overall contextualisation of their approaches to both global demands and regional needs and thus help in shaping the world, the recently held summit has added further insight and updated information on the ways the various universities in the world, right from Nigeria to Wyoming in the United States of America through the universities in the Philippines, Spain, etc., are evolving. In India in general and particularly in our part of the world, we are so much submerged into the conventional and conservative approaches into the approaches and boundaries of disciplines that anything new is considered to be criminal and we are so prompt in attacking new proposals without application of mind and without proposing anything new alternatives either. We are yet to realise that there can be multiples of marriages across traditionally unthought of lines. It is reassuring from the global perspective to see that university in Nigeria has programmes on Development Practice. The universities in Europe and the United States of America have programmes combining Engineering and Fine Arts. Combining music courses with architecture are not unthinkable. Further, with the increasing complexity of our world, there is the rising need to widen the intellectual base of our gradutes. But if one proposes something like this in our part of the world, it would be as if the sky has fallen and the scientific academics would hammer out as if the whole education system has been murdered. This is happening in a world where the very status and level of elevation of the conventional disciplines and the social contextualisation by the very scientific members of the community would be questionable.

Diversification, Multiplication and New Marriages: Here it would be necessary on our part to ponder why the universities in Europe and America are diversifying into newer areas of studies, multiplying the fields of specialisation and affecting altogether new marriages across disciplines. In order to respond to these issues, it would be necessary to recall the fact that the only static virtue is the virtue of change; change is the fundamental rule of existence which has refused to be altered and will forever refuse to be altered. The onus for living up to the challenges thrown up and around by the continuous changes falls us. We have to continually subject to revisions our way of perceiving the things, understanding the events and reorient our disciplines of studies in order to rise to the changing nature of occasion.

It is in keeping with this principle that almost all the competitive universities in the world have evolved newer and newer disciplines over the years. With the changes occurring continually, the traditional disciplines become increasingly wanting in their ability to address the issues, provide relevant answers and guide the society to a higher order. In other words, the traditional disciplines have to reorient themselves and have to show acceptance of approaches from other disciplines, and thereby work towards evolution of newer approaches to research. Further, the system of specialisation prevailing at any period of time has a tendency to hit a dead-end with little scope for additions to the existing stock of knowledge through research. In order to escape from the stagnating scenario and provide applicable responses to the problems of further disciplinary and social progression, there is the necessity for us to get over the limitations of conventional disciplinary boundaries and for encouraging unconventional disciplinary marriages for research. The resulting research output and outcomes are absolutely unpredictable and the academics already waist-deep in the conventional disciplines should be ready to take the plunge of encouraging at the least such research endeavours moving beyond traditional boundaries. I say so because, given the static and as such retrograde perspective of what constitutes a discipline and her boundaries the conventional academics in our part of the world hold, there is very little likelihood that new perspectives would emerge from the own research of the existing academics. Further, since it would be time wasting to wait for maturity in the conventional disciplines, it would be a more fruitful strategy to endeavour to join in the global evolution of newer disciplines and contextualise them in our realities. Still further, if one cannot and does not have the orientation for new approaches to studies and research, stunting, taunting and trying to stall the proposals of others would be nothing more than disservice to the nation. Unfortunately we have a large component of such scientific academics amongst our midst, particularly at levels influencing the decision-making process. Well, we expect the world to wait for us and in the process create circumstances to invariably find ourselves always left behind.



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