Higher Education in the Northeast: The Disconnects and the Challenges

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By Amar Yumnam
Higher education in our region has been a major issue of debate and discussion among academics based in the colleges and universities here. By now there seems to be emerging a kind of critical mass deeply involved in the application of mind on this issue. Earlier the discussions on this were confined mostly in private roundtables, but now it has become an issue being taken up for formal public articulation. In fact, in the just concluded thirteenth edition of the Annual Conference of the North East Economic Association held at Assam University, a special session was devoted on evolving a common curriculum for Economics in the region. In this session attended by some of the best minds on the subject in the country and the deeply committed ones from the region, moderating the deliberations on the issue has been an absolutely rewarding exercise personally and a landmark towards contextualising the teaching and research of Economics in the region without sacrificing rigour.

Global Scenario and Our Take: It is heartening to note that every university in the region has been trying to achieve two things in particular in so far as the delivery in the teaching and research on the subject. First, some of the faculty in the region are fully conscious of the imperatives for incorporating rigour at levels competitive enough, if not at par, with the best in the world, and thus ensure a kind of market for the Economics Graduates from the region. Secondly, the leading academics of the region are now fully aware of the successful way of delivering the subject through contextualisation. Now there is collective determination for sharing the successful faculty for widening and deepening the knowledge base of Economics in the region. Even more lovingly, almost all the academics are conscientiously committed to this direction.

This heightened concern and involvement of the academics of the region is particularly significant in the light of what is happening in higher education around the globe. The periods of exclusivism, isolationalism and survival in limited worlds are gone for good. The global higher education systems, particularly in the developed parts of the world, are now endeavouring to find newer and newer ways of addressing the contemporary crises plaguing the world, and take the various disciplines further forward by intensely exploring unchartered territories. The crises in the political and economic systems have served as the push factor as well opportunities for reorienting the various disciplines and empowering the students to take on the challenges for taking the human civilisation further forward.

The Challenges: The higher education system in the region is now at a very critical juncture. The efforts of the last few decades have not gone in vain. In fact, the region now possesses a threshold level of capacity in quite many fields, in which I can be very sure of Economics. But this is no time for complacency but a time to fight on even further, a kind of period for Trojans.

As said above, some of the disciplines (of course Economics is also one) are really exploding in both direction and approaches of study. This is the first major challenge of the academics in the region in so far as the necessity for keeping up with the latest advances and exposing the students of the region to the flavours of the frontier developments. This is not going to be a mean task. Secondly, the time has now come to seriously theorise on the empirical socio-politico-economic issues of the region; a culture for this has to be inculcated among the young researchers of the region. Thirdly, a strong linkage and continuum of seriousness has to be involved right from the undergraduate stage till the end of masters’ or research degrees.

The Approach: While facing the challenges head on the responsibility of the social sciences is particularly high. The region is now passing through a very critical stage of societal transformation with very complex political economic dynamics. In research in social sciences there is the need for catching the moment. While in physical sciences, it may be possible to simulate the real world conditions in a laboratory, it cannot be done successfully and absolutely meaningfully in the social sciences despite the rising application of game theory and experiments in research in such disciplines, particularly Economics. This regional reality has to be dovetailed to the need for keeping up with the latest advances in the disciplines. Achieving this objective cannot be done without a strong policy support accompanied by financial commitments. Further, the time has now come for us to apply our mind on ways for facilitating continuous revisions in curriculum in a way faster than the existing processes. This is particularly so in subjects like Economics, and it did come up for serious articulation in the recent meet of economists of the region.

In all this Manipur has a unique problem. Long years of stagnation and non-involvement in higher education seem to have dulled a particular generation of faculty in the colleges of the State. While they are still in service of the colleges technically speaking, their involvements in academic pursuits and delivery are doubtful. Here we must hasten to add that the silver lining lies with our younger faculty. Unlike the senior colleagues, the younger ones possess greater exposure, higher commitment and healthier dedication to nurturing future minds. We have to evolve a kind of policy which recognises this and see to it that these young academics do not follow the path of their seniors towards dullness.

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