Punjab Journal: Shopping malls, helipads and privatized education in India

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by Diditi Mitra


Entrance to Lovely Professional University

We passed Lovely Professional University (LPU) numerous times on our bus trips between Ludhiana and Jalandhar . I had seen advertisements for the University on Indian television and seen its grounds in some Punjabi films, but never had the opportunity to visit the place.

I must confess that I was actually a bit amused when I first heard of a university that began with Lovely.’ For me, the name seemed a bit mismatched for educational institutions that are supposed to enlighten young minds and nurture in them a desire for the pursuit of knowledge. I questioned the quality of education offered at such a place. Prejudiced? You might say.


Students getting off the bus

As the bus stopped right in front of the gates to the university, we saw the enormous campus that stretched on forever. But, we couldn’t really see much from the windows of the bus. Secrets of the interior were carefully preserved by the high walls that surrounded the institution. Plus, we were focused on the hustle and bustle created by students getting off the bus, going in and out of the university, the many vehicles that were either dropping or picking up students, and the street vendors selling various things to the students and others going to the campus.

Little did we know that Lovely Professional resembles a first-world township, with eleven libraries, four auditoriums, one open air theater, six bank branches, 40 ATMs and a hotel with 25 rooms. What stand outs is the Uni-Mall, a shopping complex with banks, offices, clothes and department stores, and a photo studio, among other things.” Click here for an advertisement for the institution which to me looks more like a trailer for films produced by Bollywood.

Confusion was my initial reaction to the above mentioned description of Lovely Professional University in an article written by Mayank Jain. What is the need for a shopping mall inside the walls of an university? Couldn’t students go outside those high walls and get a haircut in town? Jalandhar City isn’t far at all. Or, why do students need helipads on campus? Who are these students? Why are they being indulged?


Gates to a transformative’ higher education experience

Upon reflection and some preliminary research, I realized that Lovely Professional is part of a growing number of private higher education institutions in India. Presumably, such institutions are competing for students because students in this era of neoliberal capitalism are a vital source of revenue. Aparna Kalra, in an article written for Livemint about LPU, notes the concerns expressed by experts at the high number of students admitted to the university every year. They worry, she suggests, that unqualified students are being allowed entry into the institution for the sake of profit, the result of which is dilution of teaching standards.

The story of dilution’ is not something new to me. I teach in the American higher education system where grade inflation, whereby students receive higher grades than what they deserve, is a serious concern. It is at least partly motivated by the goal to retain students. Further, grade inflation is more likely to be higher in private institutions. Presumably, retention is a critical source of revenue in light of lessening public funds. Higher and higher grades is the way to make sure that students stay enrolled at the institution and pay the fees set by it. Such a system produces people with degrees, but not necessarily with the knowledge or skills they should possess. In such a system, students are misguided about the quality of their education. They are not treated as learners, but as consumers who must be satisfied with the product’ they have purchased. Getting higher grades, remaining at the college or university and ultimately getting that degree is what keeps them coming back for more! The luxurious amenities available at the university, like LPU, are part of that same capitalistic objective.

Clearly, it appears that much like the United States, neoliberal economic policies and its associated retreat of government support are shaping the Indian higher education model as well. Like the American one, is higher education in India headed for Declining by Degrees too? Time will certainly tell, if it isn’t already!

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