The State of International Relations in India
Why is it that Indian foreign policy lacks a ‘strategic and global vision’, as some have alleged and I wrote in a previous post?
I decided to look into the state of the international relations discipline in India to see if that might offer some clues. In so doing, I ran across a great speech by former UN Undersecretary General and Indian parliament member Shashi Tharoor addressing this very issue.
In it, Mr. Tharoor argues that the state of IR in India is quite poor. The nation’s colleges and universities lack the resources and expertise to teach international relations well, and are unable to compete with institutions of their ilk in other countries.
International relations is a neglected subject on our campuses…The few colleges that do offer the subject do so in a formalistic and formulaic fashion that ill-equip the student to understand the realities of our contemporary world. JNU [Jawarhal Nehru University] apart, few can hold a candle to the universities in China, Russia or the West that teach international relations to young people of a similar age to the majority of you.
The situation will not improve unless we improve the study of international affairs at our colleges and universities. Last year I was invited by my Singaporean friend Kishore Mahbubani to join a gathering organized by his Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, of some of the most eminent scholars of International Relations to brainstorm on improving the current state of the discipline in India. I couldn’t join his effort but one scholar who did, Amitabh Mattoo, observed that “There are few other disciplines in India… where the gulf between the potential and the reality is as wide as it is in the teaching and research of IR at Indian universities. Interest in India and India’s interest in the world are arguably at their highest in modern times, and yet Indian scholarship on global issues is showing few signs of responding to this challenge.”
Today, IR is taught in more than 100 universities in India, but in Mattoo’s words, “most of the IR departments have a shortage of qualified faculty, poor infrastructure, outdated curriculum and few research opportunities”. More than half the departments do not even have access to the internet, and are deprived of the rich wealth of online resources that students elsewhere in the world can command. Books and journals are in short supply. Little expertise has been developed in specific areas or countries of concern to India…Foreign languages are poorly taught, resources for study trips abroad are scarce, research is of varying quality and opportunities for cross-fertilization at academic conferences practically non-existent.
As a result, says Mr. Tharoor, Indian students are ill-equipped to enter an increasingly globalized world and India lacks a global vision required for such a world.
A young Indian scholar, Raja Karthikeya Gundu, recently wrote: “Few Indian students go beyond the West for study, and even if they wanted to, there are barely any scholarships or resources from government or private sector to do so. The average Indian has barely any understanding of foreign cultures, norms and worldviews, and satellite TV and Internet have not managed to change this. Hence, in the absence of global exposure, Indians continue to be an inward-looking nation burdened by prejudice. Thus, it is no surprise that when Indians travel abroad for the first time in their mature years, they are often culturally inadaptable and even mildly xenophobic.” This strikes me as somewhat overstated, and yet there is a kernel of truth in it.
To its credit, The Indian government is currently undertaking several education reforms, including enhancing cooperation with U.S. universities under the Obama-Singh 21st Century Knowledge Initiative. But that’s still quite a grim picture.