Why didn't Prof. Amartya Sen himself part with part of his Nobel Prize in Economics to finance the Harvard U. which employs him?
Higher education starves, but a $4.5m gift to Harvard’s fine?
Wednesday, December 17, 2008 3:42:00 AM
The news item was not in the front pages of any major newspaper. It was published by some national dailies in the inside pages.
It is about the Government of India gifting $4.5 million (nearly Rs 23 crore) for Harvard University to establish a fund in honour of Prof Amartya Sen, which would help Indian students pursue higher education in that institution. This was to celebrate the 75th birth day of the renowned economist in recognition of his “extraordinary accomplishments” (PTI, December 11, 2008).
The government had earlier given £3.2 million (nearly Rs 26 crore) to the Cambridge University’s Judges Business school to celebrate Nehru’s entry as a student of Trinity College (see my article in DNA Money, February 12, 2008).
Both the news items, though important, were not debated by academicians nor commented upon by editors. To start with, there are questions regarding using government money to facilitate the fund-raising activity of Harvard or Cambridge. It is common knowledge that post-Thatcher era, the educational institutions in the UK are forced to raise the fees particularly for foreign students and even then, the fees do not cover even 25% of the cost of running these institutions. And hence, most of the British educational institutions are going around the world with a begging bowl, camouflaged as road shows, for their graduate and undergraduate courses.
Harvard, which recently lost more than $8 billion (nearly 22% of its corpus), is so much more desperate to augment its resources in the context of the global meltdown and deep US recession (WSJ, December 4, 2008).
Now, why should a developing country like India fund the cash-starved institutions of the West?
If Cambridge was so fascinated about Nehru entering it as a student or about the ‘India Story’, then it should have approached a private financier or some company in the UK to fund this endowment.
Ditto for Harvard, which could have asked many leading philanthropies in the US or business groups in India to fund the centre.
I know of several centres in China, which are funded by these universities or US companies. But India is a peculiar country, which funds centres in foreign universities, facilitating/ enhancing their finances. This gesture is not going to make others recognise us as a global economic power.
The higher educational institutions in India are starved of funds and crying out. After the decision of the government regarding reservation for other backward castes and the Supreme Court judgments thereon, it has become imperative for centrally funded institutions to increase their strength by at least one-and-half times and hence they need funds to expand their physical infrastructure. The government is not much forthcoming on this and expects the Central institutions to fend for themselves. There is a need for buildings and various other physical infrastructure in all the Central institutions of higher learning, leave alone the lower levels of education.
It is also surprising that the traditional rebels without a pause, namely the Left liberals, are totally silent on this. The usual Marxist crowd berating US imperialism, etc is also silent. May be the recessionary imperialism is not to be bothered about. The academic community is silent and some may be positioning themselves for future opportunities.
In the context of starving Indian institutions, gifting nearly Rs 50 crore to institutions in the UK/US is, to say the least, callous and may be construed as the result of the embedded colonial gene in our systems. The courtiers and family retainers may be already crowding around relevant ministries and power centres to get the positions, but that does not justify this subsidy.
Due to our distorted Nehruvian socialistic thinking, we believe that government is the embodiment of wisdom since it can tax and provide subsidies. We still live in the era of Kings where the whims and fancies of the Chakravarthi could get huge gifts to the courtiers and other foreign poets/ scholars. All one need do is stand in the queue and sing praises — particularly in this Dhanur month. Of course, if your colour is white, then just stand, not necessarily in the queue. Gifts will be bestowed and you will be profusely thanked for your presence and acceptance of the same.
There are many NRIs and Indian business groups who could have provided this subsidy/ alms to Harvard, but that was not the deal. Harvard I presume has arm-twisted the Government of India to get the funds to minimise the impact of its losses on the hedge funds. Anyhow, Indian government is the best hedge against such situations; due to the colonial hang-up and because we think Americans have done a great favour to us.
That is the reason our Ambassador to the USA, Ronen Sen (of the ‘headless chicken’ fame) profusely thanked the president of the Harvard University for accepting the gift.
We all should be very happy that Harvard condescended to accept our cheque since each of us was worried they may not!
Will the Indian mind ever get de-colonised?
The writer is professor of finance and control, Indian Institute of Management —Bangalore, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Views are personal.