“The stifling of academic freedom has been, I think, the biggest factor behind why we don’t have a single top university in India,”Indian Universities were created in 1857 on the model of the University of London which was incorporated in 1836. This was the first University in Britain, since the Reformation, which permitted Catholics, Dissernters, Jews etc to take degrees. Unlike British India, where Catholics or Dissenters or Hindus or Muslims or anyone else at all was permitted to set up a College, the letter of the law in the United Kingdom made this difficult though some Dissenting sects were powerful enough to run their own Academies more or less openly. The incorporation of London University breached the Anglican monopoly of Higher Education and soon many Colleges of various types affiliated themselves with London University. However, Oxford and Cambridge- despite their 'stifling of academic freedom' in the matter of confessional faith- retained their position as 'top Universities'
By contrast, academic freedom has been always wholly unfettered in India. Nothing prevents or has prevented anyone from setting up an Academic institution in India. Nabadwip, which Sir William Jones, mentions as an alma mater equal to Oxford enjoyed perfect autonomy. Did this 'Oxford of the East' outshine the actual Oxford which did not have academic freedom? Nope. It was shite. It disappeared. Sen studied at Presidency College Calcutta- which started as Hindu College. It had academic freedom of a sort highly congenial to the Left. It has been in continuous decline longer than I've been alive. By contrast, Peking University has shot up so much since Tiananmen Square that it is in the top 20. Both Presidency College and Peking University have taken their present shape under Communist administrations. The Indian College had more academic freedom. Much good it did it.
Indian Colleges have always been free in a way which China and Singapore could never envisage. Affiliation with a University is a matter of choice and degree. Indian Universities, ab ovo, did little save provide basic inspection and examination services to affiliated colleges. At no time was there any 'stifling of academic freedom' save such as would arise by the ordinary operation of the Law of the land. Thus the same laws regarding sedition and disturbing the peace would apply on or off the campus. But this is universally true. 'Benefit of clergy' disappeared long ago.
London University now has 3 Colleges which are in the global top 20. Indian Universities can make no similar boast. Why? London is rich. India is poor. This was true in 1857 and it remains true today.
One reason London is rich is because Governments have not been afraid of pushing through pretty drastic reforms of a sort which Sen has descried. Indian Education would greatly benefit by similar harsh tactics- as indeed has begun to happen. But Sen is himself a road-block.
Poverty, by itself, explains little. Israel was poor in the Fifties. A Professor at Presidency College, Calcutta, who moved to Technion University in Haifa, would have suffered a sharp fall in standard of living. But, he would probably have started to produce better quality research. Why? Israelis- rude, uncouth, and poor as they were at the time- had no interest in Credentials but, rather, possessed a genuine passion for Research. They weren't simply going through the motions so as to cash a salary cheque or get a bureaucratic berth. The first generation of Zionists, and then of 'sabras' were almost pathologically political. Technion had replaced German with Hebrew as the language of instruction at a time when Hebrew had less scientific literature than Bengali or Tamil. Yet, this was not a recipe for disaster. Why? Israelis were happiest challenging paradigms and producing path-breaking work. By contrast, in India, even first class minds- like S.N. Bose and D.D Kausambi- got distracted by an essentially futile type of political posturing which however had greater prestige. Kausambi pretended to know Sanskrit and to be a Historian while presenting crazy 'proofs' of the Reimann Hypothesis. Was this because 'academic freedom was stifled'? No. It was because Indians- like Amartya Sen- prefer worthless political posturing to doing path breaking research.
I suppose, one could say Israel and China can draw upon their very talented diasporas to burnish their Academies. But, since the Sixties, so can India. The big difference is that India thinks of Higher Education as a positional good, not something which raises productivity and contributes to National Defence. China has no academic freedom and never will. It will have a lot of top Universities nevertheless because Universities can contribute to the Economy and National Defence. By some measures, two authoritarian countries, China and tiny Singapore have 10 percent of the top Universities. India has and will have none- unless Academic freedom is severely curtailed and the tax payer gets value for money. India won't take this sensible course because Universities are parasitical. Thus, by default, 'academic freedom'- as represented by Sen's numerous acolytes- means combating patriotism in all its forms.
Unlike Amartya Sen, Philip Albach actually knows a lot about both Indian Universities and what makes for global excellence. He says that India is like the USA in that the Federal Government has little control over Higher Education. Countries like UK and Sweden, on the other hand, can 'stifle academic freedom'- which, it turns out, is a good thing.
So there you have it. Britain has top universities because it stifles academic freedom. India does not because it can't be bothered. Japan has top university departments in Science and Technology because it has high staff to student ratios in these fields and uses the kenkyūshitsu seminar system such that a successful Scientist has a 'Guru-chela' relationship with his students. This is purely feudal and stifles the shite out of politically conscious students- which is a good thing because political consciousness is a degenerative disease of the mind. Sweden is moving to more autonomy but, currently, students can only sue to get back their fees, not the opportunity cost of their time, if their degree is worthless. Since only non EU students pay fees, Swedish students will continue to get screwed. So much for autonomy without responsibility- except that of repaying fees for worthless degrees to litigious Americans.
Come to think of it Rahul Gandhi has a worthless degree from the College of which Sen was the Master. Sue the bastids, Rahul! You will become a hero to hundreds of thousands of desis whose families have gone into debt to get them a phoren Credential.