Government should not execute autocratic power on universities: Amartya Sen

Amartya Sen, Nobel laureate and Thomas W. Lamont University Professor, and Professor of Economics and Philosophy at Harvard University
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New Delhi– Nobel laureate and renowned economist Amartya Sen said on Tuesday that if the government wants to set up world-class universities it should not try to “execute autocratic power on the universities as freedom and autonomy of institutions is vital for the country”.

The 83-year-old economist said any threat to the autonomy of the universities is detrimental to the future of the country.

“The state dispenses the money to universities, it does not own the money. The government should not try to execute autocratic power on the universities because freedom and autonomy of institutions is vital for the country,” he said.

“The government promises to make world-class universities but this is not the way to do it,” said Sen, who was here in the national capital to launch an expanded edition of his 1970 book “Collective Choice and Social Welfare”.

Amartya Sen, Nobel laureate and
Thomas W. Lamont University Professor, and Professor of Economics and Philosophy at Harvard University

Sen also seemed affirmative of a growing climate of intolerance in the country as he said that some sections of “people live in constant fear of being labeled anti-nationals”.

“Our quality of public debate has shrunken. The tendency to threaten and ban is enormously greater today than in the past,” he contended.

The economist, however, maintained that these are not the problems that only India is facing and cited the examples of Donald Trump’s victory in the US and the Brexit to build the larger narrative.

He also said that the space for liberty and fraternity in most parts of the world has diminished today and is even lower than it was in 1960s.

“But India is definitely in it,” he said.

Amartya Sen has, since 1972, taught and worked in the United Kingdom and the United States. Sen has made contributions to welfare economics, social choice theory, economic and social justice, economic theories of famines, and indexes of the measure of well-being of citizens of developing countries.

He stressed that democracy demands the greatest and the longest loyalty of people, adding “there are few things as important as this today”.

Sen, who was miffed that the National Democratic Alliance government was in no mood to extend his tenure, quit as Chancellor of Nalanda University (NU), in 2015.

He has been critical of the Modi government’s handling of the educational institutions.

“Teachers are being targeted and even the organisations that are inviting them are being targeted. These can not be seen as cultivation of fraternity but are dangers posed to liberty and fraternity of India,” he quipped.

The book “Collective Choice and Social Welfare” is concerned with the study of collective preference, in particular with the relationship between the objectives of social action and the preferences and aspirations of society’s members.

The original 1970 book has been republished with a chunky new section.

The additional chapters extend the original and present in a more rigorous manner some of the material in Sen’s “The Idea of Justice”.

There’s a timely chapter on democracy, which mentions: “Given the mixed bag of results that we can actually get from majoritarian democracy, its defence, important as it is, needs to be seriously supplemented by probing scrutiny of its limits and conditionality.”

Amartya Sen was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 1998 and Bharat Ratna in 1999 for his work in welfare economics.



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