The Department Sociology at the University of Hyderabad organized a talk by Dr. L. N. Venkataraman on ‘Gurus in Trishanku? Higher education transformations in India and South Africa’.

The talk focused on the emergence of increasing privatisation of higher education in an era epitomized by post-colonial nation state formation and economic globalization where knowledge-economy and withdrawal of the state is becoming the reality. His paper proposed for a nuanced understanding into this phenomenon of privatisation. He argued that the predilection to send children for private education rises from the notion that it will enhance their employability potential. The issue is being looked at either from the framework of left-leaning populism or from the standpoint of developmental ideology that can be read as pro-state ideology. Some of the systematic realities enlisted by him are (1) Centre-Periphery thesis where the euro-centric knowledge is being imbibed (2) Internalization of global ranking drives (3) Increasing of research Universities and (4) Technology-transformation. He substantiated his arguments by contending that in South Africa the credentials of academicians are assessed on the basis of subsidiary generation, social networking and position in the scholarship. The ‘rating’ is becoming a driver for the universities to play into the invisible hand’ of the market. Then he went to expound upon the institutional realities where (1) Universities are expected to raise funds for research at the cost of teaching (2) Connections and networks forgetting entry into higher education and (3) a steady decline in public good in the name of reform. He employed the method of semi-structured interview and discourse analysis to examine his empirical work through the conceptual framework of Capability Approach.

He concluded his talk by raising few questions that whether the post-colonial peripheries will be autonomous from the economic globalization and also the question that why the bourgeoisie have the final say in the academia.

The contentious talk paved its way to a riveting debate combined with arguments, counter-arguments and defence of analysis. Some of the counter-arguments were whether the capability approach was suitable as a conceptual framework pertaining to this research to how the empirical grounding provides an alternative discourse to how capability can be used in higher education and practise to how capability as an approach demands problematization as it emerged at a specific historical juncture to safeguard neo-liberal ideology rather than challenge it.

The elaborate discussions highlighted two major issues firstly although privatization of higher education was encouraged with the aim of providing world-class, quality education however, the latent motive was to create a market that would generate profit and contribute to various kind of knowledge economy.

Dr. Venkataraman earned his Doctoral degree from University of Bielefeld. He is an alumnus of Jawaharlal University and is now a post-doctoral fellow at Free-State University in South Africa.

By Sayendri Panchadhyayi, M.A., Sociology, 2nd year