Sucheta Dalal :Colonial conquest of India by Cambridge University
Sucheta Dalal

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Colonial conquest of India by Cambridge University  

February 21, 2008

Indian government pays Rs26 crore for Cambridge Chair


By R. Vaidyanathan
The writer is Professor of Finance, Indian Institute of Management,   Bangalore

The Centre's Rs 26 cr donation to Cambridge University beats comprehension!

There was an interesting piece of news recently, about the University of Cambridge launching the 'Jawaharlal Nehru Professorship of Indian Business
and Enterprise' to mark the centenary of Nehru's arrival at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he studied for a degree in natural sciences.

So far so good. But the lines that followed gave away the real story.

Going by the reports, the chair has been set up with a fund of £3.2 million (Rs 26 crore) contributed by the Government of India. The professorship will
be assigned to the Judge Business School, which itself was created with £0.5 million funding from energy company BP. The university will retain the
entire benefaction as permanent endowment and will use the net income from investment of the sum towards salary and expenses of the holder of the
professorship and under associated overheads.

The news item did not find a place on the front page of any newspaper. But some national dailies did carry it on the inside pages. Nor was there any debate on it by academicians or comments by the editors.

All the same, the use of government money to facilitate the fund-raising activity of Cambridge or other UK institutions raises several questions.

It is common knowledge that post-Thatcher era, educational institutions in the UK have been forced to raise the fees, particularly for foreign students. Even so, the fees do not cover even 25% of the cost of running
these institutions.

Hence most of these institutions are going around the world with a begging bowl camouflaged as road shows for their graduate and undergraduate course.
They are desperate for funds and their endowments/ corpus is much lesser than that of US universities.

Oxford and Cambridge, each with around $5 billion as endowments, are far behind Harvard and Yale, which are flush with funds to the tune of $50
billion and $30 billion, respectively. Even comparable US universities like the Texas System or Michigan have much higher endowments than them.

Now, why should a developing country like India fund the declining institutions of the West, and more so, those of the UK?

If Cambridge was so fascinated about Nehru entering it as a student or about the India Story, it should have approached a private financier or company in the UK to fund this endowment.

And why should Nehru's entry into Trinity College be such a major event? Many others, like Ambedkar, had entered colleges in England, and several
others, including Lal Bahadur Shastri, C Rajagopalachari (Rajaji) and Sardar
Vallabhbhai Patel had entered colleges in India.

When the ministry of HRD is finding it difficult to fund even Rs 1 crore for additional classrooms in institutions of higher learning in India, how could it have decided to donate over Rs 25 crore to a British university?*

It is also ironic that the professorship is for business studies, while Nehru was the architect of the licence permit quota Raj in India. It is like the butchers' association of Texas providing a chair to study Gandhian thought in some US university.

Indeed, a centre named after Rajaji might have been much more appropriate as far as the business aspects are concerned. He was a leader who stood for entrepreneurship and market economy right from our Independence.

What the government could have done is make the materials in the Nehru Memorial and Library accessible to all researchers in India, without the
need to get prior permission from the trustees. Currently, getting access isn't easy. Very often, permission is denied.

We need to encourage more research in the Indian context and on new paradigms of businesses. And for that, Cambridge is not an appropriate place
for the government to subsidise Rs25 crore.

More importantly, Britain is not known for business education and research, and contemporary shop owners in the UK are often from the Indian
subcontinent. In fact, many of these non-resident Indians could have provided this subsidy or alms to Cambridge.

I presume Cambridge has arm-twisted the Government of India to get the funds and we in our colonial hang-up, think we have been done the British a great favour.

Will the Indian mind ever get decolonised?
(This article was first published by The HinduBusinessLine)

-- Sucheta Dalal