What do these college newspaper headlines tell one about higher education in America ?
Lets start with the very fact that universities in America typically have functioning newspapers. Here is a list. Their presence and popularity indicates several things. First and foremost, it emphasizes the society’s commitment to freedom of speech, encouraging the gathering and spread of information among the population and cultivating quality journalists and reporters. Also, it increases the sense of ownership the students of a university have regarding their alma mater. Third it helps administrators and officials get a feeling for the general sentiment in the campus, i.e. it acts as feedback and is one of the things that keeps universities from becoming static ‘assembly lines’.
As I have pointed out earlier, social science studies in India are in shambles, with little support from the state or society. India does have elite institutes that have great reputations, but these institutes are in the engineering fields. There are some reasons to question this concentration of ‘eliteness’ in a specific field. Notwithstanding what the state’s motivations for the creation of elite engineering schools were/are, one has to ask how effective they really are ? And more importantly, are they enough ?
Is engineering really a discipline that needs elite graduates to progress ? In terms of their jobs and functions as an engineer, will there be much difference between a high GPA graduate from MIT or one from Louisiana State University ? I will argue not. This is because one can only become an effective engineer once one is actually in industry, the engineering profession is not one that a person can necessarily prepare for in 4 years of college. Yes, you do need the basics and obviously there will be a difference between an average MIT and LSU engineering graduate, but that will be more due to basic intellectual capacity and motivation than their college education.
The laws of physics and mathematics are invariant in space, so are their applications1, so how differently can they be taught in different places ?
But does this analogy apply to a social studies or economics graduate ? I will argue not. Because in social sciences education, exposure, interaction and peer groups matter a lot more. Taking a class with a leading social scientist with 5 other highly motivated young people where there are frequent discussions and debate cannot be the same educational experience as one can get at less prominent schools, where simply finding one more person interested in understanding a social problem can be impossible.
So one must now ask the question, where else will a curious, intelligent college going Christian girl actually get the chance to interact with Muslim girls in veils, think about what it actually means to wear one, wear one and then communicate to others on campus (including engineers on the cutting edge of solar energy) what her experience was like. Who will become a better social scientist or journalist, a person who is educated in such an environment or one that goes to some neglected ‘humanities’ department in an Indian university ?
One can see how this reflects on the general Indian society itself. The nation which can launch rockets to the moon still cannot figure out how malnutrition is to be tackled.
1: I dont mean to say that applications of engineering wont vary with location but that the teaching of how to apply the laws of math and physics will not vary much from place to place.