Frontlist | Education Ministry’s notification on virtual seminars

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A new notification by the Ministry of Education that requires public funded institutions to seek permission from the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) before organising virtual academic seminars is “unenforceable”, leading academics have said. An official of the Ministry of Education defended the order as a “simplified permission system” but there is little clarity about the subjects bracketed under “internal matters” that will require the MEA’s prior approval before holding meetings on virtual platforms like Zoom.

The order says: “Ministry or Department, PSUs, Central Educational Institutions, Public Funded Universities or an organisation owned and controlled by the Government of India or State Government or Union Territory should take approval of its Administrative Secretary for the (virtual) event as well as for the list of participants”.

It also mentions that permission of the MEA will be required if the topic of discussion deals with “security of State, Border, North East states, J&K or any other issues which are clearly/purely related to India’s internal matters”.

In response to a question from The Hindu seeking a definition of “internal matters”, an official of the Ministry of Education said it meant “matters pertaining to internal security”.

“The notification appears to be aimed mainly at public-funded institutions like prominent government-run think tanks and leading universities. Therefore, it is unfair, as private think tanks and private universities will be able to engage with the international academic world freely. Such an order will ultimately hit young scholars and researchers who are at an early stage of their careers,” said Alka Acharya, Professor of Chinese Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University.

Prof. Acharya said there was a need to study subjects like International Relations and Diplomacy at an academic level, which requires academic freedom and openness, and virtual platforms like Zoom had become a necessity for researchers in a pandemic-hit world.

Academics are also saying that “internal matters” can be defined in a broad way. “Internal matters is a very vast subject and not necessarily limited to the items mentioned in the notification. To me it appears like a move that is completely confusing and unenforceable, and if implemented it will kill publicly funded institutions and their ability to engage with the world on an equal basis,” said Dr. Gopalan Balachandran, who served till recently as a consultant with the Manohar Parrikar Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses.

“We have to attend virtual seminars with multiple universities and think tanks from the United States and other countries almost on a weekly basis and such an order will disconnect India’s academia from the rest of the global academic community,” said Dr. Balachandran, arguing that more discussions with stakeholders should have been held before issuing such a notification.

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Source: The Hindu

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