UGC directive uncalled for

The University Grants Commission’s proposed revision of the psychology syllabus in universities and colleges to reflect the “national ethos” is worrying. There is no rational link between the “national ethos” and psychology, which is the science of behaviour and the mind, including conscious and unconscious experiences and thought. Why is the UGC now creating an artificial link between the two? It is evident that the UGC is seeking to reflect the thinking of the ruling dispensation. Since it came to power in 2014, the BJP government has been saffronising India’s institutions, including educational institutions, by appointing members of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) or its sympathisers, rather than meritorious individuals with expertise and experience in the field of education, to key posts. It has been seeking to rewrite history in a way that simply erases the period of Muslim rule over India and its symbols.

Such efforts are, of course, aimed at furthering the cause of Hindutva, distorting not just history but also the syncretic culture of India in pursuit of a narrow vision of the nation. A few months ago, Venkaiah Naidu, who was then Minister for Urban Development, sought to ostracise people who speak against the “national ethos, values and culture.” The UGC’s directive on the psychology syllabus seems one of a piece with the agenda of the Sangh Parivar-inspired government rather than effecting any improvement in the psychology syllabus, which would properly be the job of the UGC.

The UGC is a statutory body set up by the government. It is supposed to function autonomously and is entrusted with disbursing funds to universities and maintaining academic standards. Earlier this year, it was relegated to being just an academic regulatory body when the Ministry of Human Resource Development announced that funding would be the responsibility of a new body, the Higher Education Funding Agency (HEFA), which would function under the ministry. The government thus reduced the scope and influence of the UGC. Now, the UGC is undermining itself. A month ago, it directed all higher education institutions to make their students listen to what it described as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “life changing speech.” It is not the UGC’s job to act as the government’s mouthpiece, much less Modi’s or the BJP’s. That task can be performed by the Press Information Bureau or spokespersons of the BJP. By acting like a cheerleader, the UGC has diminished its own prestige in the eyes of the public. Updating syllabi to include the latest developments and theories in a field is fine. Saffronising the psychology syllabus, instead, will destroy the scientific content in it.

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