Universities are “dying a slow and painful” death in the face of utilitarian policies of the State and aggressive commercialisation of higher education, eminent educationists said today.

Highlighting the challenges faced by universities today, a group of educationists revisited fundamental questions regarding the concept of universities, at a seminar organised by the Delhi University Teachers’ Association (DUTA) here.

Assessing the crisis in academic leadership, former Vice-Chancellor of Lucknow University Roop Rekha Verma said excessive regimentation taking place in universities was threatening the concept of them being the nerve-centre of creativity and leadership.

“Regimentation occurs at the level of administrations that are run on the basis of vested interests, as well as Governments’ constant attempt to appropriate all forms of decision-making for their own benefits. There are too many examples of how perfectly vibrant universities have been sacrificed at the altar of cynical politics,” she said.

Expressing her discomfort over the drive towards private-public partnerships, Verma said it would smother academic freedom and inclusivity within universities by virtue of the conflict between public and private interests in higher education.

“The current reforms are manifestations of recommendations made years ago by the Birla-Ambani Report on Higher Education which did not engage teachers and students in its deliberations on the future of higher education,” she said.

Agreeing with the view, astrophysicist Vinod Gaur said the “organic” concerns of teachers and students were largely being ignored by politicians and bureaucrats and would eventually affect the way universities function.

JNU Professor Jayati Ghosh, while raising her concerns over the political dimension of reforms in higher education, said homogeneous standards of efficiency and resource optimisation were choking universities of their vital resources essential for their growth.