Academic freedom becoming alien thought in India: Amartya Sen

By: | Updated: February 22, 2017 4:35 PM

Economist Amartya Sen has said that the concept of autonomy of universities was increasingly becoming "alien" in India, remarks that come against the backdrop of students' unrest on campuses like JNU.

Sen, feted for his work on ‘Welfare Economics’, said it was important for governments to make a distinction between funding and interfering in an educational institution.

Economist Amartya Sen has said that the concept of autonomy of universities was increasingly becoming “alien” in India, remarks that come against the backdrop of students’ unrest on campuses like JNU. The Nobel laureate observed that elements of liberty and fraternity were facing a “difficult time” in India and people are “afraid” of speaking against the government for the fear of being dubbed “anti-national”.

“The importance of autonomy and academic freedom is easily understood in Europe and America, but it is increasingly becoming an alien thought in India,” he said yesterday at the launch of the expanded edition of his book ‘Collective Choice and Social Welfare’ at India Habitat Centre here.

Sen, feted for his work on ‘Welfare Economics’, said it was important for governments to make a distinction between funding and interfering in an educational institution.

“Money for state universities come from the State. It is spent by the government, but it is not owned by the government. The fact that it is spent by the government doesn’t entail that the government should take crucial decisions regarding the universities,” he said.

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Without directly referring to it, Sen also appeared to touch upon the issue of JNU administration issuing notices to teachers over them addressing students on a contentious issue.

“While the pursuit of equality has taken a backseat in policy making here, protests against teachers for giving lectures critical of the priorities of the ruling government and even against those who arrange those lectures have far reaching implications on the values of liberty in contemporary India,” Sen said.

The economist, who has been critical of the Narendra Modi-led government, underscored that the lack of freedom in universities creates a “climate of fear”, which was in turn “extremly detrimental” to democracy. First published in 1970, ‘Collective Choice and Social Welfare’ deals with topics of collective preferences, social action and its effects.

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