Our musty ivory tower
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Creative societies and nations take great pride in their universities. In fact, the economic and social strength of a nation, its resilience and its outlook get moulded in more than one way in the centres of higher education. After Independence, India's premier universities received positive regard, if not in terms of funds which were scarce, but certainly through attention and respect. The University of Delhi received its due share of attention. Many big names, both in science and the humanities, that are remembered even today for their scholarship and foresight served at the university. This lasted till the early '60s. Then the edifice started crumbling.
Many factors precipitated the crisis in DU and other universities in India. There were severe constraints in terms of availability of resources. There was excessive inbreeding, many of the big names and others hired their own students in faculty positions. The spirit of idealism broke down and the politics of survival through patronage took over. There was huge pressure to increase seats without commensurate input of resources. To accommodate more student numbers, some of the universities like Delhi hived off their undergraduate education to constituent colleges and retained only postgraduate courses in the university departments.
At the national level, the biggest factor contributing to the decline of Indian universities was the low growth rate of the economy which meant that investment in higher education was reduced to a trickle. The '70s were times of great unrest and even central universities could not remain immune. With the universities lurching from one unrest to another, somewhere it was felt that while the universities would remain centres of mass teaching, good research in the sciences and even social sciences would be possible only in small institutes which would be easier to manage.
DU received very poor funding for development during the five-year plans prior to the eleventh. That it still survived and maintained some academic standards is indeed a remarkable achievement for both the teachers and the taught. This was mainly due to the intellectual capital available at the university. In a recent survey, it was found to be the top university in the country in terms of research papers in science subjects. DU is the top Indian university in a recent survey of Asian universities.
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