President Pranab Mukherjee on Monday said the goal of Indian higher education should be to produce “argumentative, pragmatic Indians”, not “intolerant, dogmatic citizens”. He was speaking at the release of a book on higher education at the Rashtrapati Bhavan. Mukherjee was joined by Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen, who stressed the importance of autonomy in higher education, and said universities cannot be run like “government departments”. Mukherjee was presented the first copy of the book The Future of Indian Universities: Comparative and International Perspectives, published by Oxford University Press.

Speaking at the event, Mukherjee reflected back on India’s ancient history and said it had a “dominant role in higher learning” which had eroded over the years. Sen said that during the colonial times, universities weren’t given autonomy by the colonisers due to fear (of revolt or dissent) and that has remained as the university system has developed over the years. “This is the time for change. We wouldn’t have any great university in the world if it was run like a government department. The pursuit of independence and autonomy is central to the cause of a university,” Sen said. He said one way to introduce autonomy was to introduce more private universities and give endowments.